Published between 1937 and 1939, Charles Dickens’ originally serialised and later novelised work Oliver Twist has come to be regarded as one of the defining pieces of literature of the Victorian era. The story of an innocent orphan boy who is lured in to the criminal underworld of Victorian London contains all of the themes that Dickens held dear to his heart from poverty to children to characters who transcend their own narrative and become part of the wider popular culture. If you have been tasked with writing an essay about Oliver Twist but have struggled to make your way though some of it’s more dense passages, then there is a brief summary for you to gain some knowledge of the novel’s key plot points.
The novel begins in a workhouse roughly 70 miles from London, where the young Oliver Twist is an orphan boy working and living within the building. One day, tired and hungry, Oliver plucks up the courage to ask for more food at dinnertime, and the vicious parish beadle Mr Bumble is outraged, deciding to send Oliver away, selling him to an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry for a small sum. While living at the undertaker’s, Oliver suffers bullying from a fellow apprentice called Noah, and during one particularly mean incident, Oliver flies in to a rage, attacking Noah. As a result of this fight, Oliver is beaten by Mr. Sowerberry and later that night he escapes and runs away.
Upon arriving in London, Oliver is almost immediately befriended by Jack Dawkins, a young pickpocket known as the Artful Dodger. He takes the naïve runaway under his wing and introduces him to Fagin, an eccentric Jewish criminal who houses a large group of young boys who pay their rent through the goods that they steal for him. During his early time with Fagin, Oliver begins to learn the pickpocketing trade, as well as being introduced to a number of classic Dickens characters, the two most important being a young prostitute with a heart of gold called Nancy, and her menacing, brutal boyfriend, Bill Sikes. While Oliver is still learning his criminal trade, he is caught trying to steal a handkerchief from a rich man, Mr Brownlow, who takes pity on him and takes him home to care for him. However, with the unwilling help of Nancy, Bill Sikes finds and kidnaps Oliver, taking him back to Fagin.
In an attempt to solidify Oliver in a life of crime, Fagin persuades him to assist Sikes with the burglary of a grand house, but this plan goes horribly wrong and Oliver is shot. Again, taking pity on Oliver, the burglary victims, Miss Rose and Mrs Maylie, take Oliver in and care for him. Full of regret, Nancy travels to warm Mrs Maylie about impending danger, and for her perceived betrayal, Bill murders her in cold blood. Driven mad by what he has done, Bill accidently kills himself whilst trying toevade capture across the rooftops of London.
The end of the novel gives a happy ending to the young protagonist, as it is revealed that Mrs Maylie is actually related to Oliver, a long lost sister of his deceased mother and therefore his aunt. Oliver now has real family to call his own, and lives happily with his new benefactor, the caring Mr Brownlow. The Artful Dodger is sent to Australia after being convicted of stealing a snuff box, and Fagin is arrested and sentenced to death by hanging at the infamous Newgate Gaol, with many members of the public gathering round to witness the old criminal’s demise.