Fagin in Oliver Twist: Character Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:02 Introduction to Oliver Twist
  • 2:21 Character Analysis of Fagin
  • 3:42 Fagin's Physical Appearance
  • 4:14 Fagin & Anti-Semitism
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Described as a 'loathsome reptile,' Fagin, from Charles Dickens' acclaimed novel, 'Oliver Twist,' may in fact be pure evil. Learn about the wretched miser who turned innocent kids into career criminals for his own financial gain.

Introduction to Oliver Twist

In Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, the titular character becomes an orphan in 1830s London while just an infant. He lives the first decade of his life in a rundown orphanage and then a workhouse. After a job with an undertaker doesn't work out, Oliver is left alone, hungry, and homeless.

A youngster named Jack finds Oliver and brings him back to where he lives. This is where we meet Fagin, a criminal who trains desperate, needy orphans to become pickpockets. Young Oliver is shown the ropes of thievery and sent out on the streets to earn his keep.

Oliver proves to be a poor thief and gets busted. However, the kind old Mr. Brownlow, whose handkerchief Oliver tries to steal, takes the sick boy back to his home and helps him return to good health. This worries Fagin because he fears that Oliver will rat him out to the police. So he sends out two goons to retrieve Oliver from his happy place at Brownlow's house.

Fagin holds Oliver for a while before making him go out to try and rob a house. However this time, not only does Oliver get caught, but he also gets shot by a servant. Fortunately for Oliver, the lady and her niece who live at the house take a liking to the young orphan. Oliver stays with them for a while. But Fagin knows something about Oliver's financial worth, and along with a man named Monks, he goes after Oliver again.

Eventually, Oliver does get a chance to reunite with Mr. Brownlow. It is soon discovered that Monks is Oliver's half-brother. They both share the same wealthy father. It turns out that their father had an affair with Oliver's mother, and Monks didn't want to share his inheritance. So he teamed up with Fagin to try and get Oliver permanently out of the picture.

In the end, Fagin is arrested and tried for his crimes. The jury finds him guilty, and he is sentenced to death. Mr. Brownlow wants to adopt Oliver but needs the proper papers. They visit Fagin in jail and ask him for the papers. Fagin whispers into Oliver's ear where he can find them. But it's not out of sympathy for Oliver; he only tells him because he wants Oliver to help him escape. Outside his cell, large crowds of people anxiously await a chance to see Fagin's execution.

Character Analysis of Fagin

Every great story needs a villain. The bad guy in Oliver Twist is the ugly, hideous, vile miser called Fagin. He is also known as 'the merry old gentleman' and the 'Jew.' Fagin is so downright terrifying that he may, in fact, be the epitome of evil. What he does is take poor boys with no homes - and there were plenty of those in London in the 1800s - and puts them to criminal work. Yes, he provides food and shelter, but he also turns the innocent into criminals.

Fagin is also deceitful. When naïve Oliver first meets Fagin, he seems kind, like he is going to help the orphan. Dickens writes, 'The Jew grinned, and, making a low obeisance to Oliver, took him by the hand, and hoped he should have the honour of his intimate acquaintance.' This makes Oliver feel comfortable; he doesn't know that he is being manipulated, that Fagin is only using him to make more cash.

It becomes obvious that Fagin has plenty of money, earned on the backs of young boys doing his dirty work. Yet, the boys live in filth. The young kids are allowed to drink booze and smoke tobacco pipes. And when one of his boys gets nabbed for thieving, Fagin's only concern is whether he will be ratted out. We see the miser beat the children, make them cry, and force them to beg.

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