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Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

Chapters 9–12

Summary Chapters 9–12

Oliver’s inability to speak at his trial, caused by his exhaustion and sickness, metaphorically suggests the lower class’s lack of political power and ability to voice its own concerns in a public forum. In 1830s England, the right to vote was based on wealth, so the poor had no say with respect to the law. Moreover, the upper classes project their own conceptions of the poor upon them—to the point of blithely redefining poor people’s identities with no regard for the truth. Oliver cannot even say his name due to exhaustion and terror, so a court officer gives him the false name of “Tom White.” This process of inaccurate renaming occurs throughout the hearing, as Oliver is falsely named a “young vagabond” and a “hardened scoundrel” before he is eventually falsely declared “guilty.” But the name “Oliver Twist” is, in fact, no more authentic, as Mr. Bumble invents this name when Oliver is born. As these examples demonstrate, Oliver’s identity has been determined by other, more powerful people throughout his life.

Oliver enters a new world when Brownlow takes him home. The English legal system and the workhouses represent a value system based on retribution, punishment, and strict morals. The Brownlow household, in contrast, operates on a basis of forgiveness and kindness. After a life of false names and false identities imposed by others, Oliver comes into contact with a portrait of a woman he closely resembles. With this event, the novel’s central mystery—Oliver’s true identity—is established. In contrast to the courtroom, where a multiplicity of incorrect identities are forced upon Oliver, in the Brownlow home, Oliver’s resemblance to the woman’s portrait suggests the elusive nature of his true identity.