Charles Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist was written in the 19th century it provides a valuable insight towards the life of the British during the Victorian times. Through the character of Nancy, Dickens is able to advance the plot and send out a social message. She is a useful contrast against the other character because there is no one like her. Her character is important because in the Victorian times there was a huge divide between men and women. Women did not have as much say as men. They were just expected to serve the men. In the novel Nancy does not serve the men she does what she has to do to survive.
We are first introduced to Nancy in chapter 9 but our view of her is coloured by the innocence of Oliver; he believes them to be ‘very nice girls’. Nancy and her friend’s demeanour are described with a great deal of ambiguous adjectives such as ‘free and agreeable’ which could mean two things, free spirited or free sexually. We are later introduced to the irony of her not being free. She is controlled by Bill. She is also described as ‘stout and hearty’, ‘not very pretty’ and having ‘colour in their faces’, Oliver twist art. This is a contrast to the devilish character of Fagin.
By seeing the difference ion physical description we can tell that Nancy and Fagin are going to be two very different characters. The readers get the impression that Nancy is a prostitute when Oliver asks if ‘she has gone work’ and Fagin replies ‘Yes… they do, my dear, depend on it’. At the time that the book was written prostitutes were considered the lowest people in society. However the reader becomes aware that she is what she is for necessity rather than choice. Even though she is part of the underworld she is also a victim of it. By chapter 13 Nancy is contrasted with the dominating Bill.
She is controlled by him and this evokes strong feelings of sympathy. Bill is an aggressive, powerful and demanding character. He uses force to get what he wants. Nancy is in love with him but she does not want to stay with him because he is ruining her life. She is similar to Oliver in highlighting how evil Fagin and Bill really are by contrasting with her good natured spirit. Furthermore, we learn the importance from a plot-development perspective; she is the one that collects Oliver from the court. Nancy’s connection with Oliver and her similar history to him helps the reader understand Oliver’s plight.
This is very significant as Oliver is the main character and the book revolves around him. The reader is encouraged to hope that Oliver’s future is not like Nancy’s although they had a similar up bringing, as well as allowing the reader to see Nancy as someone who once shared the innocence of a child like Oliver. Importantly in chapter 16 the reader learns that Nancy knows that her ‘work’ is wrong and she does not enjoy it. This sets her aside from Bill and Fagin because she a strong moral conscience whereas the others don’t.
Chapter 16 is important in the book because in the chapter the reader learns that Nancy is mental and physical victim of Bill. Her unhappiness with her situation is shown when she says to Fagin ‘I thieved for you when I was a child not half his age, and I’ve thieved for you ever since, don’t you know it… It is my living. And you’re the wretch that drove me to them long ago, and that’ll keep me there, day and night, day and night, DAY AND NIGHT’ The reader feels sympathy for such women of the Victorian times because such a brutal atmosphere was part of everyday life.
Nancy’s character is a microcosm of the poor society of Victorian times. By making her a sympathetic character Dickens make the reader fell sympathy for the poor. Instead of looking down on the poor like Brownlow does, Dickens encourages us to be like Rose and help them with out snobbery. When Nancy first meets Rose, Brownlow, Rose’s servant, treats Nancy like she was the scum of the Earth. When Rose comes out to see what is happening, Nancy is treated like a friend by Rose. This shows Rose as kind of a rare angelic character, poignantly contrasted to the demonic Bill and Fagin.
Although Nancy’s character has started to change from being evil to good but she is still lowly in contrast to Rose. Nancy’s decision not to part fully with the underworld is significant as it eventually kills her. However it is not wholly her fault because she is irrevocably bound to Fagin and Bill and some good is achieved from her death as she facilitates Oliver to live a better life with family. The imagery of death in dine is woven all around Nancy’s next meeting with Rose and Brownlow particularly in chapter 56.
As the reader we are invited to judge Nancy’s character; has she repented enough to be worthy of heaven or does she deserve the ‘flames and vengeance’ of hell? Dickens use of language is very striking to portray the predicament of Nancy. The phrases ‘shroud of blood’, ‘Coffin… large black letters’ and ‘horrible thoughts of death’ all strikingly convey the dire situation to the reader. Dickens tries to tell the reader to treat poor people with respect and to help them because if we don’t then they will end up like Nancy who no one helped.
Nancy has gone from being someone who is confident, strong willed and a survivor to a weak and broken person by the end of the novel. This tells the reader that the environment she is living is a down bringing and destructive one, as it calls the degeneration of a character as powerful and strong as Nancy. As Nancy renounces her sins and become more pure whereas Fagin has become more demonic, as illustrated by the wording ‘black finger nails’ and ‘fangs’. Undoubtedly Nancy should be saved because she altruistic, she has repented all her sins and she trying to make the lives of the people around her (Oliver) better.
In conclusion I think that Nancy is an important character because she represents the good amongst evil, she is needed for satisfactory plot development and she highlights Dickens social message of treating the poor better. Nancy is a complex character and integral to the story as without her Oliver could not have his happy ending. She is a character constantly in transition, from shady to angelic. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Oliver Twist section.