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Oliver Twist: Divine Child

written by: Stanley Wilkin



A Jungian Interpretation:

Oliver Twist: Divine Child by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

Altering identities


‘….psychotic products often contain a wealth of meaning such is ordinarily found only in the works of genius.’ The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature. Jung:1966:92

‘I am assuming that the work of art….as well as being symbolic, has its source not in the personal unconscious of the poet, but in a sphere of unconscious mythology whose primordial images are the common heritage of mankind.’ The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature Jung:1966:80



This essay looks at Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist from a Jungian perspective, with additional reference to modern critics of the novel. Oliver Twist is here viewed as a novel of ‘symbolic presentation’, [1] agreeing with the proposition that literature gains its narrative power from cultural and unconscious primordial image resonances that confirm and conform to specie nature, responding to archetypal images and narrative structure that touch upon fundamental existential themes and interests.  The soul, or cultural synthesis, ‘expresses itself in a universal language of symbols.’ This approach references the belief that externality not merely provides evidence of the mind/soul but is part of its nature. Artistic achievement becomes the result of tension between the collective unconscious and personal development, or ego. This essay will also consider whether the novel presents an alternative psychology from the present one of interacting individuals possessing discrete functions.

The themes of literature are few. The most persistent involve journeys/problem solving, exhibiting cathartic effects and resolution of general cultural conundrums. The earliest written narratives were often repeated. The Iliad can be detected in Mesopotamian literature and in Biblical stories: Long journeys to overcome iconic cities are a repeated motif or theme: a journey, for example in both Gilgamesh and Epics of Sumerian Kings: The Matter of Aratta,[2] to find a relationship, the grail, or to return home, to discover a truth, overcoming barriers along the way. It presupposes movement away from the familiar to the unpredictable, transforming the individual internally and also his/her status in society.[3] This suggests that human beings exhibit limited behavioural traits. This essay will not wholeheartedly agree with Jung’s belief in the unconscious nature of creativity (C.G.Jung, Page 87).

Narrative and Critical perspectives: 

I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last.’ Dickens’s preface to Oliver Twist.

Oliver Twist is one of Dickens’ heroic victims, a relatively short list that includes David Copperfield and Pip, although he explored the theme throughout his novels. His approach was perhaps informed by Rousseau’s concept of pristine innocence and Romantic poets’, particularly Wordsworth’s[4], occasional soiree into the superior nature of childhood. The idea that childhood constructs the future adult, culminating in the Victorian Freud’s ideas on childhood being the fount of damaged adults, may have had its genesis during this period. Such concepts make childhood into a very powerful state. Dickens laces this concept of childhood with darker motifs and themes. Oliver will be considered as both ‘puer aeternus ’ and ‘senex’[5] archetypes. Many of his novels begin with childhood and are overshadowed with various kinds of prisons, contrasting innocence and freedom with corruption and control.[6] Oliver’s ‘unchanging grace make him an agent of redemption in the fallen world’ (Richard Locke, 2011). Those who help Oliver save themselves. Pip in Great Expectations also plays a redemptive role, but as a less passive player. Those Pip helps, help him, and become actualised. Oliver is a saint, ‘an unchanging exemplary sacred essence, a static icon in a violently fallen world.’ (Richard Locke, 2011, page 15).

For the first eight chapters of Oliver, an illegitimate child born to his dying mother in a workhouse, context and language show the hero at the behest of unaccountable institutions, run by people driven by ideology, finance and selfishness.  Mr Bumble, a pompous, self-important beadle-a minor church official working for the workhouse-names the foundling Oliver Twist, his surname slang for ‘hanging’. [7] Until he is nine, Oliver is raised by the cruel Mrs Mann. He is then received into the workhouse. Oliver is subject to a range of abuses but remains unchanged and incorruptible. He never identifies with or becomes like his abusers. Oliver is preserved by natural strength and goodness, which as the novel proceeds appears to be based on providence, God and his middle-class antecedents.[8]When famously he asks for more food, he is merely unconsciously acknowledging his true identity of middle-class material plenty.

Later apprenticed to an undertaker, Mr Sowerberry, Oliver, after an altercation with another apprentice, the jealous Noah Claypole, runs away to London. Collapsing in a doorway at a town just outside London, Oliver is found by Jack Dawkins, the ‘Artful Dodger’ who introduces him to Fagin. While the Artful Dodger and Claypole are alternatives to Oliver, expressing his shadow or, as Oliver throughout retains the fortitude of a saint, real nature, Fagin is presented as archetypal evil, with references to reptiles and rats. When Fagin first meets Oliver, he resembles the devil. Fagin is both a career criminal and, probably, a paedophile, a type rife in Victorian London. At the time, there were a large number of street-children existing within the city, ripe for exploitation. Claypole and the Dodger represent aspects of boys of Oliver’s age, that is of the peur archetype.  The Dodger represents the boy as opportunistic, mischievous, light-fingered thief, and Claypole the sneak that bedevils all childhoods. In Oliver Twist, each is also the result of upbringing and environment.

Fagin’s gang represent another experience of domestic life, they are in effect his family. Unfortunately, they are a destructive one constructed upon selfishness. The children exist within the group only to increase the wealth of Fagin, the father figure. Nancy, a substitute mother, ‘whore with a heart of gold’, is included in the gang to control the children, although she is later redeemed by Oliver. All of Oliver’s substitute parents exploit him, only those related to him, barring Monk, treat him in a kindly fashion. The next morning, in a semi-conscious or dreaming state, Oliver observes Fagin a box out of a trap-door and gloating over the watches and articles of jewellery it contains. The old man mumbles about recent hangings and how none of victims gave him away. When the Artful Dodger and another boy are detected robbing an elderly gentleman, Oliver is caught in the resulting hue and cry. He is nevertheless subsequently protected by the elderly victim, Mr Brownlow (the name of a charitable individual of the time), who professes to see something in Oliver’s face.

Brownlow takes Oliver home and there the boy finds himself in a world of kindness and forgiveness. This is a kind of heaven, in contrast to the hell of the underworld. Oliver feels he has died and already gone to the ‘better place’. In Oliver Twist, happiness is often linked to death or dying.

The workhouse and other institutions he has come across up to this point have been ‘based on retribution, punishment, and strict morals’ [9], although, these have been applied in a contradictory and hypocritical fashion. Similar to innovations in prison reform, such as at the later Pentonville, workhouses encouraged people to become independent, the assumption being that personality weaknesses had led them into their shared predicament. These institutions were supposed to inculcate a range of Christian virtues, but without, according to Dickens, their officers acting in a Christian fashion. After the New Poor Law of 1834, workhouses were expected to ‘relieve the helpless, deter the idle, set children on the right path, encourage thrift and temperance, reduce crime, improve agriculture, raise wages, and heal the growing divisions in the social order.’[10] While laudable ideals, the measures employed were initiated by fallible human beings and also entry into a workhouse was deemed as evidence of moral weakness, see above (M.D. Crowther, page 3). [11]In Brownlow’s residence, Oliver comes across the portrait of his real mother, the first time he has connected with his true identity after a life-time of false names imposed by others.

