(numbers refer to chapters; a shorter version appears below)
What seems indicated by the opening list of characters? Are the descriptions neutral? How may Dickens’ style have been influenced by contemporary melodrama? By an eighteenth-century picaresque tradition?
1. What are some features of Dickens’ style in this chapter?
What are some unpropitious circumstances of Oliver’s birth?
What do we learn about Oliver’s mother?
2. Against what circumstances of Oliver’s life is Dickens’ sarcasm directed?
What do we learn of Oliver’s character? Of the nature of workhouse life?
Do you think Dickens’ portrait of life in a workhouse was true to life?
3. How does Dickens seem to use names? Are the names in this book appropriate? What are featueres of the illustrations by George Cruikshank?
What do we learn of the character of Mr. Gamfield? (15-17) From what occupation has Oliver been saved, and how? [the use of children as chimney sweeps had been outlawed due to the high incidence of deaths]
What motives the board members in deciding the fate of the children in their charge? (15-16) To whom is Oliver eventually apprenticed?
4. How is Noah Claypole’s character represented, and what effect does he have on Oliver’s life? What seems the nature of his relationship with Charlotte?
5. What scenes does Oliver witness in his role as apprentice to a funeral director? What roles is he expected to play? (child mourner and mute)
6. Under what circumstance does Oliver rebel against bullying? Do you find his victory over Noah Claypole probable?
7. As Oliver runs away, to whom does he bid farewell? What are some of the problems he encounters as a penniless fugitive?
8. Who seeks to “befriend” him, and what is his motive? What is the nickname of Jack Dawkins? (“the artful Dodger”) What kind of language does he speak? (thieves’ argot)
9. Do you think the portrayal of the head thief Fagin contains anti-semitic stereotypes? What prejudices concerning Jews would Dickens have encountered at the time?
What do we learn about Fagin’s den and his mode of training thieves?
10. How does Oliver react at the scene of a robbery? Why is he singled out as the person who is chased? (67) What does the reaction of the crowd seem to indicate about mob behavior?
What incidents lead to his arrest?
11. What level of responsibility is shown in Oliver’s treatment by the magistrate? What does Dickens seem to believe about the possibility of legal justice?
Which people does he believe have access to scenes of trial and punishment, and what responsibility to they bear for reporting the truth? Which of Dickens’ own experiences may have prompted these views?
Is Mr. Brownlow responsible for Oliver’s arrest? (70) What does he notice about Oliver which affects his behavior toward him? How is Oliver finally released?
12. How does Oliver respond to the portrait he sees in his new home, and what may the reader infer from this preoccupation? (80, 81)
12. What account of their adventures do the two young thieves give on returning to Fagin’s den?
How is Bill Sikes described? Do you see significance in his treatment of his dog? (86)
What is Fagin’s motive for wanting to recapture Oliver? (88)
What part does Nancy play in gaining information of what has happened to him?
14. What plot incident gives the thieves the information they need about Oliver’s whereabouts? (his old clothes sold to Fagin, 94)
On what grounds is Mr. Grimwig suspicious of Oliver? (99)
Why do you think he is added to the plot? Is his friendship with Mr. Brownlow entirely plausible?
What is the conclusion to their argument over whether Oliver will return as requested? Why were no other alternatives for his failure to return considered?
15. What further do we learn about Bill Sikes in this chapter? Is there a correlation between his abuse of his dog and his other behavior?
What feint does Nancy use to catch Oliver? Why is it successful?
16. To what treatment is Oliver subjected? What causes Nancy to regret her part in his recapture? (116)
How does she resist, and how is she treated by the others in response? How seriously do they take her resistence? (117)
17. What remarks does the narrator make on the theatre which bear on his disposal of the narration and plot? (118)
What interference in the plot does Mr. Bumble make at this time? Does Mr. Brownlow believe his assertions?
18. What remarks does the narrator make on the effects of sectarian religious bias? What religious views, if any, do you believe are held by the narrator of this novel?
What techniques do Fagin and his helpers use to attempt to bind Oliver to them? (they attempt to break his spirit and to involve him in a crime, so that he will be forced to keep silent)
19. What robbery is planned, and for what motive? Why does Sikes wish a boy to assist him? (139) What indirect comments are made on the value of education and employment in the tale of the chimney-sweeper’s former apprentice? (139)
What reason does Fagin give for his special interest in corrupting Oliver? (141) How does he size up Nancy’s motives, and the likelihood of her acting on them? (143, “Ha! ha! The man against the child, for a bag of gold!”)
