Essay Description

AGENDA: 1) Following the Romantic Period, poetry is still a medium for literature, but it is gradually being replaced by the novel as the preferred medium of choice due to a rise in literacy and a need for entertainment. Books become not only a means to learn, but also an entertaining distraction.2) Charles Dickens (1812-1870) becomes the quintessential novelist in England during this time. 3) Watch the movie and answer ONE SET of Questions

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

* Born into middle class.

* Family lost their money and descended into working class.

* Wrote plays and considered becoming an actor.

* Extraordinarily successful novelist in his time.

* He becomes one of the most famous writers of the Victorian Period in England. It was named the Victorian Period because Queen Victoria ruled at the time. 

* Extremely social and great public speaker. He liked the limelight and the attention that was much deserved. 

* Serialization of his novels. You would a chapter a week in the local newspaper (a growing preferred reading medium is newspapers/ journalism).  In many ways Dickens, through this method of publishing his work chapter by chapter in newspapers, introduces the “cliff hanger” which is a method used successfully today. Consider “binge watching”.  At the end of every episode the writer introduces a cliff hanger which makes you start the next episode immediately, thereby, often sacrificing a good nights sleep just to see what happens next. 

3) Watch the movie Oliver! (1968- links are below) based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, published serially in newspaper from 1837-1839 using cliff hangers to keep the readers buying papers. Follow my questions while watching the film. It will give you a fuller appreciation of the complexity of the story and better prepare you for your response. 

Choose ONE of the three sections – OLIVER ESCAPES CAPTIVITYOLIVER’S ADVENTURES IN LONDON, or OLIVER’S ARREST AND LIBERATION – and answer the questions ONLY in that section.   


  1. In the opening scene/musical number (Food Glorious Food), how does the film already remind you of the poetry of William Blake (Chimney Sweeper and The Lamb)?
  2.  What ironic sign is there in the orphanage/ workhouse that reflects the hypocrisy of the church and state?
  3.  In the song “Boy for Sale”, what does that tell us about 19th century England? How does this glance back at history surprise and offend us?
  4. What is the significance of Oliver being sold to the undertaker right out of the orphanage/workhouse? Is there an irony to it? Is it symbolic?
  5. What is the significance of Oliver leading the funeral procession? How is this symbolic?
  6. What provokes Oliver to fight back against the much older boy in the funeral parlor?
  7. Is there any relation between Oliver leading the funeral procession and then fighting back? How is Oliver NOT like Tom Darce from Blake’s Chimney Sweeper at this moment? USE SPECIFIC QUOTATIONS FROM BLAKE’S POEM TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION.
  8. Why does Oliver suddenly show no fear of Mr. Bumble? (Charles Dickens is famous for giving names likes this to his characters – he is obviously a bumbling bureaucrat). How is this a mini-revolution and necessary for survival?


1. Oliver meets the Artful Dodger – What is the distinction we immediately see between these characters? I’m referring to their personality  characteristics, not the size of the boys hats. Smile.

2.  In the song “Consider Yourself” we see another example of the church’s indifference to the children. Identify the specific example. We also see a brief reference to the chimney sweepers.

3.  What are your first impressions of Fagin? What does he come to represent to the boys? How is Fagin using the boys, or how is helping the boys, or both, by teaching them how to steal for him?

4. When Fagin threatens to kill Oliver is he serious? What is Fagin’s fear, which he confesses to Oliver? How does Bill Sikes (burglar) reflect Blake’s poetry? Is there an irony to Nancy’s  (prostitute) song “It’s a Fine Life”? The lyrics can be considered quite disturbing.

5. What does Nancy come to represent for the boys?

6. How is the song “I’ll Do Anything” a foreshadowing? This answer will be found at the end of the film.

7. Den of Thieves: Although the music puts a lighthearted spin on these desperate circumstances, what is author Charles Dickens’ and Carol Reed’s social commentary? Note: When Fagin sends them off to steal how he leads the boy out like the Pied Piper. This is an allusion to a fairytale which can be interpreted quite Grimmly. (pun)


1.   What are Fagin, Bill Sikes, Nancy and the boys afraid of when Oliver is arrested?

2.   Notice the sign behind the judge. What is author Charles Dickens and director Carol Reed saying about the court system in relation to the judge? Consider the verdict!

3.   Oliver catches a break when the rich man, he was accused of robbing, takes him home. What comparison do we see between Oliver’s new digs/home and Fagin and the boys crib/shelter (crib is a word from Dickens!)? Why is it so unacceptable to Bill Sikes that Oliver is now living large?

4.   When Bill Sikes strikes Nancy we see an example of domestic violence. What is the boy’s reaction to seeing their surrogate mother struck by Bill? Why is Nancy willing to “do anything” To protect Oliver? What does that say about Nancy? Has Bill Sikes become the William Blake’s “Tyger”? Why is it difficult to have any sympathy for Bill Sikes? Or can you have sympathy or empathy for Bill Sikes?

5.   Why doesn’t Nancy leave Bill? What is the relevance of the song she sings, “As Long as He Needs Me”

6.   Why does Nancy agree to kidnap Oliver considering she was willing to “do anything” to protect him? Why is Bill Sikes becoming so obsessed at corrupting Oliver?

7.   As the episodes of domestic violence increase back at Fagin’s shelter, we see Nancy making braver moves against Bill Sikes. Suddenly her “It’s a Fine Life” song becomes increasingly more ironic as she confronts Fagin for using her when she was a child. As the violence intensifies as fear and desperation takes over (Bill Sikes threatens to kill Fagin) Nancy makes an almost suicidal/martyr decision by going to Mr. Brownlow (Oliver’s great uncle) to protect Oliver. When offered protection from Mr. Brownlow Nancy responds to him by saying, “I’ve got to go back. I want to go back”. Why does she “got to” and, more significantly, “want to” go back despite her presumed fate.

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