With Nancy’s help Fagin finds out where Oliver now resides and attempts to get him back. Bumping into Oliver on the street while he is running an errand for Brownlow, Nancy kidnaps him but then, once Oliver is back in Fagin’s grasp, protects him from a beating. Oliver is subsequently taken by Sikes on a house-breaking expedition and is wounded.

The novel now shifts to the problematic nature of Oliver’s identity, upon which much of the novel revolves. It involves Bumble, a consistent intrusion from Oliver’s past. Bumble has returned to the workhouse to visit Mrs Corney, its matron, who is attending a dying woman, Old Sally. The old woman tells Mrs Corney that years before she robbed a pregnant woman of a gold locket, which she wants to return to the woman’s child, whose name was Oliver. Mrs Corney pockets the locket.

After the failed burglary, Sikes goes on the run and Fagin seeks Mr Monk, also crucial in the discovery of Oliver’s identity. Monks has been searching for Oliver. He expresses the desire that Fagin should make Oliver into a hardened thief in the hopes that eventually he will be hung or at least acquire a bad reputation and become ineligible for the legacy Monk is concealing from him.

Delirious, Oliver goes back to the house the gang attempted to burgle and is taken as a thief. Once again, Oliver is protected by kindly middle-class folk, principally 17 year old Rose Maylie, who subsequently protects him from the police. Oliver’s wounds are attended to and he slowly recovers. Within this household Oliver assumes his true middle-class identity. Later Rose falls seriously ill and Oliver, while asleep on a couch, believes he sees Fagin and Monk at the window looking at him. He cries out, but although a search is made, there is no evidence they were actually there. Questions arise. Did he dream the incident or was it real, thereby making Fagin into a supernatural being?

During his period of residence here, Oliver discovers that Brownlow has immigrated to the West Indies and has a meeting with Monk, who upon seeing Oliver falls down in a fit. Oliver promptly gets help, thereby saving him. Bumble is already regretting his marriage to Mrs Corney, based as it was on his gaining the workhouse master position, and misses the authority bestowed on him by the uniform and position of beadle. In this instance, clothes make the man. Now, Mr and Mrs Bumble meet up with Monk in a decaying building in a sordid section of town. For twenty-five pounds they give Monk the locket, in which he finds a wedding ring with Agnes engraved on it and two locks of hair, and he throws it into the river.

Nancy discovers Oliver’s identity while eavesdropping on Fagin and Monks. She takes the information to Rose Maylie. Soon after, Oliver is taken to see Brownlow once more, as he has returned to England.

Claypole and Charlotte, his girlfriend, have fled to London after robbing Sowerberry and there meet Fagin. They are invited to join the gang. The Artful Dodger is arrested and sentenced to transportation.  Nancy is discovered to be helping Oliver and is subsequently killed by Sikes, who then flees and subsides into fear and paranoia. He, chased along London roofs, surprised by a vision of Nancy, accidentally hangs himself. Monks is revealed to be Oliver’s half-brother and half his fortune belongs to Oliver. Fagin is arrested and sentenced to death. Claypole saves himself by informing against the old man. In the cell, Fagin is visited by Oliver and Brownlow to elicit from him the location of papers verifying Oliver’s identity. All ends happily. Brownlow adopts Oliver and, within the reality the novel inhabits, all the bad people get their come-uppence.


The themes of Oliver Twist are the nature of identity and how other’s ‘twist’ or steal identity; an attack on the belief that poor people are naturally criminal; the disastrous consequences of economically motivated marriages;   contradictions. Oliver is both attacked and accepted because of his nature and true origins, that is middle-class and prosperous. This sets him apart from others in the workhouse and within Fagin’s gang.

Oliver Twist can be placed amongst the popular ‘Newgate Novels’ of the period that dealt with ‘low material.’ In the novel, Dickens’ provides a critique of early Victorian life, examining the harm done to people by Bentham’s utilitarian social policies, such as workhouses, and also the legal system. He presents the middle-classes as largely hypocritical, except for those who help Oliver, who are usually related to Oliver in some way or another, thereby sharing his nature. The most moral character in the novel nevertheless is Nancy, who gives her life to help him. Her death is fated, as she feels beyond redemption and unable to embrace respectability.

Oliver Twist is a revolutionary novel, drawing on the novels of Defoe and Fielding, providing early sociological and psychological analysis, showing the world of the disadvantaged who live at a distance from the moral codes of the well-to-do with its sheen of Christian morality. It was a world familiar to many urban poor. Dickens’ presents the view that it is nurture not nature that forms people, while also dismantling his position through Oliver’s innate gentlemanly, middle-class characteristics. But Dickens’s viewpoint persisted and from it we have a sceptical view of those in authority, the desire to make people better, and the provision of means to achieve this through kindliness and not individualism/selfishness. Society, from the cathartic lesson of Oliver Twist, evolved towards consideration, without unfortunately eradicating hypocritical judges and Bumble-like social workers. While determined to provide a realistic portrait of criminal types, then fashionable in fiction, (Dickens’s preface, 1841) his psychological perception analyses the thieves, murderers, and prostitutes he imagines as products of an unfair and hypocritical society. He believed in the equality of human potential, that birth and upbringing distinguished thief from lord. He evaluates his characters by degrees of kindness and selfishness.[11]A line can be seen from Dickens to Zola and Flaubert, both of whom were familiar with Dickens. Although nowadays, readers tend to believe he exaggerated conditions of the time, it is likely that he did not but presented many things as they were, leaving out only the worst parts such as child prostitution. But there is something amiss with Dickens’ naturalism, certainly in Oliver. Indeed, Oliver’s story may have been a substitute for his real fate, being buggered by Fagin and others.[12] The adults in Oliver Twist often find Oliver attractive. According to Humphry House, [13]London at the time was ‘drenched in sex.’ Although the novel is soaked in symbolism, it greets with fear and confusion the wilfulness of the urban modern world with its huge institutions that are intent on control through the guise of help and improvement. In the end, the NHS and social care services are a watered down workhouse. Oliver’s adventures in the underworld are connected to ‘primordial experiences’.[14]

There is attached to the novel a dream like state or waking nightmare.[15] The criminal underworld is a ‘sinister labyrinth perpetually shrouded in night’[16] that functions alongside the upper world of Brownlow and the courts, the world of gentleness and goodness, old fashioned Christian virtues, residing mainly in the countryside. Michael Slater demonstrates how Oliver’s nocturnal entry into the city reads as if he was being drawn into a ‘dangerous maze’. Oliver experiences two dream-like states:[17] one when he first arrives at Fagin’s den, the other when Fagin and Monks appear to be looking at him through the Maylie’s parlour window, see below. At this point Fagin may represent the devil, following Dickens’s conceit of Oliver’s saintly or Christ-like pretensions, attempting to drag him back to evil and the fate others have assigned to him.

By agreement, the middle-class characters, those who save Oliver rather than are saved or affected by them in some dramatic fashion, lack vitality compared to the assortment of low characters. They appear the converse side of the low characters, demonstrating unselfish kindness in conflict with the consuming selfishness of Fagin and Sikes. In many ways, the novel is about selfishness, reflecting the concerns of Jeremy Bentham, the Utilitarian Philosopher, whom Dickens blames for workhouses and many of the abuses of poor people at the time. Bentham claimed that selfishness was the natural state of all human beings.

