Oliver Twist is the darkest and most depressing novel by Dickens that I have read by far. It brings you some of the wickedest and most villainous characters to life. I’m surprised that Dickens had wanted to weave a tale of thieves, robbers, and murders in his very second novel, but he has taken that step and was successful. The story is a bold attempt to bring to life one of the corrupt sections of society that prey on one of the most innocent sections of the society, the homeless children, to assist carry out their wicked deeds.
In this story, as much as Dickens wanted to expose the villainy of some sections of society, he also wanted to expose the position of orphan children. The charitable institutions that cared for them were run by pompous and cold men who ill-treated them for being nobodies. The children in these places had to face many hardships and brutalities. Some survive them, some others pay with life, and some run away. These runaway children become the prey of gangs of robbers, thieves, and murderers, who catch them artfully and train them to assist in their crimes. It was just horrible.
For a reader with a weaker stomach, I just couldn’t go through the cruelties exercised against helpless children which were so deliberately described. It was so depressing. The wicked characters of Sikes, Fagin, and Monks take center stage. So, what we read for the most part are their dark and villainous deeds. But on and off, Dickens brings some rays of sunshine through the kind and generous acts of Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies.
This is the first Dickens novel I have read that which the protagonist takes backstage and lets the other actors play the role of defining him and explaining his story. I wasn’t too happy with this change of style of Dickens. Some readers may find the novelty welcoming. But for my part, that very style stopped me from forming any attachment to Oliver. He didn’t enter into my warm feelings. I only sympathized with him from a distance.
In Oliver Twist, I was surprised to find a weak plot for a Dickens novel. It had its sparks here and there with adequate drama and melodrama. But overall, the whole performance of the story somewhat lacked colour. And it was a sad story through and through with a rushed happy ending that wasn’t truly felt.