20. Who is chosen for participation in the robbery? What appeal does he make, and how is this received? (threatened)
21. Where will the burglary be undertaken? What is added by the desription of the journey to the site?
22. In what way is Oliver forced to assist in the burglary? How does his behavior affect the outcome? What happens to him?
23. What motivates Mr. Bumble in his courtship of Mrs. Corney? What are some of the ways Dickens presents scenes of romance?
What incident breaks in upon the couple’s privacy? Does the reader have any sense of why this may be important?
24. What information, if any, is gleaned from the tale of the dying woman? What role had she played in events surrounding the death of Oliver’s mother?
25. What news does Toby Crackit bring to Fagin, and what is the latter’s response?
26. For what purpose does Fagin seek Sikes, and what is the latter’s condition and mood? Why does he visit Nancy, and what does he say to her? Does she trust him?
What reason does Nancy give for wishing to help Oliver? (his face torments her, 189, bespeaks goodness)
What secret does Fagin inadvertently hint? (189) Why is it so important to him that it be concealed?
In what conversation do Monks and Fagin engage? Do we know who Monks is? What shadow does the latter see on the stairs as they talk? (194)
27. How does the courtship of Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney conclude? How does he make his motives in marrying her clear? What new occupation or honor does he wish?
After kissing his intended wife, what behavior does he disapprove of in Noah Claypole and Charlotte? What is unbalanced about Noah and Charlotte’s relationship?
28. What do we learn about the servants who discovered the robbery? What has happened to Oliver? (struggles to house with his wounds) What attitude has Giles taken toward his shooting of Oliver? (boasts of his deeds, neglects to mention that the thief he shot was a boy)
29. How do Mrs. Maylie and Rose respond to the news that the thief is wounded? Why don’t they know that he is a boy?
30. How is Oliver treated in his new surroundings? (wakes from his dreams to find affection, 216) To whom does Rose plead his case? (217) What parts of his story does Oliver tell them? (219)
What well-intended dishonesty is necessary to persuade Giles and the constable that Oliver wasn’t one of the robbers? What does it seem to reveal about the respective social class status of Dr. Losberne, the servants and the constable?
31. How do Dr. Losberne and Mrs. Maylie distract and confuse the detectives on their arrival? Do you think it likely that this plot would have succeeded?
What act of dishonesty ensures that the investigation is foiled? (Dr. Losberne draws bullet from gun) In general how do the characters of this book react to the representatives of the law?
How might a modern criminal investigation proceeded differently?
32. What happens when Oliver attempts to point out the house at which he was detained? What have the thieves done to prevent discovery?
Under what circumstances does Fagin see Oliver? (in carriage) Why cannot he join the Brownlows or tell them what had happened to him? (home closed, and Mr. Brownlow has moved to the West Indies, as we later learn, on business relating to him)
Where do the Maylies take Oliver? What does the narrator think of the values of country life? (paen to country, 237, return to peace)
33. What sudden event preoccupies the family? (sickness of Rose Maylie) Why might Dickens have inserted this plot element?
What words of advice are given readers by the narrator? (to cherish those we love, 247) What role does the narrator take in this episode? (that of mediating grief and regret) How does this episode end?
34. What plot element is introduced with the arrival of Harry Maylie? (tells his mother of his intention to propose) Would there have been a class difference between Harry and Rose?
Under what circumstances do Monks and Fagin view Oliver? (has been sleeping, 255) What is his reaction? (calls for help, 255)
What bar has separated Harry and Rose? (251) Do you find this a great barrier, or a plausible reason for avoiding a marriage? (even in Victorian times, this would have been strained) What does Mrs. Maylie believe may lead Rose to refuse his offer? (unselfishness)
Why does she give Giles 25 pounds?
What relation do our emotions have to our interpretations of events, according to the narrator? (254)
35. What enables Monks and Fagin to escape?
On what grounds does Rose Maylie decline Harry’s proposal? (261) What promise does she make which gives him limited hope? (to listen to one more proposal only, 263)
36. What career prospects does Harry possess? What is Rose’s response to his departure? (she weeps) What promise does he extract from Oliver? (to write news)
37. In what context does the narrator observe that clothes make the man? (267) Have the incidents of this novel born this out?
What has been the marital fate of Mr. Bumble? What is especially humiliating about his eviction from the workhouse? Whom does he meet, and on what basis do they form an alliance?