Rose Maylie is considered the counterpart of Nancy, as both are about seventeen. The two girl’s different fates are due to their different upbringings. But in the end Nancy is redeemed by Rose and Oliver and like many sinners who sees the light she is quickly martyred. Hollingsworth (1993) sees Nancy’s death as a substitute for Rose’s and that her real sin was sexuality. The fate of many of the female characters who engage, or have engaged in sex, is often death. If the three most prominent women, Oliver’s mother, Rose and Nancy are composite characters, their fates show different possible pathways played out in the heavy hand of circumstances and also sexuality. Oliver’s mother and Nancy risk all for emotional and physical love.  Oliver’s mother had had an affair with a married man and Nancy was a prostitute. The dream-like quality of Oliver Twist is perhaps a consequence of Dickens’ inability, because of the society in which he wrote, to deal directly with sex.

Dickens saw the world as driven by unseen and unknowable forces, as well as by human character and institutions. In Oliver Twist, people live in the present circumnavigating an uncertain world. One of these forces is the process of Naming. Although Twist is named so because the workhouse authorities expect him to be hanged, he is propelled towards his true identity or name. This is also responsible for the dream-like atmosphere of the novel, in that, until Oliver realises his true identity he cannot achieve actualisation, therefore he remains unreal. Hanging is central to the novel.[18]Many of the main characters fear that they will be hung and Fagin has survived by driving many of his youthful accomplices to the noose.

Oliver Twist: A Parish Boy’s Progress is considered a morality tale with a deep connection to Christian sentiments and language, the received culture of the period.[19] Throughout, Oliver is the ‘principle of Good’, uncontaminated by evil.[20] According to Janet Larson (1993), the novel was written with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in mind, and also the Good Samaritan, as a tale of good and evil fighting for a soul. It tackles Oliver’s fate, in that it asks whether he will become ensconced in the London crime world, which he comes close to doing, or succeed in achieving the middle-class representation of goodness towards which his real identity is driving him.

Larson describes Oliver as needing to remain a victim, as with all martyrs, in order for God’s saving providence to be revealed but although this is pertinent to Bunyan’s Progress, in Oliver God makes few identifiable appearances. There the saving providence is middle-class aspirations, the goal and saving of the young Charles Dickens. One he perhaps obsessed about while in the blacking factory. It is not heaven that Oliver reaches but respectability, affluence and gentlemanly lassitude.

In the novel, Oliver is rescued several times, but by bogus Samaritans, another Christian motif, Mrs Mann, the workhouse and then Fagin. Dickens probably meant for his readers to note the similarities between the natures of all institutions and the difference between institutionalised charity and that from the heart. In each, children and life’s victims were abused. In both, children are saved from starvation only to be exploited.

Any critique of Oliver Twist also must include the nature of families, the assigned or surrogate family as against the natural family, that still concerns us, and disguised or mistaken identity, see above, involving both Oliver and Monks: Nancy pretends to be Oliver’s middle-class sister: Monks changes his name and pretends to be a common criminal. Again, all these matters revolve upon the shifting, fluid nature of identity. Clothes conceal people’s real natures: Bumble loses his authority when he discards his uniform: Nancy, a prostitute, is listened to and respected when she wears middle class clothes. These matters involve not only shifting identity but consideration of class and its predominance in the society of the time. It also involves those who simulate families and those who are part of natural family groups. The importance of the Christian theme is further strengthened by Nancy’s connection to Mary Magdalene-a Christ animus, lover and mother.

Jung: Oliver.

While these matters explain part of why Oliver Twist is a novel of power, it doesn’t explain it all. It is because Oliver Twist touches on so many unconscious factors, working on the mind in simultaneous action with labyrinthine depth that we are able to experience fully Dickens’ creation. This is what this essay will now consider.  While Dickens’s novel gains much of its evocative power from its connection to Christian symbolism, the motifs behind such symbolism predate Christianity and have a beginning in ancient perceptions of the world, which appear to back-up Jung’s belief in archetypes. This essay considers the nature of archetypes, their validity, how they explain the power of many literary forms along with a consideration of the limited behaviour of humans, often disguised by a laminate of apparent complexity.  To achieve this, it will first consider the work of Joseph Campbell, who constructed ideas of the archetype from mythology, before delving into Jung’s ideas.

Archetypes and literature.

Campbell[21]posits the view that one narrative suffices, that of the hero proceeding towards a goal, encountering problems, overcoming them and realising his/her greater potential. This he termed the monomyth of separation-initiation-return, clearly observable in the Oliver Twist narrative. Equally it can be found in the Gilgamesh epic, and the Moses and Abraham stories. The journeys of Moses and Abraham are essential to their religious and spiritual development. Campbell, an adherent of Jungian ideas, believed that all cultures shared archetypal myths that reflected common human traits. Such narratives, as the above, according to Campbell, involve reflection upon original states, change, self and group actualisation and redemption. Journeys certainly play a considerable role in mythology, largely perhaps because it reflects our perceptions of life. We are born, nurtured by our parents, break away from them and establish lives of our own, seeking goals that can, to one degree or another, differentiate us.

Campbell perceives herohood, and certainly Oliver is a hero, as predestined.[22] This status is conferred upon the individual’s descent and return from the underworld, their life renewed.[23] In the novel, others sense that Oliver is different and he is often thereby subject to attacks, the result of other’s need to eradicate that difference. Fagin wants to see him hung. Oliver is victimised by the officers of the working house, but, apart from Bumble’s insistence on Oliver’s malevolent nature this was probably quite usual behaviour. It is part of the self-actualisation of heroes to have a deprived childhood and to be tested. This testing is normally training for hero status (Christ, Buddha, Washington). The hero’s childhood is formally at an end when ‘his true character is revealed.’[24] This part of the narrative has to be considered in terms of latent power, predicting future change. Oliver, like many Victorian child characters, prophesises change. Each, (Water Babies) were by their presence, predictive of change for a better, more honest world. Such a viewpoint holds that adults are naturally or potentially evil. In addition, where Oliver Twist is concerned, is the importance in myth and narrative of the underworld. This is evident in the early stories of Inanna and that of Aeneas. In both, entering and escaping from the underworld are seen as initiations and necessary steps towards self-actualisation. Dying is necessary before rebirth.

Although Jung (1966, page 87) clings to the notion of creativity as an unconscious force it nevertheless resides in the identification of an individual with the artist archetype, and the energetic attempt to actualise that archetype. It is unconscious in that creativity is in closer touch with the Self, the cultural connections that cover us all. The process is not of the ego. Poets and novelists pull themes, motifs and archetypes out of the air and reassemble them on the page. Jung sees the creative spirit as being an ‘autonomous complex’(1966: page 87), a split off portion of the psyche bestowing on it, with the conventionality that Jung often took for truth, its own separate half-life.

