This essay depicts the characteristics of Fagin, a key character in Charles Dickens’s legendary novel ‘Oliver Twist’. Dickens wrote this book in the eighteen hundreds and gives a clear portrayal of life in the Victorian era, and how many people struggled to cope with poverty, desperation and crime. The story revolves around a small boy, who from his first day alive has experienced terrible hardships and how he tries to make his way in the brutal world, that was London. After escaping from the extreme cruelty he had been subject to when staying at the undertakers, Oliver fled to London, which greeted him in a way that made him feel small and insignificant. After being picked up by the Artful Dodger, he is brought to the grimy hideaway of Fagin- otherwise known as ‘the Jew’
Charles Dickens ensures that the readers’ first impression of Fagin would be negative and unpleasant. Fagin is evidently extremely poor and is trying, through any means possible, to avoid sinking into deeper poverty. Dickens implies this through his graphic description of Fagin and the complicated route in which Oliver has to for take to get to the grotty, grim and dirty hideaway where Fagin and the boys live.
The fact that there is a lot of effort in ensuring the hideout is hidden and practically impossible from reaching from the outside, makes the reader infer that what Fagin is conducting is against the law. Dickens delivers his vivid description of Fagin, using language to imply that he is a villain. He uses vocabulary like “old, shrivelled, villainous-looking, repulsive and greasy”. He also refers to Fagin often as ‘the Jew’, which is obviously in context to the times this book was first published. At this time many people were anti-Jewish and in using the term ‘Jew’ Charles Dickens realized that people would associate this with evil or wickedness. Fagin’s introduction is with a (pitch) fork and a flaming background, which can be interpreted as a euphemism for the devil.
This implication is then sustained in the next paragraph where Dickens describes the way Fagin greets Oliver. He is obviously a person who uses rhetoric, irony and sarcasm to his best advantage. He bows to Oliver, in a way that perhaps encourages Oliver’s trust in him. Fagin’s boys then exploit this by shaking hands with Oliver and pretending to be friendly, welcoming and accepting, when in reality, they are actually robbing him. “…shook both his hands very hard- especially the one in which he held his little bundle” “…was so obliging as to put his hands in his pockets, in order that, as he was very tired he might now have the trouble of emptying them himself…”
Of course, Dickens never actually states the fact, at this point in the book, that Fagin is a villain, nor does he state how the boys are robbing Oliver. He simply implies it through his use of tone and language. However, near the end of the passage the reader’s decidedly negative opinion of Fagin is altered slightly as Dickens describes how Fagin feeds Oliver, gives him something to drink (even if it is alcohol) and a bed to sleep in. This can give the reader a sense that although he is a person who is going against the law, he has generally got feelings for the boys, and is certainly treating Oliver more kindly then any adult has ever treated Oliver in his life. This may all be an act to make Oliver trust him and feel safe around him, so that he can manipulate Oliver into pick pocketing for him later, but never the less, he is still making Oliver feel happier and more accepted then he has ever felt before.
However, as the text develops, Dickens ensures that all traces of pity or positive judgement for Fagin is eliminated as he presents the reader with a much darker, and sinister side of Fagin; he shows the reader just how devious, treacherous and villainous Fagin really is. The reader sees this in the passage where, Bill Sikes and Nancy have recaptured Oliver and brought him to Fagin. This is where Nancy’s female intuition and feelings for Oliver are brought to air, where she defends and protects Oliver from the violence Fagin and Sikes wish to inflict on him.
‘You-you’re more clever than ever to-night. Ha!ha! my dear your acting beautifully’ Fagin here plays on a human weakness, the wish to be flattered. Fagin realizes that often, the key to getting around people and manipulating them, is by playing on their weaknesses, such as flattery. This shows how cunning and sneaky Fagin is, as he thinks that trying to seduce Nancy by flattering her will allay her fears and allow Fagin to get his own way.
However, in the next passage this clearly does not work. Nancy shows Fagin that she is smart enough to realise when someone is attempting to control her by making her think they are on her side. When she continues shouting at Fagin, Dickens implies that in truth, Fagin is an extremely cowardly, slimy character. ‘…and, shrinking back involuntarily a few paces, cast a glance, half imploringly, and half cowardly at Sikes’ This tells the reader, when a situation arises that Fagin believes he cannot control, he hides behind Sikes. This also implies that Sikes is really Fagin’s thug. Sikes is the one who sorts out problems which may need violence, or methods other than manipulation or cunningness.
In retrospect, one gets the impression that Fagin is a slightly pathetic and timorous character in the book, who only uses violence on people weaker than himself, i.e. the children. On the whole, Fagin in fact, is an absolute bully to the children, as he uses his advantage of being bigger and cleverer than them as means to bully them. He picks on children such as Oliver by flattering and involving the boys in his antagonising, so that the boys feel Fagin is on their side, therefore they trust him. In the description of Fagin in chapter XIX, Charles Dickens hits home with the sheer repulsiveness of Fagin, through his evocative and dramatic vocabulary.