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Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens

Identity Quotes Page 1

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

"How comes he to have any name at all, then?"

The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, "I inwented it."

"You, Mr. Bumble!"

"I, Mrs. Mann. We name our foundlin’s in alphabetical order. The last was a S,-- Swubble: I named him. This was a T,-- Twist: I named him." (2.27-30)

This has got to be an important moment, because it has to do with where Oliver’s name came from. Since Oliver’s the main character, and his name is part of the title of the whole book, we figure it’s got to be pretty important, and Dickens didn’t name him at random, although he tries to make it seem as though Bumble did. But how randomly did Bumble choose his name? Let’s look at it: is the alphabet random? The obvious answer is "no," because the alphabet provides order that everyone recognizes. But it’s an arbitrary order. What reason is there that "T" follows "S"? So it’s an arbitrary name that yet somehow isn’t arbitrary. And yet kind of is. Yes, it’s confusing. Bumble named him "Twist," and then everyone who meets him assumes that he’s going to die by hanging. And, as we all know (now would be a good time to check out the "Character Analysis" section for Oliver…), "Twist" was slang for "hang." So Bumble really does set this kid up for a life of crime – the ambiguous part is whether he did it consciously or not.

Quote #2

"A young fogle-hunter," replied the man who had Oliver in charge […] "Now, young gallows."

This was an invitation for Oliver to enter through a door which he unlocked as he spoke, and which led into a small stone cell. (11.3-5)

Everyone in this novel seems awfully interested in naming Oliver. Mr. Bumble, we learn early on (in Chapter Two, in fact) is the one who actually named him. And check out the "Character Analysis" for Oliver Twist for more on the implications of the name (basically, "twist" implies hanging from the gallows). And the gentleman in the white waistcoat was always prophesying that Oliver would be hanged. And now this guy, who’s only just met Oliver (if grabbing him by the collar counts as "meeting" Oliver) is calling him "young gallows," and referring to him as a "young fogle-hunter" (i.e., a young handkerchief-stealer – "fogle"= "handkerchief" in thieves’ cant). What’s up with everyone trying to name Oliver, or to call him names? What’s in a name, anyway?

Quote #3

"What’s your name, you hardened scoundrel?" thundered Mr. Fang. "Officer, what’s his name?"

This was addressed to a bluff old fellow in a striped waistcoat, who was standing by the bar. He bent over Oliver, and repeated the inquiry; but finding him really incapable of understanding the question, and knowing that his not replying would only infuriate the magistrate the more, and add to the severity of his sentence, he hazarded a guess.

"He says his name’s Tom White, your worship," said this kind-hearted thief-taker. (11.49)

More with the names. Here’s yet another random person making up names (literally, this time) for Oliver. Oliver seems incapable of naming himself or telling his own story. Granted, this guy might actually be trying to help him out, but still: there’s all this emphasis put on Oliver’s name, and what his "real" name is.

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