Oliver Twist

Dickens’ characters are commonly said to be stereotypes, even caricatures. While his characters often appear derived from the humours of earlier literature, behaviour motivated by type, in Twist the characters are charged also by the nature of society. There is evidence, largely anecdotal, that in the poorer environments lasting until the end of the Second World War, individuality was stronger. There was far more day to day eccentricity. Government institutions, such as the NHS, have imposed greater conformity on the general population. Unusually expressive types are judged both unusual and mad. Dickens may have written about people he met, but of a kind that no longer exists or is tolerated in present society. Where such forceful characters exist, it is through the expression of different kinds of behaviour, for example, the energetic exhibitionism of reality TV shows. Rather than stereotypes, his characters occupy extreme environments within occasionally melodramatic settings and behave appropriately.

Dickens plots are often melodramatic. But melodrama affects all our lives, and is often processed as simply an extreme of ordinary living. The breakdown of a marriage with its brief and occasionally violent emotional expression: involvement with groups outside an individual’s accepted experience: a sudden death of a close relative and the responses and behaviour of others to the event.

Dickens: Jung

Jung’s ideas concerned ‘connecting the delusional system which expresses the patient’s subjective myth with the objective reality of the external world’.[25] This reconciling of the subjective and objective is not far removed from Dickens’ narrative, combining the reconstructed symbolic landscape of London with the reformist journalistic zeal demonstrated in the first chapters of Oliver Twist. He discovered, or believed he had, that the symbols used by psychotics to express their inner turmoil, were recognisable in the everyday world. Just as psychotic individuals were accessing archetypal complexes to deal with their inner thoughts, early religions used similar methods to adapt to their environment. This essay deals with Dickens’s characters as representing individuals but also aspects of individuals, each ‘individual character distilling a certain emotional or psychological drive.’[26] According to Kucich, Dickens provided character in groups, clusters, and doubles and not in the stark individualism of the present day where each person has a discrete nature, enjoyed in isolation. In this view, Rose and Nancy form a complete whole of different destinies that describe 17 year old girls of the period, as Twist, Claypole and the Artful Dodger share aspects of a single youthfulness. The contrast between Oliver and the Dodger and Claypole resides not only in Oliver’s providence but also in the version of Christianity Oliver represents, whereby all negative behaviour is repressed. In this view, Sikes is a manifestation of the contained violence of Fagin.

Jung alludes to the Christian idea of the Virgin Birth as such an adaptive device, judging such an event as physically impossible but which brought with it older concepts of the world and ways of behaving. Of course, scientific impossibility is not evidence of myth making anymore than many scientific ideas are evidence of reality but that does not devalue Jung’s insight. Science may too be subject to archetypal influence. The Big Bang after all is a birth, without it seems clear cause and effect. Empirical reasoning fits in with archetypes of wisdom and obsession. Our construction of reality, religious and secular, may be based on these cultural archetypes.

This approach certainly demonstrates the limitations of psychological ideas and thinking. The proposition is that an internal reality presupposes an external one, even if the external reality, backed up by a conglomeration of evidences, is judged closer to a general reality conforming to the knowledge and methods of calculation of a dominant, influential group. Although God is an archetype, that does not invalidate his existence, or, more to the point, that of any transcendental being. Nevertheless, this kind of thinking can take us only so far as god is an unproven phenomenon subject to change that has little power except within certain political and economic conditions. In many cultures, god represents male wishful thinking projected into the distance and thereby extended. Space, time and mass become elemental aspects of spirituality.

The archetype is rooted in an historical process. It has been suggested that it evolved from the human bottleneck around 70,000 BCE, the small numbers developing fixed traits. But as this has been judged to involve 10000 individuals, it seems improbable, although there is the possibility that people develop within small local units no matter how large the state, tribe or city they inhabit. There is another problem. It is not safe to assume that what we nowadays understand as god would be the same understanding of other earlier cultures. It did not. The name has been retained, but nothing else. While at risk of disqualifying this thesis, there appears something in the idea as the sharing of images and motifs indicates a shared psyche. While Jung believed archetypes were part of our specie-nature, Maud Bodkin, a psychologist and literary critic, [27]held that they are culturally acquired. Although a thorough knowledge of different cultures suggests this may be true, equally there may be behind the cultural acquisition of symbols and motifs a much smaller number of central symbols and motifs. Northrop Frye believes literature to be a sophistication of a basic group of formulas derived from primitive cultures.[28]He has constructed four categories, which reference four seasons, thereby marginalising cultures in hotter climes. Upon all this, Fiedler put the author’s signature as distinguishing one piece of art from another within the archetype paradigm. He dispenses with Jung’s collective unconscious, substituting basic shared emotional experiences such as individual maturation. In this way, archetypes become common unsophisticated perceptions of existence. All monomyths have a cyclic pattern.[29]

Archetypes are surely connected to the body, form and movement, the senses, experience of others and of our end and how we construct personal and group reality. From these factors certain archetypes, such as child, are formed. Our behaviour and ideas are energised by these archetypes and everything we do is an unconscious reference to these basic archetypes. Designing a new car for example gains energy through archetypes of birth and rebirth; a doctor gains the drive to learn and practice for forty years from archetypes of life, healing, rebirth that are culturally reconstituted. In this fashion, society’s roles are expressions of primitive reconstructed archetypes.

The novel

Jung, examining the nature of literary composition (Jung, 1967, page 85), established two approaches based upon Schiller’s separation of literature into sentimental and naïve. In the former, the author has control over the material. In the other, the writer is often considered driven by creativity, not intellect. This was an accusation often mistakenly affixed to Dickens. Of course such a clean split is difficult to maintain when any work of art is scrutinised. In fact, most exhibit a mixture of the two. Dickens started writing the novel in an introvert vein, motivated in his composition by outside forces, but utilising them in his composition. While Dickens’s thinks, feels, and acts in a way that is ‘directly correlated with the objective conditions and their demands’, he does so with full awareness.’[30] He is inspired by conditions for the poor and vulnerable in the society of the times and the ideas behind these conditions. Introvert literature, by such an exclusive definition, includes all journalism and a good deal of literature, especially from the 19th century onwards. In this, Dickens’ consciousness looks outward, dramatically responding to events but not always absorbed by them. In fact, Dickens’s creative responses are not of a whole, and, in Oliver Twist, are driven by responses to the environment and to the symbolic nature of his characters. The author gained energy from identifying himself as a reformer, associated with priest-like qualities. Jung holds that such extraversion requires compensatory unconscious factors to develop. These perhaps account for the major artistic elements within the writing. Utilising social-realism to describe the lives of the very poor, Dickens here plays the hero role, that of reformer.

