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Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Quotes


The old story ... no wedding-ring. I see. Ah! Good night!

Surgeon, Chapter 1

Oliver's identity is the great mystery in Oliver Twist. In Chapter 1, the surgeon who delivers Oliver is curious and asks the nurse what she knows. The nurse only says what she has surmised from the young woman's condition when she arrived. He then looks for a wedding ring and draws his own conclusion that she is unmarried. The surgeon then leaves the nurse alone with the body, and she steals the locket that holds a clue to the child's true identity.


Please, sir, I want some more.

Oliver Twist, Chapter 2

With this request Oliver sets in motion the events of the novel. By asking for another bowl of gruel, he dares to challenge the system by which the poor are kept down. To rid themselves of this troublemaker, the workhouse board places him in an apprenticeship, and his journey begins.


I dream so much of Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see when I am awake.

Dick, Chapter 7

As he leaves the town of his birth, Oliver stops at the baby farm to say goodbye to his young friend Dick, who is dying, probably from lack of proper nutrition and care. Dick believes he will be with his sister in heaven and will be happy, which is not possible on Earth. Oliver never forgets Dick and, once he has come into his inheritance, plans to take Dick to live with him. Unfortunately, by then Dick has died.


What a fine thing capital punishment is! Dead men never repent; dead men never bring awkward stories to light.

Fagin, Chapter 9

Fagin worries a great deal about what other people know of his activities. Thinking Oliver is asleep, in this scene Fagin congratulates himself that several of his associates have gone to the gallows without giving him away. Ironically, he will ultimately hang as a result of just such as betrayal when Noah Claypole gives evidence against him.


Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature.

Narrator, Chapter 10

Dickens refers to the "philosophers" who raised Oliver, including those at the baby farm and the workhouse. Their treatment of the poor was based on experimental philosophy: they experimented to see how little the poor could be given before they would get too discouraged to come asking for help. Despite their example Oliver is not by nature this sort of "philosopher," while Charley Bates and Jack Dawkins are. As a result it is Oliver who is arrested for pickpocketing and not the real culprits.


He pointed hastily to the picture above Oliver's head, and then to the boy's face ... The eyes, the head, the mouth; every feature was the same. The expression was, for the instant, so precisely alike, that the minutest line seemed copied with startling accuracy!

Narrator, Chapter 12

This is the first real clue to Oliver's identity: how much he resembles Agnes Fleming, the woman Brownlow's dear, deceased friend loved so much. It is this resemblance that will lead Brownlow to the West Indies, where he will begin to assemble clues toward the solution of the mystery.


We put the sick paupers into open carts in the rainy weather, to prevent their taking cold.

Mr. Bumble, Chapter 17

Mr. Bumble often pontificates on how the poor are treated, always claiming that their mistreatment is for their own good. While it is unlikely that any real person in his position would speak so openly on this topic, the self-righteous sentiment rings true.


Anything but his death, I told you from the first. I won't shed blood; it's always found out, and haunts a man besides.

Monks, Chapter 26

Monks and Fagin are talking about the burglary and the shooting of Oliver. Monks is terrified that Oliver will die and that he will be blamed. Like many of the criminals in Oliver Twist, Monks draws the line at murder. He can't know, of course, that he is predicting what the future holds for Bill Sikes and Fagin.


Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.

Narrator, Chapter 37

Now that he is workhouse master, Mr. Bumble has lost the cocked hat that told the world he was the parish beadle. Without it he feels he has lost his dignity and power. Dickens, like Shakespeare, is fond of pointing out that "the apparel oft proclaims the man" (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3).


You would serve me best, lady ... if you could take my life at once ... It would be something not to die in the hell in which I have lived.

Nancy, Chapter 40

When Nancy seeks out Rose Maylie in her hotel room, Rose wants to help her escape from her life of crime, but Nancy will not leave Bill Sikes. Still, she deeply regrets all she has done and hates the life she must return to. It is one of the many times Nancy implies she has a premonition of her impending death.


It is never too late to repent.

Nancy, Chapter 47

When Bill Sikes attacks Nancy, she begs him to come with her to see Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow so that she can plead with them to offer to help Bill as well. It must sound like madness to Bill because he believes she has "peached" on them all. Moments later he kills her, and the opportunity for repentance is gone.


'It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it,' urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left the room. 'That is no excuse,' returned Mr. Brownlow. 'You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and, indeed, are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.' 'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass—a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.'

Mr. Bumble, Chapter 50

The Bumbles are one of three couples described in the book who have miserable marriages. (The other two are the Sowerberrys and Monks's parents, the Leefords.) Now that Mr. Bumble is no longer working on behalf of the law, he is quite willing to point out its inadequacies.

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