Oliver Twist

by: Charles Dickens

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Characters’ Names

The names of characters represent personal qualities. Oliver Twist himself is the most obvious example. The name “Twist,” though given by accident, alludes to the outrageous reversals of fortune that he will experience. Rose Maylie’s name echoes her association with flowers and springtime, youth and beauty. Toby Crackit’s name is a lighthearted reference to his chosen profession of breaking into houses. Mr. Bumble’s name connotes his bumbling arrogance; Mrs. Mann’s, her lack of maternal instinct; and Mr. Grimwig’s, his superficial grimness that can be removed as easily as a wig.

Bull’s-eye

Bill Sikes’s dog, Bull’s-eye, has “faults of temper in common with his owner” and is a symbolic emblem of his owner’s character. The dog’s viciousness reflects and represents Sikes’s own animal-like brutality. After Sikes murders Nancy, Bull’s-eye comes to represent Sikes’s guilt. The dog leaves bloody footprints on the floor of the room where the murder is committed. Not long after, Sikes becomes desperate to get rid of the dog, convinced that the dog’s presence will give him away. Yet, just as Sikes cannot shake off his guilt, he cannot shake off Bull’s-eye, who arrives at the house of Sikes’s demise before Sikes himself does. Bull’s-eye’s name also conjures up the image of Nancy’s eyes, which haunts Sikes until the bitter end and eventually causes him to hang himself accidentally.

London Bridge

Nancy’s decision to meet Brownlow and Rose on London Bridge reveals the symbolic aspect of this bridge in Oliver Twist. Bridges exist to link two places that would otherwise be separated by an uncrossable chasm. The meeting on London Bridge represents the collision of two worlds unlikely ever to come into contact—the idyllic world of Brownlow and Rose, and the atmosphere of degradation in which Nancy lives. On the bridge, Nancy is given the chance to cross over to the better way of life that the others represent, but she rejects that opportunity, and by the time the three have all left the bridge, that possibility has vanished forever.