So I’m back with another Dickens novel right after Nicholas Nickleby – that’s two back to back! However today’s book is probably the diametric opposite of yesterday’s book. They’re both named after their main protagonists, and they’re both trying to find their way in life, but the similarities end there. While Nicholas Nickleby was a light hearted take on a young gentleman’s life and adventures in early London, Oliver Twist goes dark and deep into the alleyways of another side of London – the one not visible on the surface.
Oliver Twist is an orphan with no relatives to speak of, which puts him at the most disadvantaged position in society. Dickens paints a picture of the worst of humanity, people who live in the sewers and subsist on snatched crumbs. And he does it so well! You can almost smell the rot, the sweat and the blood. You can feel the darkness pervading every corner, making it look like there is no place for light to come in.
As an orphan in a workhouse run by abusive people, Oliver’s prospects aren’t too bright, with there being just two options – die or become a criminal. Oliver escapes from one cruel master, only to fall into the clutches of the next. The way the darkness seems to engulf his life can feel suffocating, but Oliver’s pure and innocent heart shines bright amidst it all. Despite everything that’s happening to and around him, he never hurts anyone and can’t bring himself to commit a crime.
With all the symbolism and realistic descriptions, this is truly a masterpiece of writing. Some of the characters are based on people in Dickens’ real life. Dickens wrote this novel when he was just 25, a time in his life that was fresh from the unhappy events of his childhood, which clearly explains the pain behind his words. He intended this novel to bring awareness to the class of people everyone ignored and also to the government’s flawed policies in dealing with them. Read it and see; it’s sure to stir up all kinds of emotions!