His creative drives absorbed by archetypes of immense symbolic resonance, these are combined with additional complex introvert drives, dealing with early identification with martyrdom and victimhood. In Jungian terms, he exhibits traits of both the Introverted Rational Type and the Introverted Intuitive type. Dickens’ identification with the victim, the abandoned child, provides much of the novel’s energy in the initial 30 or more chapters. Dickens’ sees Oliver’s Christ like qualities as a Christian solution to the ills of the time, but in fact he merely invokes such archetypes as a catharsis for his own time spent in the blacking factory, abandoned by his family. To explain such a dichotomy, Jung (1971: 9) employs the concept of the unconscious, learnt from his master, Freud, but viewed as a collective not individual phenomenon. The evidence suggests that Dickens had an awareness of his artistry, and that his art was on several levels of consciousness. Unconscious will not be employed in this essay, unless there is irrevocable evidence of its presence. Jung referred to as a ‘psychological borderline concept’ covering a number of phenomena and not in the topological sense employed by Freud.[31]

The sheer horror of abandonment, set adrift in a nasty world, Mrs Mann, workhouse, Bumble, Fagin, Sykes, complements the author’s control of the external world as Dickens’ connects these to agreed phenomena of the period established by recent Poor Laws. The novel’s subsequent descent into fantasy, the underworld, anarchy, meandering streets and rooms, conforms to the compensating extravert nature as set out by Jung. While at first the novel conforms to the extravert’s orientation of feelings, structured upon an object, it changes into those committed to painful internalised and constantly renewed experiences constructed upon archetypes.

At the novel’s centre is the continuous battle between good and evil, God and Satan, or, perhaps more accurately, victim and aggressor. In all, the novel gains its energy from three archetypal sources operating at different parts of the narrative, the Outcast-Hero, Journey, Divine Child. Although these can be identified, they are also adaptive and subject to change. Each corresponds to Oliver’s external needs and internal drive, borne out clearly by his wanderings from Sowerberry’s home towards London, and through the London underworld towards light. In these, Oliver is the wandering hero, the child looking for its mother.[32] In the novel, Claypole’s later journey to London replicates Oliver’s but results only in actualisation of his duplicitous character. In addition, Rose Maylie’s illness, completed by Nancy’s death, involves different energy drives leading towards both life and death.

The novel is a journey towards self-actualisation, achieved through the Ego-Self axis, although Oliver is presented and perceived of as a blank slate without apparent unconscious, his character unchanging, and therefore unsuitable for individuation. As such, he represents part of everyone, those times when all of us feel or are victimised or when we feel we have better things ahead. His static nature allows for identification through archetype. He represents the child archetype, the hero archetype, in that it is the hero who acts out the collective unconscious, outsider (as a Christ-figure), demonstrating the passivity of Christian ideas of goodness.  Oliver as Hermes the divine child is the begetter and ‘initial creature’, the beginning and the end, the ‘preconscious and the post-conscious essence of man,’ (Jung/Karenji: 1941: 15) fitting the novel’s reformist intentions. For Jung, all these archetypes are primordially connected. Oliver represents, in Jungian thought, a powerful archetype. In Alchemical Studies, edited by R.F.C. Hull, the Hermes-Mercurius figure consists of all conceivable opposites:

1.      Material and spiritual

2.      Process by which the lower and material is transformed into the higher and spiritual, and vice versa.

3.      A devil, psychopomp, evasive trickster and God’s reflection in physical nature.

4.      Reflection of mystical experience of the artifex that coincides with the opus alchymicum.

5.      On the one hand he represents the self and on the other the individuation process. (Jung, 1967)

Of the above, much can be seen in the Oliver Twist character and within the novel as a whole. Oliver represents the alchemist guaternity (Jung:Vol 14: 1963:101) and, in his relationships with other characters, principally Fagin, the Christian schema (Jung: 1963: 102) of Filius Salvator-Diabolus Antichristus. Dickens’s grasp of this was extravert, with little subordination to introvert drives. Nevertheless, as powerful as this might be, other cultures are not always seduced. English teachers in Japan have found that their students experience difficulty in understanding English literature because of the Christian mentality which they perceive as everywhere present (Christian Themes In English Literature:  Peter Milward, Kenkyusha Ltd Tokyo 1967.)

Alice Byrnes[33] posits that the child symbol, in Jungian theory, based within the collective unconscious, represents more than a child, but provides the potential for human growth. This, she believes, accounts for the popularity of the child figure in literature. The symbol, she writes ‘suggests virtues of innocence, freedom, and gentleness’. As with Jung the child symbolises wholeness, it carries adult and child virtues of ‘wisdom, freedom and responsibility, as well as gentleness and strength’. Byrnes itemises further attributes in (page 3), including: ‘qualities of abandonment, wholeness, transformation, and unity of time’. Although this essay will consider Jung’s estimations of the symbol, his view will not be religiously adhered to. There are nevertheless clear connections with Oliver Twist, who is a catalyst causing redemption and retribution. John Gordon (2011) [34] declares that Oliver is Fagin’s nemesis, bringing about his downfall, although he asserts that this is the result of Fagin’s paedophilic attitude towards Oliver. This may or may not have substance, but for the ‘hanging’ theme throughout the narrative. Twist was slang for hanging, or its prospect, and both Sykes and Fagin meet their end through that means.

All literature, according to Northrop Frye, a critic with a Jungian perspective, concerns a mythological journey (see above), containing conflict death, the disappearance, reappearance and recognition of the hero. As with Oliver, the hero’s heroic quest ‘has the general shape of a descent into darkness and peril followed by a renewal of life.’ This essay explores the nature of dreams through the Oliver Twist narrative and Jung’s view that literature, as with art in general, is a ‘magical or propitiatory’ human expression.

Archetype and Narrative

 ‘In Oliver Twist Dickens moves towards the expression of both good and evil as forces having their origin beyond the material world, so that in reading the novel we are often aware of some metaphysical drama hovering about the events of the surface-narrative.’ Dennis Walder, Dickens and Religion. (Allen & Unwin, 1981) pp 42-61.)

Oliver is without individuation,[35] not subject to change and exhibits intentionality through others’ will, and his adventures in the criminal underworld are ‘primordial experiences.’ In these episodes of descent into the underworld and escape from it, Heaven and Hell, Oliver exhibits the archetypal theme of rebirth or resurrection. As he disappears into and emerges from the underworld he evokes the disappearing god more fully recognisable in Osiris and Christ.

The child archetype: The orphan child.

Jung views the orphan child within ancient mythology as a manifestation of the gods. It is both god and hero, evidenced through the number of his/her adversaries. It is the child’s role to overcome the monster of darkness and ensure other’s individuation. Oliver is representative of the child archetype in that he brings redemption, overcoming darkness and providing a ‘Higher Consciousness’ through his capacity to overcome or shed light on the unconscious. For Dickens, and other writers of his period, i.e. Wordsworth, Kingsley, childhood was a special case, a period of incorruptibility, presented within the novel as a ‘principle of Good’ uncontaminated by evil.[36] In addition, Oliver can be traced to Jean Jacques Rousseau who constructed an exemplary role for the child as a paradigm of innocence who can become corrupted by adults or by children already corrupted by adults, but continues, through a fusion of past and present, representing the adult’s better side or potentiality. For much of the novel, Oliver has neither family nor name. Without a name, there is no individuation.


