Olivers Trial

Oliver has been taken into custody for a crime he did not commit. While he continually professed his innocence, no one believed him until the book stall owner spoke on his behalf. Dickens not only uses this event to further the plot of the novel, but also to show the reputability of the different classes. Oliver is a young, poor orphan who has no home. It is clear no one will believe him because society looks down on the poor. Begging is considered a crime that could send you to jail. Oliver is about to be sentenced to three months of hard labor he clearly cannot perform in his weakened state despite Brownlow claiming he does not want to press charges.

The book stall owner recounts what actually happened and Oliver is set free. While the book stall owner is not wealthy, he is still in a class about Oliver. Even though it is old, he is dressed “well” in a suit. While skeptical at first, Fang believes him when the book stall owner mentions Brownlow was reading a book at the time of the robbery, the same one he has in his hand now. He had not payed for the book. Brownlow claims he “forgot all about it” but it was clear he had stolen the book.

While Oliver was chased down and beaten for being suspected of theft, Brownlow, who has just admitted to not paying for the book, is let go with a warning. This once again shows the class disparity. No one bats an eye at Brownlow when he admits to having “forgotten” to pay for the book because he is wealthy. Fang tells him, “Let this be a lesson to you,” while Olivers “lesson” was a beating. This general mistrust and mistreatment of the poor is shown throughout Dickens’ novel. This particular scene showed how it affects the justice system.

2 thoughts on “Olivers Trial”

  1. The passage you wrote about was so infuriating because no one seems to want to give Oliver the benefit of the doubt, since he looks like an orphan. I mean, he is an orphan, but at that point in the novel, he *looked* the part. The judge, the police officers, the entire mob of pedestrians and townsfolk hunt down and persecute this 9 year old boy on a whim, at the assertion of an old “respectable” fellow. It’s interesting because, even when Oliver has been looked after by Mr. Brownlow and the old lady so that he’s clean and dressed up, and he’s going to return the books to the bookstall owner, the same thing happens: Nancy makes false statements about him and the crowd detains him, takes the money that Brownlow gave him, and otherwise aide the traffickers who are kidnapping him.

    I don’t get how throughout the novel, Dickens writes that Oliver’s “pure” and “true” nature as an upper-class person is visible in his visage and comportment even though he’s lived in squalor and cruelty for his whole life, but nonetheless most people don’t notice this; they see the dirt and hunger and assume the worst. Oliver as a cover isn’t too unattractive, yet commoners judge him and derive negative conclusions. Wack.

  2. I like your analysis! The idea and importance of appearance makes a huge impact on how we view the characters. Most characters in the novels outward appearance shine light into their inner character. For example, Rose is described as angelic and Sykes is described as ugly and both their personalities follow their appearance. Although there are exceptions, I think the repeated importance of appearance plays a large part in what Dickens was trying to expose about his society.

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