Mr. Brownlow has captured Monks and brought him to the Brownlow home. Monks’s real name is Edward Leeford. Brownlow was a good friend of Monks’s father, Mr. Leeford. Mr. Leeford was a young man when his family forced him to marry a wealthy older woman. The couple eventually separated but did not divorce, and Edward and his mother went to Paris. Meanwhile, Mr. Leeford fell in love with Agnes Fleming, a retired naval officer’s daughter, who became pregnant with Oliver. The relative who had benefited most from Mr. Leeford’s forced marriage repented and left Mr. Leeford a fortune. Mr. Leeford left a portrait of his beloved Agnes in Brownlow’s care while he went to Rome to claim his inheritance. Mr. Leeford’s wife, hearing of his good fortune, traveled with Edward to meet him there. However, in Rome, Mr. Leeford took ill and died. Brownlow reports that he knows that Monks’s mother burned Mr. Leeford’s will, so Mr. Leeford’s newfound fortune fell to his wife and son. After his mother died, Monks lived in the West Indies on their ill-gotten fortune. Brownlow, remembering Oliver’s resemblance to the woman in the portrait, had gone there to find Monks after Oliver was kidnapped. Meanwhile, the search for Sikes continues.
Toby Crackit and Tom Chitling flee to a squalid island after Fagin and Noah are captured by the authorities. Sikes’s dog shows up at the house that serves as their hiding place. Sikes arrives soon after. Charley Bates arrives and attacks the murderer, calling for the others to help him. The search party and an angry mob arrive demanding justice. Sikes climbs onto the roof with a rope, intending to lower himself to escape in the midst of the confusion. However, he loses his balance when he imagines that he sees Nancy’s eyes before him. The rope catches around his neck, and he falls to his death with his head in an accidental noose.
Oliver and his friends travel to the town of his birth, with Monks in tow, to meet Mr. Grimwig. There, Monks reveals that he and his mother found a letter and a will after his father’s death, both of which they destroyed. The letter was addressed to Agnes Fleming’s mother, and it contained a confession from Leeford about their affair. The will stated that, if his illegitimate child were a girl, she should inherit the estate unconditionally. If it were a boy, he would inherit the estate only if he committed no illegal or guilty act. Otherwise, Monks and his mother would receive the fortune. Upon learning of his daughter’s shameful involvement with a married man, Agnes’s father fled his hometown and changed his family’s name. Agnes ran away to save her family the shame of her condition, and her father died soon thereafter of a broken heart. His other small daughter was taken in by a poor couple who died soon after. Mrs. Maylie took pity on the little girl and raised her as her niece. That child is Rose. Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Bumble confess to their part in concealing Oliver’s history, and Mr. Brownlow ensures that they never hold public office again. Harry has given up his political ambitions and vowed to live as a poor clergyman. Knowing that she no longer stands in the way of Harry’s ambitions, Rose agrees to marry him.
Fagin is sentenced to death for his many crimes. On his miserable last night alive, Brownlow and Oliver visit him in his jail cell to find out the location of papers verifying Oliver’s identity, which Monks had entrusted to Fagin.
[W]ithout strong affection and humanity of heart, and gratitude to that Being whose code is Mercy and whose great attribute is Benevolence . . . happiness can never be attained.
Noah is pardoned because he testifies against Fagin. Charley turns to an honest life and becomes a successful grazier, a person who feeds cattle before they are taken to market. Brownlow arranges for Monks’s property to be divided between Monks and Oliver. Monks travels to the New World, where he squanders his share of the inheritance and lives a sordid life that lands him in prison, where he dies. Brownlow adopts Oliver as his son. He, Losberne, and Grimwig take up residence near the rural church over which Harry presides.
The long story surrounding Mr. Leeford’s marriage is told to demonstrate the disastrous consequences of economically motivated marriages. Dickens’s romanticism manifests itself in the difference between Oliver and his half-brother. Oliver, the child of Leeford’s love affair, is virtuous and innocent. Monks, the result of an economic marriage, is morally twisted by his obsession with wealth. This obsession with money leads him down a long, dark path of nefarious crimes and conspiracies.
Throughout Oliver Twist, Dickens criticizes the Victorian stereotype of the poor as criminals from birth. However, after a strident critique of the representation of the poor as hereditary criminals, he portrays Monks as a criminal whose nature has been determined since birth. Brownlow tells Monks, “You . . . from your cradle were gall and bitterness to your own father’s heart, and . . . all evil passions, vice, and profligacy, festered [in you].” Monks’s evil character seems less the product of his own decisions than of his birth.
Oliver Twist is full of mistaken, assumed, and changed identities. Oliver joins his final domestic scene by assuming yet another identity. Once the mystery of his real identity is revealed, he quickly exchanges it for another, becoming Brownlow’s adopted son. After all the fuss and the labyrinthine conspiracies to conceal Oliver’s identity, it is ironic that he gives it up almost as soon as he discovers it.
The final chapters quickly deliver the justice that has been delayed throughout the novel. Fagin dies on the gallows. Sikes hangs himself by accident—it is as though the hand of fate or a higher authority reaches out to execute him. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble are deprived of the right to ever hold public office again. They descend into poverty and suffer the same privations they had forced on paupers in the past. Monks never reforms, nor does life show him any mercy. True to Brownlow’s characterization of him as bad from birth, he continues his idle, evil ways and dies in an American prison. For him, there is no redemption. Like Noah, he serves as a foil—a character whose attributes contrast with, and thereby accentuate, those of another—to Oliver’s character. He is as evil, twisted, and mean while Oliver is good, virtuous, and kind. Oliver and all of his friends, of course, enjoy a blissful, fairy-tale ending. Everyone takes up residence in the same neighborhood and lives together like one big, happy family.
Perhaps the strangest part of the concluding section of Oliver Twist is Leeford’s condition for Oliver’s inheritance. Leeford states in his will that, if his child were a son, he would inherit his estate “only on the stipulation that in his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act of dishonor, meanness, cowardice, or wrong.” It seems strange that a father would consign his child to lifelong poverty as well as the stigma of illegitimacy if the son ever committed a single wrong in childhood. In the same way that the court is willing to punish Oliver for crimes committed by another, Leeford is ready to punish Oliver for any small misdeed merely because he hated his first son, Monks, so much.
One contradiction that critics of Oliver Twist have pointed out is that although Dickens spends much of the novel openly attacking retributive justice, the conclusion of the novel is quick to deliver such justice. At the story’s end, crimes are punished harshly, and devilish characters are still hereditary devils to the very end. The only real change is that Oliver is now acknowledged as a hereditary angel rather than a hereditary devil. No one, it seems, can escape the identity dealt to him or her at birth. The real crime of characters like Mr. Bumble and Fagin may not have been mistreating a defenseless child—it may have been mistreating a child who was born for a better life.
Yet Dickens’s crusade for forgiveness and tolerance is upheld by his treatment of more minor characters, like Nancy, whose memory is sanctified, and Charley Bates, who redeems himself and enters honest society. These characters’ fates demonstrate that the individual can indeed rise above his or her circumstances, and that an unfortunate birth does not have to guarantee an unfortunate life and legacy.
This is my favourite ever book!
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Oh, Dickens, I expected much more from you: bad men go to prison or die, and good men live happily ever after with much money? I just... I don't know. I wanted something more.