Oliver is on his own from the start. No one pities him, and even though he’s supposed to be looked after by the parish authorities, no one takes care of him. He’s sent from one scene of cruelty and oppression to the next, and finally plucks up the courage to stick up for himself (first by asking for more food, then by hitting Noah in the face, and finally by running away). So, by the end of this stage, Oliver is completely on his own in the big bad world.
Oliver doesn’t realize at first that the Dodger and Fagin are thieves – he’s pretty slow. Once he does realize it, he tries to run away. But it’s as though the very fact of consorting with criminals somehow rubbed off on him, or made him look or seem criminal, himself. The question at this stage isn’t so much whether or not Oliver will actually turn criminal, but whether it even matters – if he can be arrested as a thief without having done anything wrong, does it matter whether he’s corrupted, or innocent?
Oliver finally has a friend he can trust, but never gets to tell him his story. In part to prove to Mr. Grimwig that Oliver is trustworthy, Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver off on an errand in the city, from which Oliver never returns. Not, of course, because he was trying to rob Mr. Brownlow, but because he was kidnapped by Sikes and Nancy. But Mr. Brownlow doesn’t know that, and Oliver knows he doesn’t know. Will Mr. Brownlow lose faith in Oliver? Again, does it matter whether Oliver actually is a thief or not, if he looks and acts like a thief? Everyone seems to assume he’s a thief.
Oliver is forced to participate in the attempted robbery of the Maylies’ house, and has just about made up his mind to risk being shot by Sikes, and go wake up the household to warn them. But he’s trapped between Sikes and his gun on one side, and Giles and his gun on the other. Again – he’s in a position in which everyone assumes he’s a thief because he’s been hanging out with thieves. What’s a poor orphan to do?
After the Maylies have taken Oliver in and he’s been reunited with Mr. Brownlow, Nancy tells Rose what she overheard between Fagin and Monks. Oliver’s been the victim of a conspiracy, and Monks is behind it all. But they’re not really sure what to do about it.
After Nancy overhears the second conversation between Monks and Fagin, she reports back to Mr. Brownlow and Rose. She gives them enough information to be able to find Monks, and bully a confession out of him. The result is a couple of chapters in which Mr. Brownlow forces Monks to tell all. And what Monks doesn’t know, Mr. Brownlow does, so he is able to throw in the necessary bits.
All the loose ends get tied off, and we do mean all: Nancy gets murdered by Sikes, and Sikes accidentally hangs himself, saving the executioner the trouble. Monks’s confession enables Oliver to inherit a bit of his father’s estate. Knowing that Oliver is the son of his dead best friend, Mr. Brownlow decides to adopt him (although he probably would have adopted him anyway). Rose gets to marry Harry Maylie. Fagin is arrested and hanged, and the rest of his gang is arrested and transported.