19 Jul 2009

Essays on Oliver Twist

Many literary classics have been turned into award winning movies over the years since movies were invented.  All too often students fall into the trap of watching the movie, rather than actually taking the time to read the book.  Instructors can easily identify which students have done this due to fundamental changes in the story details.  Oliver Twist is an excellent example of this.

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, is the story of an orphan.  Oliver was born in a workhouse but his mother died shortly after giving birth.  When he was old enough, he was set to work in a workhouse. While there, Oliver is pressured by the other boys to ask for seconds of the nasty gruel that was served for dinner.  The head of the workhouse offers five pounds to anyone who will take Oliver from the workhouse and Oliver is therefore apprenticed to an undertaker.  Soon after, Oliver gets into a fight with the undertakers other assistant and runs away.

Oliver makes his way to London where he is befriended by a boy named Jack Dawkins.  Jack brings Oliver back to where he lives.  Jack is part of a group of pick pockets trained and ran by a man named Fagin.  Fagin teaches Oliver the ways of pocketing but Oliver gets disturbed as the boys rob an old man of his handkerchief a few days later.  Oliver runs but is captured by the man and almost convicted for the theft, but the old man instead takes the now sick Oliver back to his home and nurses him back to health.

After a time, two young adults in Fagin’s gang, Bill Sikes and his lover Nancy, capture Oliver and return him to Fagin.  Fagin forces Oliver to assist Bill in a burglary but something goes wrong and Oliver is shot.  Oliver is nursed back to health again and is quickly accepted into the household where he was shot, but the Fagin gang and the mysterious Mr. Monks lurk in the shadows with sinister plans for the young man.

  • Though such practices are outlawed today, prior to the 20th century it was not uncommon for orphans to be set to work in workhouses like the one in Oliver Twist.  Charles Dickens was a progressive thinker and found this practice an outrage.  Discuss the use of fiction by such writers to spark changes they felt were needed.  Were they effective?  Why or why not?
  • Dickens, like many writers, uses coincidence in blatant ways in Oliver Twist.  With the exception of the fact that Oliver’s real family happens to be well-off financially, it is unlikely that Bill Sikes would happen to select the house that Oliver’s aunt just happens to live in.  Some feel that writers using coincidence in such a manner is a form of literary cheating.  Discuss the use of techniques such as coincidence and deux ex machina (defined as an intervention by outside, often superior, forces which enables the characters to resolve an issue during the course of the work) by authors, giving examples of each technique and offer your views on their use.

Students who try to use the movie musical of Oliver Twist are typically caught due to key detail differences between the two versions.  For instance, in the book, it is a handkerchief that is stolen from the old man, but in the movie it is a wallet.  In the movie, Fagin is depicted as a semi-kind (although greedy) old man with Bill Sikes taking the role of the gang’s leader, but in the book, Fagin is definitely the one in charge.  Small details like this can adversely affect the student’s grade when preparing essays on Oliver Twist and other literary works turned Broadway or Hollywood hit.  Our writers know the importance of such details and can help students avoid such problems.  All they need is your order.

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