Twist And Anti Semism
Charles Dickens being anti-Semitic when portraying the character Fagin as
"the Jew", in his classic story Oliver Twist, or was he merely
painting an accurate portrait of the 19th Century Jew in England? Some critics
seem to believe so. Though there are no indications of neither anti-Semitic nor
racist slurs throughout the story, Dickens' image turned out to follow the path
of his time and place in history. The result is an enlightened picture of

Victorian England's image of the Jew. The attitude towards Jews and Jewishness
in 19th Century England demonstrates that Dickens was a man of his time. His
attitude reflected the common British belief that Jews were villainous thieves.

Fagin, a thief, is described by Dickens as "a very old shriveled Jew, whose
villainous and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red
hair"(Dickens 87). This common depiction of the Jew was accompanied by the
stereotype that they had big noses and lured orphaned children into their filthy
dens and turned them into derelicts. He was a thief because he did not have any
skills, nor was he welcome anywhere. On the other hand, to describe Fagin in any
other light would have to give the impression that Jews just might be humans
after all. In reading this story, I discovered Fagin to be somewhat likeable and
misunderstood. Though revolting to look at, having a repulsive disposition, and
having manners and hygiene left to be desired I could not help but to feel sorry
for the old guy. All he wanted to have was security in his old age. For example,
when Fagin sees Oliver looking at him while admiring his treasures, Fagin asks
the boy if he had seen any of his pretty things. Oliver tells him that he did.
"Ah!" said the Jew, turning rather pale. "They- are mine, Oliver;
my little property. All I have to live upon, in my old age. The folks call me a
miser, my dear. Only a miser, that's all" (Dickens 1961: 91). I also found

Fagin to be very charming in instances, almost likeable and having some
redeeming qualities. Another example of Fagin's humanity is seen in the way he
treats Oliver. Although Oliver plays a totally utilitarian role to Fagin, he
becomes protective of him, even though the motives are purely selfish. When not
being watched, Fagin has great self-control, even under duress. He is always
cautioning Sikes against violence. There are some signs that Fagin still has a
shade of humanity left in his perverted character. Several times throughout the
story he exhibits some kindness towards Oliver. He checks his motives before he
acts. Though the reader is still at bay with his actions, he still seems to have
some sort of a conscience. It could be argued that Fagin and Oliver are somewhat
similar. Though the reader does not see this at first, more in depth reading
reveals that Oliver and Fagin mirror each other in who and what they are.

Oliver, a boy without a home, Fagin, "The Jew", without a country.

Fagin, in fact, is not seen as an Englishman. He is Jewish, which is a race all
its own. Fagin is the outsider, unlike Oliver. His Jewishness places him at even
more a disadvantage than Oliver's orphaned status. Both characters echo each
other in asking for more; they are placed in oppositions so that for Oliver to
claim his rightful place in society, Fagin must die. Dickens' stereotypical
association of Fagin with a class of criminal perceived by him as almost
invariably Jewish is based on a particular awareness of the commonly accepted
wicked practices of this kind of Jew. Dickens' stereotypical association of

Fagin with a class of criminal perceived by him as almost invariably Jewish is
based on a particular awareness of the commonly accepted wicked practices of
this kind of Jew. In Dickens and his Jewish Characters, Dickens answers a letter
from a Jewess woman who wrote him concerned with the fact that Dickens may be in
fact an anti-Semitic and wanted to allow Dickens to reply as to why the
characterization of Fagin. His response was that "Fagin in Oliver Twist is
a Jew because it unfortunately was true, of the time to which that story refers,
that the class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew" (Dickens 1918:9).

Critical reviews have been inclined to argue that Fagin is only a Jew in no more
than name. "His main claim to Jewishness", contends critic Harry

Stone, "is the fact that Dickens constantly labels him 'the Jew" (Felsenstein

239). The point being