Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist follows the life of the central character, from his birth in a workhouse to the point at which he is able to live a safe and happy childhood. Through the novel, Dickens draws attention to the difficult and unfair conditions in which many poor people were forced to live in 19th century England.

The novel’s structure is largely chronological. The novel is divided into short chapters, which were originally released as a series of installments. The story therefore makes frequent use of suspense and cliff-hanger endings to encourage readers to buy the next installment. 

The main character is Oliver Twist. The narrative follows his life from his birth until he is about 10 years old, charting his involvement in a criminal gang and his escape to a better life. The story also features a large cast of memorable characters, including the evil criminals Fagin and Bill Sikes, and Sikes’ girlfriend Nancy who tries to save Oliver but is unable to escape from a life of crime herself. 

The story’s setting is approximately contemporary to its time of writing, in the early 19th century. Most of the action takes place in London, which is vividly described. Dickens also draws attention to the unfairness of the social setting, and the awful reality of the lives of many poor people. 

The story is told by a third-person narrator. The narrator is omniscient and primarily follows the perspective of the central character Oliver. However, the narrator also follows the point of view of other characters, such as Fagin and Nancy, adding to the suspense and giving an insight into their perspectives. 

The language can often be difficult to understand, due to both the age of the text and Dickens’ way of writing. Dickens makes extensive use of satire, irony, and humor to describe the evil attitude of many of the characters.


Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Physical setting

Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist is primarily set in London. The descriptions of London are often very specific, naming particular areas and streets:

They crossed from the Angel into St. John’s Road; struck down the small street which terminates at Sadler’s Wells Theatre; through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row; down the little court by the side of the workhouse; across the classic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-Hole; thence into Little Saffron Hill… (Chapter 8, 67%)

These roads would probably have been familiar to a large part of Dickens’ audience, making it easier to imagine the setting. It also helps to closely connect the events of the novel to real-life Victorian...

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