For what information is Monks willing to pay Mr. Bumble? What is the reader expected to make of his desire for this information?
38. How is the residence of Monks described? What information about the death of old Sally does Mrs. Bumble provide to Monks, and for what price? What do we learn about her from her behavior in this scene?
What does Monks do with the tokens left by Oliver’s mother which the Bumbles turn over to him? Is there any possibility of retrieval?
39. Why do Fagin and Nancy return to the lair to fetch money for Sikes? What does she hear when she listens to the conversation between Monks and Fagin? What resistence does she make to their plans, and with what result?
What unusual behavior does she demonstrate before taking the money to Sikes? What does she do to induce his sleepiness, and where does she flee? (gives him laudanum, visits West End on foot) Why is she admitted to Rose Maylie’s presence?
40. What emotions about her situation does Nancy confess to Rose Maylie? (shame, 301) What account does she give of her life and motives? (302) What information does she convey about threats to Oliver? (303)
Does her loyalty to Sikes make sense? How would the Victorian reader have responded to her choice? (305) What elements of foreshadowing are included in this scene? (anticipates her death)
What promise does she make to convey future information? (306)
41. How is Mr. Brownlow discovered, and on what topic does Rose Maylie consult him? What plans do he and the others make for finding Monks? Do these include informing the police?
42. What deed has precipated Noah Claypole and Charlotte’s departure for London? Who bears the brunt of their efforts? With whom do they meet up, and how? (Fagin)
43. What event overtakes the Artful Dodger? What sentence has he been given? How does he behave to the judge and jury, and what response to this is evoked in Noah Claypole and Charley Bates?
Do you think it is plausible that all the bad characters meet up with and ally with one another? If not, what advantages may this have for Dickens’ plot?
44. How does Sikes prevent Nancy from leaving home? What causes Fagin to suspect that she may be restless, and to what motives does he attribute this?
What hints does he give her, and how does she respond? (willing to help her leave Sikes) On what basis does she refuse him? (knows his character, believes Sikes needs her)
45. Whom does Fagin engage to spy on Nancy, and what are his motives for complying? How does Fagin arrange to identify her? Under what circumstances is Noah able to overhear her conversation?
46. What does Noah overhear and hasten to report? Which aspects of her conversation does he fail to report, and which does he exaggerate? (she describes Monks, refuses to surrender Fagin)
What emotions overcome Nancy as she returns home?
47. How is the news of her conversation transmitted to Sikes? (Noah reports to Fagin who tells Sikes?) Is Fagin’s report neutral, and if not, how does he work upon Sikes’ emotions? (356, has been unnerved at the collapse of his schemes)
Under what circumstances does Sikes kill Nancy? What makes the murder peculiarly repellent? (pleads with him to repent and they will escape together, has been unwilling to leave without him, 362; he clubs her)
48. What is Sikes’ reaction to his deed, and to the corpse? (364) Where and how does he flee? What presence haunts him? (wanders Hampstead Heath pursued by Nancy’s ghost, as it were, 368)
49. What do you make of the fact that Sikes joins others in putting out a fire? How does he learn that he is the object of search?
Why does he resolve to return to London? Do you think this was a wise move? How does it affect the scene of his death?
How does he respond to the presence of his dog? Why doesn’t he succeed in killing him? (later refuses to come to the noose, runs off)
When Monks is brought to Mr. Brownlow’s house, what do we learn about his former relationship with him? What is revealed as his real name? (Mr. Brownlow was his father’s oldest friend; Monks is really Edward Leeford) What difference connotations are carried by his respective names?
What past events does Mr. Brownlow narrate? (Monks’ and Oliver’s father’s past; the father’s destroyed will) What do we learn about Monks’ own past? (has contracted a disease from profligacy)
To what does Monks agree? (to confess and comply with restitution) Do you think his cooperation is realistic?
What news is revealed about the fates of Sikes and Fagin? (about to be captured)
50. How is Jacob’s Island described? What account does Mr. Chitling give of the arrest of Fagin? Who else has been captured? (Noah Claypole) What has happened to Nancy’s friend Bet, and to the confederates at Cripples? Why do they find the arrest of Noah so ominous? (he will tell on Fagin) What seems indicated by the arrival of Sikes’ dog?
How does Charley Bates respond to Sikes when the latter arrives at their den? What does this seem to indicate about Charley’s character? Why does a mob appear at their hiding place and whom does Charley help at this juncture? (tries to help attackers by shouting directions) Why doesn’t Sikes kill him?
