Crime and morality

As well as painting a picture of the workhouse, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist also shows the terrible alternative for many poor people – the world of crime. After Oliver runs away from Mr Sowerberry the coffin maker, he is drawn into the criminal gang run by Fagin, an evil old man who sends a group of orphaned children out to steal for him. 

In Oliver Twist, Dickens raises the question of whether criminality is nature or nurture – meaning whether some people are inherently bad and drawn to a life of crime or whether their environment and life conditions push them to have no alternative. Much of Victorian society believed that poor people deserved to be poor and that criminals and poor people were usually “naturally” bad. Dickens questions this through the range of the criminal characters he presents. 

On the one hand, characters such as Fagin and Bill Sikes seem thoroughly evil. Bill Sikes is violent and cannot control his temper. Even after Nancy has nursed him back to health after his illness, Sikes is cruel to her: “Illness had not improved Mr Sikes’ temper; for, as the girl raised him up and led him to a chair, he muttered various curses on her awkwardness, and struck her.” (Chapter 39, 10%). Both Fagin and Sikes enjoy being crimi...

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