Friday, April 17, 2015

Dear Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist, 
Parish Workhouse, 
C/o Charles DIckens

Dear Oliver,

From the moment, you held out your bowl to Mr Bumble, and in a thin, frightened voice, said, “Please, Sir, I want some more,” I felt for you. I felt your hunger and pain as you struggled through the brutality of life and the horrible living conditions that prevailed in your orphanage in the London of Victorian times.

Left to yourself, you would have stifled your hunger pangs. You would never have dared ask for another portion of gruel. But egged on by the older boys in the workhouse, you had no choice.

Yours was the classic rags-to-riches story and so well did Dickens challenge your young life that I expected your struggle to flounder at every step of the way.

The very name that the workhouse official chose for you, “Twist,” had much to do with the twist of the hangman’s noose and that is why everyone insisted that you would come to a bad end. So much prejudice, and all because of the particulars of your birth over which you had no control. 

Your life offers us clear evidence that nature can have the upper hand over nurture. In spite of having spent your formative years amid the stifling environment of a workhouse and then living among thieves, you did not let the stain besmirch your character. You spent your whole life in the novel fighting unknowingly against that prejudice. 

The best part about you is that you did it so effortlessly, without giving the matter a second thought, suffering no agonies of conscience. There were some things you couldn’t bring yourself to do; it was as simple as that.

In spite of living among thieves and seeing the seediest side of life, you retained your innocence. In fact, you didn’t even realize that Fagin was teaching those boys to steal. You imagined it was some kind of a game. Realisation struck only when the Artful Dodger picked Mr Brownlow’s pockets and left you behind to suffer the consequences.

Dickens keeps the heat turned high upon you, as you battle one difficult circumstance after another. Being an orphan with no one to love you is bad enough. You must suffer additionally the shame of people calling you names, disregarding your innate goodness and assuming the worst of you.

Through you, we readers, well-fed, -clothed and comfortable in our lives, get an idea of the social injustice that prevailed in the London of your era. It isn’t much different in the times and places we live in, but we’re so comfortable and snug in ourselves that we tend to forget that. And then along you come to remind us. Perhaps that is what Dickens intended when he created you.

Fortunately, everything ends well for you. I don’t know how much I could have taken if the sufferings thrust upon you went on too long. As it is, at nearly 600 pages, there’s more than someone like me can reasonably bear.

Thank God, there was a happy ending in sight.


  1. We are a product of our environment. But conscience is what molds us.

  2. Jeffrey, you've distilled the premise of Oliver Twist so perfectly.

  3. Yes thank goodness it ended well. I studied Oliver Twist in school so I enjoyed the movie a lot more than the book.

  4. What a book and what a character! I know how I felt when read the book and now when my son holds the same book in his hands I know exactly how he will feel! It kind of made me feel thankful I wasnt in his place...and also be thankful for what i had! Right book to influence a young reader at a right age!

  5. I read Oliver Twist when I was a student and that too as part of the curriculum. Now I'm tempted to read the book again :)

  6. I don't remember the story well, maybe I had not paid attention in my class :) Makes me want to read it again.

  7. Another book I have to read :) I am finding so many good books here :D

    Only Time Will Tell



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