Amongst Fagin’s criminal gang, which he joins after running away from a sadistic employer, he is also an outcast because of his honesty. Hillis Miller (1958:36-37) believes Oliver is an ‘animate object’ to whom self-awareness comes slowly. Although, as seen through Jungian perspective, his development is actuated by archetypes such as Fagin, the dynamics between Oliver and the archetypes he meets on his journeys are not straightforward, see below. He becomes ‘potentially human’[37] when he realises he is alone, and his ‘aloneness’ then becomes intolerable to him.[38]

For much of the novel, Oliver lives his life on a basic level, intent on a roof over his head and something to eat. Nevertheless, he carries with him a sense of destiny. His outcast state, aloneness, throws light or knowledge, as an object of abuse, on the darkness of the world about him and the Bentham ideas informing it. Many of Oliver’s experiences assume a dream-like quality (Hillis Miller, 1958: 47), which are described according to Jung’s ideas.

One aspect of the orphan child is his-her relationship with the underworld. Oliver fulfils the myth of an orphan-child abandoned with a ‘nurse’, or bad nurses, Mrs Mann and the workhouse. The nurse preserves him until his true identity is revealed. The orphan, according to Jung, is associated with the primeval world. Oliver’s absorption into Fagin’s gang of pickpockets, who are also abandoned children, and the criminal underworld, should be viewed in this light. When Oliver is first introduced into the gang’s hide-out he ascends a staircase of ‘dark and broken stairs’, into a room ‘perfectly black with age and dirt.’ [39] According to Jung, steps and ladders refer to psychic transformation.[40] The labyrinth quality of the criminal underworld suggests its seductive nature and wholeness, a mandala in which shadow is focused upon, a world apart. The labyrinth or maze was the ancient Egyptian representation of the underworld to where souls went after death. It is a shadow of the physical world above, the unconscious to the conscious world of order and law.[41] Hillis Miller (1958:40) relates the darkness of the criminal world to the prisons Fagin and his gang will end up in, and the physical and psychological insecurities of their environment. Oliver is symbolic of the hanging that is to be their fate.

Dickens describes Fagin as having a ‘villainous-looking and repulsive face’(Oliver Twist, 51), descriptions that concern also Dickens’ conventional anti-Semitism. He is later described as emerging from his ‘den’ and more: ‘he glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved, crawling forth by night for some rich offal for a meal’(Oliver Twist, 121). Like Mephistopheles, he ‘glides’ rather than walks, having also the attributes of the serpent, and Hermes, the Trickster. Oliver shares with Fagin the Hermes archetype, but in the god’s bringer of knowledge aspect, demonstrating the connection between Fagin and Oliver. Of a chthonic nature Fagin is a primeval being, a shape-shifter in the guise of a man, both bestial and superhuman. Fagin’s humanisation at the end of the novel testifies to his Trickster nature. [42]

Hillis Miller points out that not only is Fagin often referred to as the ‘devil’ but that he is ‘as much dream as reality.’ As a seducer of young boys, Fagin the trickster and serpent, is also a senex figure. He looks after the boys, attending to their needs, but contrarily gains money from informing on them once they have served their use. Existing at the labyrinth’s centre Fagin is the personification of a being cut off from light and goodness. Like Oliver, he is an outsider. Dickens’ (Hillis Miller:1958:58) narrative movement through the labyrinth is always inward and never outward. This is the world into which Oliver, representing light, also Mercurius, (bringer of primordial light) is taken and which he will destroy. Oliver transmutes the dark by revealing it to the forces of the civilised world, or conscious. In Dickens, the labyrinth appears associated with physical and moral darkness, sleep and dreams and the novel  (Hillis Miller, 1958) is: ‘no longer a realistic description of the unsanitary London of the thirties but is the dream or poetic symbol of an infernal labyrinth, inhabited by the devil himself.’

In the earlier part of the novel, individuals act according to a set of theories and the promptings of selfishness, convinced they are right, but in the later part, individuals act according to the promptings of connectedness and selfishness. They have rejected goodness, not subverted it. The realism of the Newgate sections operates in a separate part of the writer’s and reader’s consciousness. The external world no longer validates the narrator’s extravert individuation, revolving around character types that increasingly form patterns, existing within their own separate world.

When Oliver is arrested attempting to pickpocket Mr Brownlow, who later becomes his guardian, he is, as a consequence of Brownlow’s kindness, taken to the idyllic security of a middle-class home, but is soon recaptured by Nancy, the girlfriend of Bill Sykes, a thief, pimp and Fagin’s colleague. Although Nancy is a prostitute she is also mother/lover, who seduces and cares for others. Sikes is her animus, in that, as a consequence of exhibiting aspects of her shadow, he activates her love. Oliver is once more dragged back into the dark, ‘a labyrinth of dark narrow courts,’ the underworld.

Dream or Reality

The events that occur on page 222, for the purposes of my analysis, are pivotal to the narrative. Oliver has escaped from the clutches of Fagin and his gang, and found his way into the care of Rose Maylie and her aunt. As the story progresses we discover that Rose Maylie is Oliver’s aunt. His wandering in search of mother or mother figure and his true name is almost complete. Throughout the novel, Oliver feels he is in a dream, appears to be in one, connects events through sleeping, as when he falls asleep after entering Fagin’s den, and witnesses or dreams he witnesses, Fagin hiding his treasure.  In the above incident, Fagin may have used drugs to induce Oliver’s sleep (1992: 52). Amongst Fagin’s treasure was evidence of Oliver’s true identity, thereby making of it a potentially transforming event. Treasure is associated with the hero-figure and child archetype.[43] By concealing the treasure, bearing Oliver’s identity, Fagin is hiding the whole, or self, of Oliver, his capacity, through identification, of self-actualisation. The novel ends with the discovery of the treasure and of Oliver’s true identity.

Hillis Miller (1964:70) asserts that Oliver loses consciousness before he escapes into the ‘good’ world but in fact he does so whenever a transforming event is about to occur. Hillis Miller understands this as pointing to the mysterious nature of the good and bad world, as between heaven and hell. He perceives this as a transmutation of both scene and of self. Time and reality are subjective, with both Oliver and the underworld outside both. The ‘disposition of places and their relation to one another’,[44] the symbolic nature of space within the novel reflects its dream-like appearance. Oliver’s presumed fate, Dickens makes plain, was to hang but Fagin hangs instead (Hillis Miller, 1958: 66), a scapegoat saving Oliver.  It is possible that Oliver’s release from his fate, sexual exploitation from middle-class men, one that befell many orphaned children in Victorian times, is obscured by the dream-like nature of events.

While reading in the Maylie study, recovering from his wound, Oliver falls asleep. It is a strange kind of sleep, ‘that steals upon us sometimes, which, while it holds the body prisoner, does not free the mind from the sense of things about it, and enable it to ramble at its pleasure. So far as an overpowering heaviness, a prostration of strength and an utter inability to control our thoughts or power of motion, can be called sleep, this is it; and yet we have a consciousness of all that is going on about us and if we dream at such a time, words which are really spoken, or sounds which really exist at the moment, accommodate themselves with surprising readiness to our visions, until reality and imagination become so strangely blended that it is afterwards almost a matter of impossibility to separate the two.’ [45] Oliver knows that he is asleep, but suddenly he believes that he has been transported back into Fagin’s house. He imagines that Fagin is pointing him out to Monk, a younger man, who it is later revealed is Oliver’s half-brother and who wishes to prevent Oliver from receiving his inheritance. At that moment Fagin and Monk are staring at Oliver through the cottage window. Oliver wakes up in terror and cries out. Fagin and Monk promptly disappear.

