“Oliver Twist” book club

It’s never the books I expect that get the teens talking. I expected “Oliver Twist” to be a bit of a ‘broccoli’ book – good for you, but not something you can go on and on about. Instead, we had lots to talk about.

In general, everyone disliked Oliver as too weak, feeble, and just unknowably…there. We had a great debate about whether the book was too simplistic or whether there were nuances that brought life to characters and situations. We laughed at all of the fainting Oliver did. We talked about Nancy and Sikes and came to no neat conclusions about them.

Here are a list of the questions I had prepped. We didn’t use them all in our hour-long discussion. Some are from Book Club Questions, some are from Classics Reading Group, and others I came up with. I really, I mean really, loved the “Oliver Twist” section on Shmoop. It’s not a resource I’d come across before this, but the sections on characters, themes, imagry, all really helped me feel like I understood the book enough to lead the discussion. I’ll be frank – this was my first reading of “Oliver Twist” and while I followed most of it, there were sections with vague enough allusions or convoluted enough passages that lead me to look for solid footing.

Oliver Twist Book Club

Briefly go over Poor Laws, Industrial Revolution, Workhouses for background.

Who was your favourite character?

Why is Oliver the flattest character in the book?

Who is the bad guy in this book?

Is Fagin bad, opportunistic, immoral, clever, or something else?

Some modern readers are uncomfortable with Dicken’s portrayal of Fagin as “The Jew” – snivelling, greedy, manipulative. How do you feel about this? Did you notice? Is this in the book or in their heads? …Fagin as a Jew: Does anti-Semitism influence Dickens’s portrait of Fagin? What does Fagin represent? (“Fagin, in Oliver Twist, is a Jew, because it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew.” letter from Dickens to a Jewish friend 1863, qtd in Norton Critical Edition, p 378)

Why doesn’t Nancy accept the help and sanctuary that is offered? Did she really love Bill or are her actions more of a self-imposed punishment often given by those who believe they are not good enough for redemption?

What do you think Dickens was trying to tell us about class? about gender? morality? For instance, think about the scene in which Nancy goes to Miss Rose Maylie. There is a lot going on in this scene about gender, about class, and about choice.

Main question seems to be – where does criminality come from? Is it inherent? Is it environment?

Nature versus nurture. Oliver resisted thievery throughout the novel. Which characters showed an honest nature, despite their circumstances and “low birth”? Or, conversely, did everyone have a chance to choose for themselves?

Why does Oliver have to be the inheritor of great sums of money, wouldn’t Dickens’ point about a person’s virtue being based on who they are, not how they come into the world be more effective if Oliver really had been born of the scum of the earth?

How does Dickens’s portrayal of women compare to his portrayal of men?

Consider Noah Claypole and Charlotte. What is Noah’s role in the plot of Oliver Twist?

Why does Dickens include the character little Dick?

Why does Dickens include Mr. Bumble’s courtship with Mrs. Corney?

How important is Bill Sikes’s dog?


One thought on ““Oliver Twist” book club

  1. Rain says:

    What great resources! We’ve decided to bring DS home for the rest of “1st grade” and hopefully beyond. My only hesitation is how to help him dig deeper into things (as I am not a naturally inquisitive person). I can see that I will have to learn some serious new questioning skills (for times when my boy is ready to stop asking way too soon).

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