The Duality of Nancy’s Character in Oliver Twist

June 29, 2009

The Duality of Nancy’s Character in Oliver Twist

by Alaa’ M. Al. Dhahiri

Nancy is one of the Charles Dickens’s characters in Oliver Twist. The author of the novel, Charles Dickens shows that Nancy has a mixed character . This is shown clearly in the scene when she goes to the police station to look for Oliver. Mr. Fagin sends her to ask about him ,so she dresses in nice clothing and in the police station she pretends to be Oliver’s distraught sister. she gathers information and returns back to her gang. When Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver on the errand suddenly , Nancy appears. She tells everyone in the street that Oliver is her run away brother who joins a band of thieves , and she wants to take him back home to their parents. When they arrive to Fagin’s residence , Fagin , Dodger and Charley laugh hysterically at the fancy clothing Oliver wears. Oliver calls for help. Nancy leaps to Oliver’s deference , saying that they ruined all his good prospects . Fagin tries to beat Oliver for his escape attempt, but Nancy flies at Fagin in rage. Sikes catches her by the wrists , and she faints .This complex scene shows that Nancy has two sides in her personality , good and bad. The duality of Nancy’s character makes her one of the most complicated characterin Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

We are introduced to Nancy at the beginning of the novel as ”prostitute, crude, and with questionable morals”. Nancy is, on the other hand, loyal to Fagin and Sikes, for which she pays her life (gradesaver ). She must have started when she was five. And so now, twelve years later, she is seventeen. Awfully young to be as jaded as she is, do not you think? She tells Rose later that she is younger than she looks, though “old in sin”.

she acts as they want . They always order her and she obeys them .

The badness of Nancy’s character toward Oliver happens many times. First, when she takes him to Sikes’s house in order to share Sikes in a house robbery, despite her earlier protests against trapping Oliver in life of crime . She takes him although she does not want to trap him but she does it for her master, Fagin. Dickens prove that she is loyal to her gang.”Nancy in such situation always laughs hysterically because she can not do any thing else. He describes her actions as a perceptive observer might view them “(shmoop).

For example, when Sikes tries to get her to stop taking Oliver’s side, he says:Do you know who you are, and what you are?” “Oh, yes, I know all about it,” replies the girl ,laughing hysterically, and shaking her head from side to side with a poor assumption of indifference” (shmoop 1.16.75-76- ). When Fagin treats Oliver badly , She jumps to Oliver’s defense, and when he starts to beat him, and seems to feel conflicted and guilty about her own role in bringing him there.

As for negative side in her character, she betrays her gang to help Oliver .This may be considered as a right action toward Oliver but in fact, it is betraying. She goes to visit Rose Maylie, and entrusts her with the information, but only after asking Rose to promise never to use the information to have Fagin, Sikes, or any other member of the gang arrested. She begs Mr. Brownlow and Miss Rose to ensure that none of her associates gets in trouble because of her choice to help Oliver.

This is considered to be a good action toward her gang but in fact, she hides the information of a dangerous gang and she also refuses the offer of a safe place far away from a criminal life . Although , “Rose offers her a comfortable home far away from London, Nancy refuses – she’s too in love with Sikes and can’t leave him, even though he’s terrible to her” (shmoop).

She does not want to trap her friends specially Sikes because she loves him very much . Nancy seems to be waved between good and evil .This fighting leads her to her tragic end. Dickens is showing that Christianity is the way to overcome evil.Nancy has great faith and this makes her take a decision to help Oliver to overcome evil.

The question which is arouse here in this novel “whether a bad environment can irrevocably poison someone’s character and soul. As the novel progresses, the character who best illustrates the contradictory issues brought up by that question is Nancy. As a child of the streets, Nancy has been a thief and drinks to excess. The narrator’s reference to her “free and agreeable . . . manners” indicates that she is a prostitute. She is immersed in the vices condemned by her society, but she also commits perhaps the most noble act in the novel when she sacrifices her own life in order to protect Oliver”(sparknotes).

Nancy‘s choice to help Oliver proves that her human nature is basically good. The analysis of her character ,” Nancy’s moral complexity is unique among the major characters in Oliver Twist. The novel is full of characters who are all good and can barely comprehend evil, such as Oliver, Rose, and Brownlow; and characters who are all evil and can barely comprehend good such as Fagin, Sikes, and Monks. Only Nancy comprehends and is capable of both good and evil. Her ultimate choice to do good at a great personal cost is a strong argument of basic goodness, no matter how many environmental obstacles she may face. Nancy’s character suggests that the boundary between virtue and vice is not always clearly drawn”(sparknotes).