If the dream symbolizes Oliver’s shadow than, as asserted above, Oliver and Fagin are connected within the Self. According to Hillis Miller (1958: 76-77) the nature of the dream stops the flow of time, as if Oliver were still in Fagin’s clutches. From a Jungian perspective, this episode may describe the existence of the Self outside of the ‘conscious experience of time (in our space-time dimension’[46] but nevertheless omnipresent. The Self represents connectivity, not the discrete nature of interminable individuals and therefore Fagin and Monk are part of Oliver. Oliver does not exist by himself. It is his relationship with the two men that initiates his self-actualisation.

The connection between Fagin, Monk and Oliver.

Dickens’s psychological model presents egos as interconnected, and not as discrete units. Jung’s concept of shadows, a projection or containment of unwanted negative personality aspects, is utilised, if stretched, to cover the below. At times, Dickens’s characters act out the internal aspects of others, or express darker aspects that a character’s respectability and social status prevents them from doing. Dickens’s is here describing genuine psychological phenomena.

Oliver Twist: Divine Child by Stanley Wilkin at Spillwords.com

The episode replicates an earlier episode (1992: 169) when Monk while conversing with Fagin in an apartment sees the shadow of a woman ‘in a cloak and bonnet, pass along the wainscot like a breath!’(1992:169). Fagin searches for the woman, but cannot find her. While this can on the one hand be seen as the memory of Oliver’s mother, Monk’s constant shadow because of the harm he has done, on the other hand it can be seen as Oliver’s also, both exhibiting a seductive pull on Monk. Monk cannot escape either, as, in turn, they represent past and future. Dickens perceived (Hillis Miller, 1958:74) the state between sleeping and waking as usually providing untapped knowledge of the present, while he believed that dreams experienced in sleep had no direct relationship to events in the present.

The shadow figure can be viewed as representing evil (Horst and Ingrid Daemmrich, page 232), but is often taken to represent the unconscious. Both shadows and sleeping are connected to death, although the latter is also connected to resurrection and restoration. Much of Oliver Twist replicates the nature, as imagined and understood by Dickens, of the predictive qualities of the trance.

Oliver’s cries attract the remaining occupants of the cottage to the study. Oliver informs them, visibly shaking, that he has seen Fagin. They ask Oliver the direction in which Fagin disappeared in order that they might catch him. They rush out and search but cannot find him, nor can they find any footprints outside of the cottage to indicate that he has been there. Oliver’s protectors assume that he dreamt the episode. The next day they enquire in nearby villages if anyone had seen Fagin, an instantly recognisable type, but they say ‘no’, and the incident is subsequently forgotten. Once again, in the novel, the individuation process occurs within a dream-like state.  Hollis Millar references the lack of footprints outside the window, suggesting here that Fagin is present as the devil.

The appearance of Monk and Fagin within Oliver’s dream, if such it was, reminds Oliver, from a Jungian perspective, of unresolved complexes, concerned with his false identity. It references his name given to him not his true identity. For Jung, child and old man, Oliver and Fagin, ‘belong together.’ Oliver represents an unresolved complex for Fagin, in that Oliver represented Fagin’s anima and female archetypes in general. At the end of the novel Fagin, about to be hanged, perceives Oliver to be the cause of his ruin. He is frightened to have Oliver near him, fearful perhaps of anima demands. Fagin may have encouraged Sikes to kill Nancy (1992: 313) a mother archetype. In order to resolve the complex dynamics, before he can affirm his true identity, Oliver, by proxy, returned to the underworld to purge himself of Fagin and the shadows he represented. His renewed presence there (the Child archetype) destroys both the criminal gang and its leading members. There is no justification for Fagin’s hanging except to ensure Oliver attains self-actualisation. Throughout, Fagin has appeared as the filius regius, a charismatic transformative substance waiting in the darkest depths,[47]and infantile shadow-or adult as bogey figure, inhabiting children’s dreams and adult unconscious.


Conclusion: Who was Oliver, what was he?

Oliver Twist is replete with half remembered mythology, which either reflects Dickens’s era or a collective unconscious. Dickens based Twist’s character on certain perceived Christ-like traits, meek, mild and suffering, commonly employed in Victorian times, subject to persecution, and of not being understood by many of those around him. In his illegitimacy and as a consequence of being dispossessed of a fortune, Oliver represents the hero as outsider seen in the earliest literature. Both Moses and Sargon 1 were dispossessed of their real names and their later fame was a consequence of their attempts to both discover and recover their own backgrounds.

Oliver Twist, to Jung’s thinking, actuated other archetypes associated with the Christ-figure. These archetypes include Orpheus (a Hermes representation: Jung, Vol.9.Part 1.Page 215), misunderstood and torn apart because of his beautiful singing: Mesopotamian fertility gods, who often disappear into the underground to re-emerge having learnt much from their ordeal: Christ as the bearer of love and knowledge. The novel is charged with Hermes’ power as the divine child, and of course the archetype’s renewal in Christ. Child-figures involve hope, change and renewal in Victorian literature. In addition, he represented the alchemist guaternity and Christian schema of Filius Salvator-Diabolus Antichristus when combined with other characters within the novel. To fully appreciate the archetypal force, Christ is understood as an archetype built upon and around the historical figure of Jesus, which contains within it much earlier archetypes. All historical religious or revolutionary figures suffer this fate.

These additional references give greater substance to the novel, providing it with extra story lines, symbolism and primitive power. The conflict between the transforming power of the Child archetype in Oliver Twist and the reality of children’s lives in early Victorian times, child labour and child prostitution, provides the novel with its metaphysical qualities, as the writer attempts to transmute his world. While the realities of the workhouse and poor law could be successfully reported, paedophilia was more difficult to portray to the early Victorian audience.

The novel’s power is based upon its submersion into a host of primal myths (Jung, Kerenji, 1941) that create emotional responses within the reader, additionally charged by objective and personal responses to injustice and victimisation.

Dickens’ perception of psychology provides an example that predates and challenges our prevailing understanding of human motivation and interaction. Dickens saw connections between individuals rather than conveyed the negotiations between discrete individuals with similar but separate histories. People exist by sharing archetypal traits. Rose Maylie and Nancy share the archetypal traits of a young woman, with Nancy expressing sexuality. They meet because archetypal traits must in order to create a whole. Nancy’s death ensures that Rose will live. Fagin and Oliver also share in a relationship whereby they represent archetypal traits of the other. Again, for Oliver to survive and achieve actualisation, Fagin must take on Oliver’s fate. Brownlow and Fagin are archetypes of the father, Fagin Brownlow’s shadow (although Brownlow appears incapable of evil). When they visit Fagin in his cell, shortly before his death, it is cathartic, a letting go of the shadow for both Oliver and Brownlow. Sikes’ death represents the annihilation of Fagin’s potent traits, as Sikes is Fagin’s violent side, making him vulnerable to capture. Sikes’ dog and Nancy represent Sike’s animus, redemptive qualities of love and loyalty, which he loses when he kills both. Sikes’ eventual loneliness is the loss of himself. Fagin and Sikes have to lose archetypal potential in order for Oliver to achieve predestined actualisation.

