This novel is all about mistaken identities. Many characters don't know where their parents are, or even who their parents are. Names are supposed to be society’s main marker for identity—the way everyone around you knows you—and, in Oliver Twist, Oliver’s name is thrust on him almost arbitrarily (or not…) by Mr. Bumble.
The result is a weird disconnect between the way Oliver sees himself, and the way the world around him views him. Which is the real Oliver? The innocent boy or the hardened criminal?
Questions About Identity
- Which characters in Oliver Twist are given only a first name, and no last name, and why? What does that say about their identity?
- If names are so important to identity, speculate on whether you think Oliver would change his last name from "Twist" to his father’s name, "Leeford," after the close of the novel, and explain your opinion.
- Why did Monks change his name?
- What do mobs and crowds do to personal identity in Oliver Twist?
Chew on This
Oliver’s face is an important marker of his identity in Oliver Twist: whenever he is misrepresented or misunderstood, the angelic innocence of his face stands out to acquit him to anyone who is capable of seeing it.
Oliver’s face is an important marker of his identity in Oliver Twist. His striking resemblance both to his mother’s portrait and to his father is what enables Mr. Brownlow and Monks to identify him as the son of Edward Leeford and Agnes Fleming.