Literary Qualities

Oliver Twist is Dickens’s second novel, written when he was still in his middle 20s, and does not display the brilliance of character, thought, form, and language that characterizes his most mature work. Nevertheless, the novel has much to recommend it. Dickens’s realistic descriptions of the London criminal underworld are fascinating and effective. He creates lively characters and situations and has a knack for finding just the right word to devastate a character, drive home a point, or create effective irony or humor. His social criticism still generates animated discussions about similar problems existing today, and the moral issues Dickens raises will probably always face us.

Some readers object to Dickens’s use of coincidences to propel the plot of Oliver Twist. He depends on the kinds of unlikely connections that many modern writers carefully avoid; Dickens himself toned down his reliance on coincidence as a plot device in his later works. It is important to note that coincidences even more startling than those in Dickens’s books occurred regularly in other novels of the time, and hence, the Victorian reading public was accustomed to suspending its disbelief to a certain extent when reading novels. Dickens and other Victorian writers sought artistic balance in their plots, and making everything fit together was a time-honored goal of the novelist. More important, Dickens hoped to show that, although those who live comfortably may try to deny any connection with-and therefore responsibility for-the poor, all people are naturally and inescapably interconnected. In later novels such as Bleak House, Dickens succeeds in expressing this theme without resorting to coincidence as often as he does in Oliver Twist.

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