As the positive side for her character, she really wants to help Oliver to run away from Fagin’s gang ,even when she gives Mr. Brownlow and Miss Rose information about what Monks and Fagin intend to do with the poor boy . She also defends him many times especially when Fagin prisons him in the jail cell.

Nancy refuses to take money from Mr. Brownlow and Miss Rose as a reward . This action reflects that Nancy is not a material woman because she dose not care

of taking money as a reward for the information which she gives them. Also when she asks them to promise her not to trap her gang in trouble .

The tragic end to Nancy shows that “Nancy’s love for Sikes exemplifies the moral ambiguity of her character. As she herself points out to Rose, devotion to a man can be “a comfort and a pride” under the right circumstances. But for Nancy, such devotion is “a new means of violence and suffering”—indeed, her relationship with Sikes leads her to criminal acts for his sake and eventually to her own demise. The same behaviour, in different circumstances, can have very different consequences and moral significance. In much of Oliver Twist, morality and nobility are black-and-white issues” (sparknotes). She tells Rose that it is at the end of their first meeting. She explains and declares her feeling and intentions, saying:

When such as me, who have no certain roof but the coffin-lid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that parents, home, and friends filled once, or that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us?” (3.4.103- shmoop).

Nancy‘s intention to champion the right and the good lead her to a tragic end .

When the person that she really loves him kills her without any reasonable purpose. Another view that suggests what happens to her is a result of her choice to rescue Oliver “When Nancy makes contact with the world of conventional behaviour as represented by Rose and Brownlow, she judges that she has taken the path of error that must inevitably lead to destruction. Convinced that she is so caught up in the thickets of evil that no amount of good intentions or effort could help her anymore, Nancy is a lamentable example of human waste. Dickens has set her as an example of a basically good person who has drifted so far from honest ways that no return is possible” (cliffsnotes). Some views suggest that she takes the wrong path which leads to her death .On other hand, some views suggest that may be it rests her tired soul.

When Nancy is young ,she takes the wrong path by joining to Fagin’s gang ,but she has reasons to enjoy with them” Many contemporaries may have recognized the portrait of Nancy, driven into prostitution by poverty but retaining her essential feminine compassion. The idea that prostitution may have an economic root is less popular than the idea of seduction or degeneracy but it gains ground due to writers such as Mayhew and Acton who are more inclined to listen to the views of the working women themselves. William Acton in 1870, in Prostitution, considered in its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects, recommended studying the, ‘habits, the wants, the tendencies and the careers of these women’ (Acton, p.3). Acton blames the fall in wages for the rise in prostitution, ‘the wages of working men, wherever they compete with female labor, are lowered by the flood of cheap and agile hands, until marriage and a family are an almost impossible luxury….the famished worker….takes virtue itself to market” (Acton, p.5-victorianweb).

At the end of the novel , readers think that Nancy is one of the most important and complicated character in Oliver Twist” Despite being a relatively minor character, she has a very important role to play – she’s the source of the information about the plot between Monks and Fagin to ensnare Oliver” (shmoop).

Nancy refuses the offers that Rose and MR. Brownlow offered her to take her away to a safe place .That decision led her to her tragic end .
Actually, Nancy is considered the most complicated character in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist . Actually, she has a mixed character because she has two sides: Positive and negative.

Works Cited

“Characters analysis,Nancy”cliffsnotes.28-3-2009

<http://www. WileyCDA/LitNote/, pages,Num-675html>.

“Close read the scene where Nancy and Rose meet for the first time in the chapter40.

How does this scene show the precarious position of women in Dickens’s time

Gradesaver. 23-6-2009 <


“Loyalty, and the lack thereof, comes up often in the novel .How does Dickens portray this trait”

Gradesaver. 26-6-2003

< twist/study-guide/essay-questions>.

“Nancy and Bet” Victorian Web.28-3-2009

<http://www.victorianweb. org/author dickens/rogers/6.htm>.

“Nancy”. Spark Notes.26-3-2009 <;.


< 168-important-

characters-oliver-twist >.

“Nancy’s character.” Shmoop.13-6-2009



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