The novel also represents Dickens’s self-actualisation. Dickens, the victimised child in the blacking factory, apparently abandoned by his family, is idealised in the figure of Oliver, the suffering obdurate Christian boy selected for better things. Oliver’s parents are dead at the novel’s beginning, preventing them from disappointing him/Dickens and also a sublimation of the adult Dickens’s continuing anger towards his parents. The mother is further idealised through an early death. The abandoned boy makes his own way in life until rescued by idealised relatives, distant enough from Oliver not to disappoint both him and the author. His substitute parents, amongst who are Bumble and Fagin, meet unhappy fates. Nancy, his true, idealised mother, dies protecting him. In this way, Dickens resolved his childhood and created a dream-like existence with Brownlow and Rose as substitute idealised parents.

While John Kucich (1987) selects repression as the tool for Dickens’s characterisations, it seems that he projected himself into many of the novel’s characters. In doing so, Dickens was, I suggest, fully conscious of making artistic choices. They were parts of his personality he did not wish to keep, closely fulfilling Jung’s shadow concept. The redemptive character of Oliver provided a healing for the writer, controlling and killing off his antisocial tendencies. The Monk character is the writer (as distinguished from Dickens the Man) disguised, manipulating others to destroy the writer’s good intentions (Oliver). Monk contains Dickens’s desired self, the middleclass man, and his rejected self, the working class boy. In fact, Oliver Twist is Dickens reimagining his childhood and engaging with different versions of his future life and adult self. The Christian ideology, expressed by Oliver, is the one constant to a better life.

Is it possible that our discrete natures are only a literary construct that emerged in middle/late Victorian novels, human beings motivated by internal monologues, and then adopted by many psychologists as a norm? Perhaps there is another possibility examined by earlier literature?

When individuals interact with others, it may be that each individual is energised by interconnecting archetypes that alter throughout the period of interaction. These are temporary, unstable extensions of the greater unconscious, in Jung’s terms. We are not subject to interval motivation, but through the accessing of shared or opposing traits. The inhabiting of roles signifies a paucity of internal motivation and self-identity. Doctors express themselves in similar ways, espousing shared perceptions: The thinking of politicians can seem, with justification, to be narrow: While inhabiting a labourer’s role, a thinking man would be unable to rise above the everyday. Each category nevertheless is not restrictive and has the potential to inhabit other roles and in fact may inhabit several, each providing specific motivating energy. Such a view resists any idea of continuous ego, but one subject to constant alteration.

Jung often extrapolated archetypal and complex, based on how archetypes are understood internally, ideas from conventional understandings, such as of gender difference and on the nature of creativity. His view of creativity as self-conscious and controlled or instinctive appears rooted in Late Victorian and Edwardian concepts of artfulness, Wilde and Flaubert and artlessness, Dickens and Kipling, that was fashionable for a time. This then as now has more to do with form and intentions than inherited traits.


[1] Stephen Connor: Charles Dickens: 1996: 22.

[2] Herman Vanstiphout,Jerrold Cooper , Society of Biblical Literature 2003

[3] Horst and Ingrid Daemmrich, page 157, 1987, Tubingin: Frank.

[4] Ode:  Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. 1807.

[5] Jung, Vol 9: Part 1. MercuriousHermes http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Puer_And_Senex_Archetype_In_Relation_To_Criminalized_Drug_Addicts_and_the_Judicial_System.html

[6] Richard Locke, Critical Children, page 14, Columbia University Press, 2011.

[7] David Paroissien:The Companion To Oliver Twist:: 1992: page 48. Edinburgh University Press.

[8] Dickens. Oliver Twist. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York. 1962. Introduction. Hillis Miller: Page 16.

[9] Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens: page 32, Spark Publishing, 2002.

[10] M.A.Crowther, The Workhouse System 1834-1929. The History of an English Social Institution. Methuen and Co.Ltd, 1983. Page 29.

[11] J. Hillis Miller, Oliver: Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993

[12] John Bayley. Oliver Twist: “Things As they Really Are”.  Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993

[13] Keith Hollingsworth, The Newgate Novel and the Moral Argument: Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993.

[14] Jung. Modern Man In Search of a Soul, 1933:160

[15] John Bayley. Oliver Twist: “Things As they Really Are”.  Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993.

[16] Michael Slater, On Reading Oliver Twist. Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993.

[17]John Bayley. Oliver Twist: “Things As they Really Are”.  Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993.

[18] J. Hillis Miller, Oliver Twist. Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993.

[19] Charles Dickens, Queens College and Graduate Centre, 1993. Page 537.

[20] Oliver Twist, 1994. Steven Connor. Page 27.

[21] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton university press, 1948.

[22] Eliabeth Wright: Psychoanalytical Criticism, A Reappraisal:: 1998. Oxford, 2nd ed.

[23] Robert Denham. Ed. Forming Fours. In Culture and Lierature. 1978.

[24] Campbell, page 329.

[25] Anthony Storr: Jung: Fontana Press, 1973.

[26] Ed. Juliet John, Charles Dickens Oliver Twist: A Sourcebook. Routledge. 2006. Pages 47-48.

[27] Archetypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imagination (1934)

[28] Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology (1963)

[29] Myths and Motifs in Literature: Ed. Burrows, Lapides, Shawcross. Page 3. The Free Press, 1973.

[30] C.G. Jung. Dictionary of Analytical Psychology. Ark Paperbacks. 1971. Page 4.

[31] C.G. Dictionary of Analytical Psychology. Ark Paperbacks. 1971.Page 154.

[32] Jung. Psychology of the Unconscious. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and co. 1916. Page 231.

[33] The Child: An Archetypal Symbol in Literature for Children and Adults. American University Studies. Peter Lang 1995

[34] Sensation and sublimation in Charles dickens. Palgrave macmillan.

[35] C.G. Jung. Analytical Psychology, Its Theory and Practice.  Ark Paperbacks, 1986. Page 186.

[36] Oliver Twist, 1994, Steven Connor: Page 27

[37] Hillis Miller, 1958

[38] Frye, 1976 ‘Hero Archetype’.

[39] Jung: Man and His Symbols: 1964: 59. Jung perceives this as destruction and restoration. Through Hell Oliver arrives at self-actualisation. This can also be found in ancient myths, (Inanna) where goddesses descend into the underworld. It is a myth of renewal. Dickens, in Oliver, separates the world of law and order into two interdependent physical entities with specific rules.

[40] Jung:Dreams:1974,136.

[41] Not so clear cut, as Dellamora, 1996 proves. The Middle Classes, the civilised world, are shown as flawed and sexually perverse.

[42] Mercurious, Trickster figure, according to Jung: ‘a daemonic being resurrected from primitive times.’

[43] Jung, Vol 13:258

[44] Oliver Twist, 1994:XXX1

[45] Oliver Twist: page 222.

[46] Jung: Man and His Symbols, 1964:210

[47] Jung, Alchemical Studies: 1967, pages 146-147.

Stanley Wilkin

Stanley Wilkin

Stanley Wilkin is a freelance lecturer and education consultant working in London
Stanley Wilkin

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