By the end of this novel, Fagin is no longer a two dimensional racial stereotype but a character for whom the audience has considerable sympathy. Discuss. “Oliver Twist” was the second novel of Charles Dickens. It was initially published in monthly instalments that began in February of 1837 and ended in April of 1939. The book has been criticised for anti-Semitism since Fagin is frequently referred to as “the Jew”. At the time many Jews, who had fled to England from persecution abroad, were so discriminated against by the law that they became travelling salesmen and stallholders. In these trades it was very easy to drift into receiving and selling stolen goods. The Jewish thief’s characterizations do seem to owe much to ethnic stereotypes.Order now
The first time Oliver meets Fagin is when The Artful Dodger takes him away from the bitter cold of London to his den. From the very first time we hear about Fagin, Dickens gives the reader reasons to believe he is an evil, “villainous-looking” man. For example, at the start of chapter 8 we see Fagin “standing over them, with a toasting fork in his hand”. This gives the images of a devil holding a fork in his hand. In addition to this, Dickens gives Fagin the term of “merry old gentlemen” which is also a term for the devil. From this we get the impression Fagin is an ugly man. “His repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair” and “he was dressed in a greasy flannel gown”, would give the reader the impression that his face was so awful, you could not bare to look at it. The way he presented himself suggested his hygiene was poor since he was “greasy”.
The character of Fagin is simpering but he also gives the impression of a powerful man. “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.” The way Fagin “grins” puts over negativity rather than a smile. The Jew believed that Oliver should be “honoured” to be welcomed by his “intimate” contact because of the power he had over the other boys showing that he is very dominant. This illustrates that he is very proud of the children he has brought up to be pickpockets. However, in reality we know that bringing up small boys to steal is something to be frowned upon. Certainly, this shows Fagin is swollen with pride with things of no worth.
Fagin is seen as a child abuser when we examine the way he treats the boys in the den. He allows children of a young age to “smoke long clay pipes, and drink spirits with the air of middle-age men”. This gives the impression that the boys are being robbed of their youth at a very young age. Without a doubt, a humane person would not strip the youngsters of their childhood.
At first Fagin doesn’t want Oliver to know what he is really like. He uses repetition of the word “very” in the context of him being glad to meet Oliver. He also refers to Oliver as “my dear” which is an endearing term. Surely, only a kind-hearted man, who loved children, would refer to a small boy as this. However, we see that the Jew deliberately put Oliver to sleep by drugging him with “a glass of hot gin-and-water”. It would suggest that Fagin wanted Oliver to get a good first impression of him, before it was too late for Oliver, and then he was able to see the real side of him.
Fagin is a liar. Oliver is caught looking at the handkerchiefs, but the Jew reassures him by saying “we’ve just looked ’em out, ready for the wash; that’s all, Oliver”. Clearly, though this is not true, and we find out later in the book that Fagin orders the boys to pickpocket these possessions. This could indicate once again that Fagin wanted to firstly show a different personality that Oliver would like, before he showed his real self. Fagin is very cautious of his belongings and the things which make him feel wealthy. “He turned round and looked at Oliver” to make sure he was not going to be disturbed. He “stepped gently to the door: which he fastened”, demonstrates the precautions he takes, and the fact the he wants to be alone. His selfishness is displayed if he is going to keep all his treasures for himself, especially since he has not really earned them.
Fagin appears a horrible person as he thinks that putting people to death is a good thing. The Jew tells us “What a fine thing capital punishment is! Dead men never repent; dead men never bring awkward stories to light.” He is basically saying that he has got his wealth through other people, and if any of the boys were to find this out, he could just “strung ’em up in a row”. This is an awful image to think that anyone would execute children because they found out the truth.
Fagin is a very angry man. When he realises that Oliver may have seen his treasures there is a “loud crash” which he makes as he closes the lid of the box. His “scowling fiercely” and “threatening attitude” shows that his temper has been released when things don’t go the way he wants. Fagin’s praising of capital punishment when he picks up a “bread knife” and “started furiously up”. This implies that he would murder for wealth because if he found out Oliver had seen him looking at his jewels, and thought that he might tell someone, Oliver would die.
Dickens portrays Fagin as very self-centred since he only thinks of himself. The Jew has all these “pretty things” which he says “They – they’re mine, Oliver; my little property”. This misled Oliver because Fagin said “All I have to live upon in my old age” suggesting that because he is old he is also poor and Oliver would feel sympathy for him. Fagin is a man full of tricks. He tells Oliver after he has seen the contents of his box to get a “pitcher of water”, while the Jew would get a basin for him to wash him. But, “When Oliver turned his head, the box was gone”. This shows that even if Oliver had seen Fagin’s treasures, the Jew didn’t want the boy to know where they were hid. Therefore, he tricked Oliver by hiding the box of treasures when he wasn’t looking.
When Fagin thinks that Oliver has told someone of his trade, we see a violent side to him. For example “The Jew inflicted a smart blow on Oliver’s shoulders with the club”. The reader is left wondering what fate would have come to Oliver if Nancy had not stopped Fagin at this point. Nancy is a character that has become a thief and a prostitute by Fagin’s teaching. She uses words like “thief”, “devil”, “liar” and “wretch” to describe the Jew. Surely, if Nancy grew up working for Fagin before she was the age of Oliver, it would be true to say that she would know him very well. This would mean that the way she describes Fagin must be accurate.
Now that Fagin has acknowledged Nancy betraying him, he intends to provoke Sikes into killing her. At first he uses a mixture of lies and half-truths to aggravate Sikes and build up his anger. For example, the Jew says “Suppose that lad was to peach – to blow upon us all” to Sikes. He was basically saying what would Sikes do if he were betrayed. “Cried the Jew, his eyes flashing with rage” builds up the tension in the climax probably making Sikes angrier. Fagin is being very manipulative towards Sikes by making him believe something that isn’t fully true.
Fagin puts words into Noah’s mouth while he is half asleep. For instance, “You followed her?’ ‘Yes’ ‘To London Bridge’ ‘Yes”. This suggests Fagin wants to get information out of Noah in a way that would make Nancy seem wrong. It would also make Sikes feel more frustrated by what he believes Nancy has done. Before Fagin is to allow Sikes to kill Nancy he uses euphemism to make sure that he wont get into trouble because he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. He says “You wont be – too – violent, Bill?” indicating that he wants Sikes to kill her but not involving the law. However he doesn’t want it to sound too obvious that he wants Nancy dead, and is prepared to use self-preservation for that.
In contrast the reader can relate to Fagin. as he looks at the box and takes precautions with his possessions. He “gently” closes the door and “carefully” puts the box on the table. Obviously, if he loves his box, he is going to do all he can to make sure it is not damaged in any way. Any person would do this with a possession that meant a lot to them. When Oliver meets Fagin it is clear to him that the Jew does actually like the children. Oliver sees “His fondness for the Dodger and the other boys”. Even though the Jew gets them to steal for him, he still does like them. It would be true to say that first impressions count. Dickens explains Oliver’s feelings that Fagin is capable of showing affection in some way.