Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oliver Twist, Post 1

Oliver Twist Readalong, hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey

I'm actually quite familiar with the basics of Oliver Twist thanks to the films Oliver!, Oliver and Company, Oliver Twist, and Oliver Twist. But obviously they truncate and change parts wholesale so it's always good to return to the text itself.

However I have found those adaptations to be fairly faithful to the text so far; while there were some changes, from what I can remember most plot points and characters remain the same. I only have a couple of immediate thoughts:
  • The "Please sir I want some more" scene.  This seems to translate wholesale on screen.  Of course there's the irony of the fat wealthy men and their presumed "goodness" in maintaining Oliver and the orphans in such style.  I really like the confrontation scene between the men and Oliver on screen because the visual irony is fantastic.  These plump men surrounded by mountains of food and poor Oliver who only wants a bit more gruel.  The inequities are depressing.
  • I'm also struck by Oliver's innocence and basic goodness; he wants to do right and would probably be content earning a simple honest day's wage if he could only have the opportunity.  Instead he's forced in with a band of criminals and away from good people who worried about him.
  • I've always heard of this book as particularly anti-Semitic and Fagin is almost constantly mentioned as "the Jew" rather than by his name. I'm not entirely sure why that decision was made; this is something I'd like to know more about and to discuss later. 


  1. Great points! I know, the "Please sir I want some more" scene is a perfect critique of wealthy hypocrites. Dickens knew how to nail that.

    Oliver's goodness has always baffled me. He's been surrounded by bad people and behaviour all his life and while I believe that one can be genuinely good, I'm sure that every kid does something naughty at one point. The fact that Oliver doesn't is a bit over the top. Also, he speaks perfect English (a technique to show that he is different from the thieves), when in truth he should speak a sort of slang.

    As for the Jew, I don't think Dickens meant anything by it. It's just that back then, Jews were a frowned-upon population in London. I have never seen this novel as anti-Semitic. In all honesty, it's just a story and I want to enjoy it as such. In fact, Fagin is a well-constructed character and while Bill Sykes, an Englishman, is a brute and a bit of an idiot, Fagin still has class and is very intelligent. That's hardly anti-Semitic, is it?

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. The hypocrisy of the scene where Oliver asks for more really upsets me. It's amazing that there is so much humor in a book that is really actually a depressing portrayal of the situation of the poor at that time.

    I also noticed Dickens constantly referring to Fagin as the Jew. It bothers me a little, but I understand that it was a different time. It might not have had the same connotation as it does now.

  3. You almost have to wonder how someone can remain so good and pure surrounded by all of this negativity. I'm not familiar with the story, but I am waiting for something to happen to Oliver. The world is not always a pleasant place. :)

    The whole antisemitism thing is something I don't understand completely-more about how it became so rampant. Maybe I need to go do some research.

    Thanks for participating!

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