The novel’s protagonist. Oliver is an orphan born in a workhouse, and Dickens uses his situation to criticize public policy toward the poor in 1830s England. Oliver is between nine and twelve years old when the main action of the novel occurs. Though treated with cruelty and surrounded by coarseness for most of his life, he is a pious, innocent child, and his charms draw the attention of several wealthy benefactors. His true identity is the central mystery of the novel.
A conniving career criminal. Fagin takes in homeless children and trains them to pick pockets for him. He is also a buyer of other people’s stolen goods. He rarely commits crimes himself, preferring to employ others to commit them—and often suffer legal retribution—in his place. Dickens’s portrait of Fagin displays the influence of anti-Semitic stereotypes.
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A young prostitute and one of Fagin’s former child pickpockets. Nancy is also Bill Sikes’s lover. Her love for Sikes and her sense of moral decency come into conflict when Sikes abuses Oliver. Despite her criminal lifestyle, she is among the noblest characters in the novel. In effect, she gives her life for Oliver when Sikes murders her for revealing Monks’s plots.
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Agnes Fleming’s sister, raised by Mrs. Maylie after the death of Rose’s father. A beautiful, compassionate, and forgiving young woman, Rose is the novel’s model of female virtue. She establishes a loving relationship with Oliver even before it is revealed that the two are related.
A well-off, erudite gentleman who serves as Oliver’s first benefactor. Mr. Brownlow owns a portrait of Agnes Fleming and was engaged to Mr. Leeford’s sister when she died. Throughout the novel, he behaves with compassion and common sense and emerges as a natural leader.
A sickly, vicious young man, prone to violent fits and teeming with inexplicable hatred. With Fagin, he schemes to give Oliver a bad reputation.
A brutal professional burglar brought up in Fagin’s gang. Sikes is Nancy's pimp and lover, and he treats both her and his dog Bull’s-eye with an odd combination of cruelty and grudging affection. His murder of Nancy is the most heinous of the many crimes that occur in the novel.
The pompous, self-important beadle—a minor church official—for the workhouse where Oliver is born. Though Mr. Bumble preaches Christian morality, he behaves without compassion toward the paupers under his care. Dickens mercilessly satirizes his self-righteousness, greed, hypocrisy, and folly, of which his name is an obvious symbol.
Oliver’s mother. After falling in love with and becoming pregnant by Mr. Leeford, she chooses to die anonymously in a workhouse rather than stain her family’s reputation. A retired naval officer’s daughter, she was a beautiful, loving woman. Oliver’s face closely resembles hers.
Oliver and Monks’s father, who dies long before the events of the novel. He was an intelligent, high-minded man whose family forced him into an unhappy marriage with a wealthy woman. He eventually separated from his wife and had an illicit love affair with Agnes Fleming. He intended to flee the country with Agnes but died before he could do so.
Mrs. Maylie’s family physician. A hot-tempered but good-hearted old bachelor, Mr. Losberne is fiercely loyal to the Maylies and, eventually, to Oliver.
A kind, wealthy older woman, the mother of Harry Maylie and adoptive “aunt” of Rose.
Mrs. Maylie’s son. Harry is a dashing young man with grand political ambitions and career prospects, which he eventually gives up to marry Rose.
The cleverest of Fagin’s pickpockets. The Dodger’s real name is Jack Dawkins. Though no older than Oliver, the Dodger talks and dresses like a grown man. He introduces Oliver to Fagin.
One of Fagin’s pickpockets. Charley is ready to laugh at anything.
An elderly pauper who serves as the nurse at Oliver’s birth. Old Sally steals Agnes’s gold locket, the only clue to Oliver’s identity.
The matron of the workhouse where Oliver is born. Mrs. Corney is hypocritical, callous, and materialistic. After she marries Mr. Bumble, she hounds him mercilessly.
A charity boy and Mr. Sowerberry’s apprentice. Noah is an overgrown, cowardly bully who mistreats Oliver and eventually joins Fagin’s gang.
The Sowerberrys’ maid. Charlotte becomes romantically involved with Noah Claypole and follows him about slavishly.
One of Fagin and Sikes’s associates, crass and not too bright. Toby participates in the attempted burglary of Mrs. Maylie’s home.
Mr. Brownlow’s kindhearted housekeeper. Mrs. Bedwin is unwilling to believe Mr. Bumble’s negative report of Oliver’s character.
Bill Sikes’s dog. As vicious as his master, Bull’s-eye functions as Sikes’s alter ego.
An heiress who lived a decadent life and alienated her husband, Mr. Leeford. Monks’s mother destroyed Mr. Leeford’s will, which left part of his property to Oliver. Much of Monks’s nastiness is presumably inherited from her.
The undertaker to whom Oliver is apprenticed. Though Mr. Sowerberry makes a grotesque living arranging cut-rate burials for paupers, he is a decent man who is kind to Oliver.
Sowerberry’s wife. Mrs. Sowerberry is a mean, judgmental woman who henpecks her husband.
Brownlow’s pessimistic, curmudgeonly friend. Mr. Grimwig is essentially good-hearted, and his pessimism is mostly just a provocative character quirk.
Mrs. Maylie’s loyal, though somewhat pompous, butler.
A sort of handyman for Mrs. Maylie’s estate. It is implied that Mr. Brittles is slightly mentally handicapped.
The superintendent of the juvenile workhouse where Oliver is raised. Mrs. Mann physically abuses and half-starves the children in her care.
A brutal chimney sweep. Oliver almost becomes Mr. Gamfield’s apprentice.
One of Fagin’s former child pickpockets, now a prostitute.
The harsh, irrational, power-hungry magistrate who presides over Oliver’s trial for pickpocketing.
One of Fagin’s criminal associates. Like Fagin, Barney is Jewish.
Two bumbling police officers who investigate the attempted burglary of Mrs. Maylie’s home.
A rather dim member of Fagin’s gang. Tom has served time in jail for doing Fagin’s bidding.