by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist Theme of Contrasting Regions
In Oliver Twist, London itself seems to be part of the overall system of control that threatens and entraps Oliver at every turn. The streets are like a filthy labyrinth—once you turn wrong, it’s impossible to escape. The country, on the other hand, is pristine and harmonious. Even the plants and flowers seem less constrained, and are able to grow freely wherever they want.
It’s no accident that Oliver keeps moving back and forth between urban and rural settings in this novel. The city itself is condemned, almost as much as the institutions of religion and justice, for helping to create criminals and oppress the poor. Because of this, the city gets personified numerous times—it’s always easier to blame a person than an inanimate city.
Questions About Contrasting Regions
- How would you characterize Dickens’s style as he describes scenes in the city in Oliver Twist?
- A literary critic named Richard Maxwell sums up the tension between freedom and confinement in Oliver Twist when he said, "Oliver gets back to safety, no matter how great his peril; peril threatens no matter how great his safety." Does the city of London play a role in Oliver’s imprisonment or liberation? When and how?
- The final chapter describes all the "good" characters settled in a country village. After spending almost the whole novel depicting the grittiness of everyday life in London, why does Dickens have his main characters retreat to the countryside?
- In the world of Oliver Twist, how is religion practiced differently in the country than in the city? Why do you think that is?
Chew on This
Although the country seems to be a safe haven from the evils of the city at the end of Oliver Twist, the fact that Monks and Fagin were able to find Oliver there indicates that the wickedness of the city could potentially spread even to the idyllic country village where the main characters finally settle.