How is the mob described? Is Dickens in sympathy with their actions? (388-89) How does Sikes attempt to escape, and how and why is his attempt foiled? (sees eyes again, and hangs himself, 391) What happens to his dog? (attempts to join him and dies, 391) How would you describe the account of Sikes’ death?
What forms of information come to light after Edward Leeford’s narration? (the terms of his father’s will and the situation of his mother’s death, 396) What it seems is Rose Maylie’s relation to Oliver? (his aunt)
Under what conditions has Rose consented to marry Harry Maylie? (has renounced his political connections and wealth) What point is the novel attempting to make about the conditions for happiness?
52. What is Fagin’s state of mind as he awaits his verdict and death? What do you think of the skill with which these are rendered? Does the picture by Cruikshank well convey his situation?
What does Fagin tell Oliver when he and Mr. Browlow visit his cell? What motivates him to give this information? How does he try to use their visit to escape, and how is this foiled?
Does the reader learn anything of Fagin’s past or why he turned to crime?
53. Which matters are summed up and concluded by the final chapter? Are there any matters you would have liked to know of which are not included? Are all the resolutions fitting?
With what final thoughts does the narrator leave the reader? Why is the memory of the dead mother so important to the resolution of the novel? (need for forgiveness and charity)
What are some features of Dickens’ plot construction in this novel? How does he create suspense?
Which of these may have been influenced by the fact that it was prepared for serialization over a roughly two year period?
The character of Oliver has been criticized as passive. Is this fair to him? If so, why might Dickens have felt impelled to present a good child with somewhat passive traits?
Are the portrayals of men and women within the novel gender stereotyped? If so, what role does this play in the resolving the novel’s themes?
What expectations may Dickens’ readers have had for what constitutes a good novel which may not be true of modern readers?
What are the chief targets of Dickens’ satire? (hypocrisy and meanness) How would you describe his sense of humor?
Ultimately what attitude do you believe Dickens’ narrator and this novel take toward the world of crime? Social class? Family life?
To what extent does this novel fulfill the requirements of realism? To the extent that it does not, what alternate purposes may be fulfilled by “unrealistic” elements such as caricature, idealization and fantasy?
Page numbers are from the Oxford Illustrated Edition, 1949 and ff.
Oliver Twist, shorter version
1. What are themes, characters or topics common to Oliver Twist and other mid-Victorian novels you may have read? (e. g., Mary Barton, Jane Eyre, David Copperfield)
2. How does the novel present the criminal justice system? Is this system fair? Well-organized? What forces are finally needed to capture criminals and effect justice?
3. How do you think Dickens’ audience would have responded to his portrayal of thieves? What is added to the novel by the description of their haunts?
4. What is added to the story by Cruikshank’s illustrations? How does he reinforce or added to the novelist’s depictions? Do you think he was a suitable illustrator for Dickens?
5. Do the novel’s women embody stereotypical Victorian womanly behavior? If so, what are some of these traits? What is Nancy’s occupation and character? What is the significance of the manner of her death?
6. What are some of the emotions which compel the reader onward? What are some important chase scenes, and how do they affect the reader’s sympathy? At what point does the reader realize that the thieves will be caught? Is there a point at which Fagin or Sikes loses the reader’s last vestige of sympathy?
7. What is finally revealed as the mystery of Oliver’s past, and what new family does it give him? What seems to be the symbolic relation of the “high” and “low” plots?
8. Is this book an allegory, and if so, are its allegorical features effective? What role is played by the narrator’s direct voice?
9. How does the novel present marriage/partnerships (as in that of Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney, Noah and Charlotte, Nancy and Sikes)? Are there any good partnerships or marriages, and if so, in what social class do they seem to occur? What often seems the basis of attachments or marriages? Are the relationships equal? How does the novel deal with the issue of Sikes’ domestic brutality?
10. Why had Rose refused the proposal of Harry Maylie, and why can she finally accept it? What is the significance of the Maylies’ final removal to a modest life in the country?
11. What are some dramatic aspects of the scenes of Sikes’ death and Fagin’s imprisonment? What purpose is served by the scene in which Mr. rownlow and Oliver visit Fagin in his death cell?
12. What are some different forms of humor used by the narrator? What effect is created by the novel’s blending of burlesque, horror, suspense, pathos and sentiment?
13. What final messages do you think are conveyed by the novel, if any?