Dickens' famous story of a young orphan's struggle to survive on the streets of London is rightly one of his most remembered.
Two outstanding characters have been contributed to literature - Fagin and Jack Dawkins the Artful Dodger.
Dickens writes Fagin as a puppet master, controlling the orphaned children as pickpockets and the adults like Bill Sikes as thieves. His subterfuge of a penniless pauper with a kindly approach are at odds with the moments he steals gazing at his hidden stash of jewels and his barking moments of brutality. Though his name is Fagin, Dickens refers to him more often than not as "the Jew", a label quite jarring in today's culture. Fagin is sinister though and many see him as a devil like character. His many schemes, plans, and selfishness all contribute to the image.
The Artful Dodger is a whirling dervish of charisma and charm, teaching Oliver the tricks of the trade and leading the cohorts of youngsters as the ultimate example they should all be aspiring to. Dickens chooses to have the Dodger answer for his crimes as he is finally caught and sent to jail. Tantalisingly, Dickens implies that the Dodger will be deported to Australia though we never see Dodger again after he is led away back to jail. Maybe he was thinking of writing a sequel with him as a grown up character?
Oliver is by no means a great character but a likeable one. His tribulations put us on his side early on and his base survival has us enthralled and rooting for him throughout. Bill Sikes isn't also that great a character. A one dimensional thug and bully, his character is indeed menacing and ugly but unfortunately never goes further.
Nancy meanwhile is another triumph of characterisation. Dickens shows her kind side, her deceitful side, her desperate life, and ultimately her sacrifice. She longs to stay with her boyfriend Bill Sikes despite his brutality and maintains a cheerful and optimistic disposition throughout the miserable drama. Her life and desires are complex and is one of Dickens' most enduring creations.
The overall story of Oliver Twist, of his rise to grace through typically fantastical and novelistic conceits, are but a sideline to the true nature of the book - Dickens' concern and portrayal of society's inhuman treatment of the poor. The book remains important and memorable for this reason. This is probably one of Dickens' most accessible books, a great book and a true classic.