Oliver’s discourse

I want to discuss Oliver’s discourse so far and what that implies about the society he lives in. His discourse has mostly been passive, because he only gets a chance to speak when he is confronted and even if he does, he is never trusted. As readers, we seldom get any insights on what exactly is going on in Oliver’s mind, and he rarely conveys to people or has anyone to convey to, about his feelings and thoughts. So I was glad to see when Oliver was finally given a chance to talk about his past and was entrusted at Mrs. Maylie’s house. It was the first time in his life that he was able to speak about his sufferings; the process of his recollection was difficult just as his journey was: “The Conference was a long one; for Oliver told them all his simple history: and was often compelled to stop, by pain and want of strength. It was a solemn thing, to hear, in the darkened room, the feeble voice of the sick child recounting a weary catalogue of evils and calamities which hard men had brought upon him” (163). Simply having listeners to his stories was a kind of grace for Oliver, because he wasn’t always so fortunate.

Before finding his haven at Mrs. Maylie’s house, Oliver met people who simply do not care about what he has to say: Fagin could tell by his appearance that Oliver was obviously just another orphan for him to exploit. Mr. Bumble shamelessly lies about Oliver’s past because he knows that his words will always be more credible than Oliver’s due to his age and status. And Mr. Brownlow chose to believe in whatever the stranger tells him instead of trusting Oliver who was sincere and grateful. In this society, innocent children are easily mistaken as malicious liars, which indicates how skeptical and insecure they are of each other. Even when people do have interest in what Oliver has to say, the interest always lies in his past, which is directly related to his status or his family’s status. Mr. Bumble’s fabrication begins with how Oliver was “born of low and vicious parents” (95) which clearly has a great impact on what Mr. Brownlow thinks of Oliver. The only place where social status and history doesn’t matter is at the bottom of the social hierarchy which is a catch itself.

4 thoughts on “Oliver’s discourse”

  1. I really enjoyed your analysis! I liked the way that you brought in characters from all different parts of the novel to accentuate your point. I think it was necessary to mention them, but I like how you placed them further in your analysis so you can mention them without needing to go into great detail each of their stories as that could make you stray from your original point with Oliver. I also liked how you describe his discourse as passive, I think that’s a great word for it. This sentence that you wrote, “simply having listeners to his stories was a kind of grace for Oliver, because he wasn’t always so fortunate” to me is funny because the novel was such a success and he has millions of people listen to his story, just not in his personal life so he does not know. It reminds me of Nancy’s death, how it was not mourned in the novel but people did mourn it in real life.

    1. I agree with Julia’s last point, that there is an ironic contrast between the success of the novel and its characters choosing not to listen to Oliver. In a way, the lasting cultural impact of Oliver Twist almost seems to provide a sense of recompense for Oliver; it is satisfying to know that there are so many people hearing Oliver’s story, almost 200 years later.
      I also like that you touch upon the intersection between class and age. No one listens to Oliver because 1. he is a child, and 2. he is an orphan and falls in with the wrong people. I found the endings of chapters 15 and 17 to be frustrating and heartbreaking, because as readers we *know* that Oliver is a sweet, innocent child who would never intentionally act against Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin. Yet Mr. Brownlow is more willing to accept Mr. Grimwig’s cynicism and Mr. Bumble’s account of Oliver’s past than to trust his gut feelings about Oliver, leaving the readers to experience the tension brought about by class-based assumptions.

  2. Jennifer, your post really reminded me of our discussions about phrenology and the fact that Oliver seems to have this natural “goodness” about him that everyone can see. The idea that Oliver is so outwardly good contradicts his early interactions in the novel because, as you said, no one really listens to Oliver or trusts what he has to say. I’m reminded of the scene at the Sowerberry’s when the whole family turns on Oliver and he is beaten. If Oliver is outwardly good, then people like the Sowerberry’s should believe him, but they trust Noah instead. When the Maylie’s meet him, they seem to identify this goodness and immediately trust him. This perhaps could be a critique about class as wealthier characters have an easier time sympathizing with Oliver than lower-class characters we meet at the beginning of the novel.

  3. “Simply having listeners to his story was a kind of grace for Oliver”. I think “grace” is the right word here because while the homeowners should have thrown Oliver out, declared him to the authorities, punished him, instead they offered healing, comfort, friendship, pardon, acceptance. There are many definitions of the word including “an unmerited divine assistance”, “an act or instance of kindness or clemency”, “mercy, pardon” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). The concept of grace is then woven throughout the novel in other circumstances (see Brownlow’s treatment and acceptance of Oliver) when unmerited kindness is shown in contrast to what justice would indicate.

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