The titular protagonist, Oliver Twist is orphaned at birth and brought up by the parish under circumstances that amount to child abuse. Despite his ill treatment, Oliver is a kind, honest boy who is quick to forgive. He is motivated by the desire to help those in need and by gratitude to those who help him. Despite the abuse he receives at others' hands, he never holds a grudge and is always ready to give a person the benefit of the doubt. At the back of Oliver's mind is the desire to learn more about his mother. As a child he thinks about her watching over him and feels deeply that she must have been a good person. It is her nature that Oliver has inherited, and no matter how much abuse and manipulation he experiences, he remains true to his nature. In the end Oliver gathers around him a group of honest, kindhearted friends similar to himself.
An old man with an ugly face and matted red hair, Fagin is a sort of criminal mastermind. He fences stolen goods, taking a large cut for himself. He looks and lives like a pauper, but he has plenty of money. He even owns more than one house. Readers meet Fagin in his public persona of a jolly old fellow taking care of his young charges, but the boys with him are really apprentice thieves. Fagin is a corrupter of the young, and Dickens often refers to him as the devil. Fagin demands total compliance and does not hesitate about turning in to the police anyone who crosses him or whom he perceives as a threat. That way the police will do his dirty work for him by sending his enemies to the gallows. Fagin may seem charming, but he's as evil as they come—the antithesis of Oliver Twist.
If anyone resembles Oliver's mother in character, it's Rose Maylie. Like Oliver she was orphaned as a child. She was then raised by abusive foster parents. When Mrs. Maylie found Rose, she was a ragged child, underfed and unloved. Mrs. Maylie took her in and raised her as her niece. Rose is young but very caring and maternal. She puts the needs of others before her own. When Harry Maylie proposes, for instance, she turns him down because she fears her origins would ruin his reputation and thus his career. Like the ideal mother, Rose nourishes Oliver with food, knowledge, and love.
Mr. Brownlow is a gentleman through and through. When Jack steals his handkerchief and Oliver is accused of it, Mr. Brownlow doesn't assume Oliver's guilt, and in fact, he feels more concern about Oliver's well-being than about his own loss. Mr. Brownlow is generous and impetuous. He takes Oliver, who is a stranger and possibly a criminal, into his home and nurses him. However, when Oliver doesn't return from an errand, Mr. Brownlow is quick to believe that the boy may have robbed him. Still his good heart wins out. As a born scholar, he doggedly researches Oliver's identity.
Nancy came to Fagin when she was just a few years old, and he trained her well. Although never stated in the novel, Dickens says in his preface to the third edition that Nancy practices prostitution to make a living. She also deeply loves the burglar Bill Sikes. Despite her upbringing Nancy shows as much compassion and love as Rose Maylie. She takes to Oliver from the start and wants to save him from a life on the streets. Her commitment to protecting both Oliver and the people she considers her family (Bill and Fagin's boys) ultimately prompts her to sacrifice herself for them.u
Bill Sikes, an experienced housebreaker (burglar), takes his loot to Fagin to fence. Fagin values Sikes's skills as a meticulous planner and a reliable partner in crime. Sikes lives with Nancy and his dog, Bull's-eye. Bill Sikes is a bit of an enigma. He shows little humanity in his words, but some of his actions, such as his care of Oliver after the boy is shot, might indicate that his habitual surliness is in part a defensive posture. In the preface to the third edition, Dickens seems to suspect that Sikes's "gentler human feeling" is simply hard to find. He is the only character in the novel with a pet and is often indulgent of Nancy when she violently disagrees with him. After killing her when his temper gets the better of him, he is almost completely incapacitated by guilt.
As parish beadle Mr. Bumble acts as a liaison between the church, the workhouse, the baby farm, and other organizations for looking after the poor of the parish. He views himself as important and influential and resents any questioning of his authority. Ultimately he gets his comeuppance in his marriage and ensuing fall from power. Dickens uses Mr. Bumble to illustrate the inadequacy of the poor laws and the hypocrisy of those who "care for" the poor, often putting words in his mouth that highlight the neglect inherent in this "care."
Oliver is a young, good-hearted, and kind--but often mistreated--orphan who is raised in a workhouse, and finds himself indentured to an undertaker, living with thieves, and eventually taken in by the kind Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Maylie. His generosity of spirit is total, and even when faced with serious maltreatment, he never loses his sense of morality or kindness.
A very old man, with a villainous-looking and repulsive face, Fagin is the leader of a gang of boy thieves, and a very greedy and vicious man. It is Fagin who tries to turn Oliver into a thief, and who betrays Nancy to Sikes, leading to her death.
Mr. Brownlow is a very respectable-looking elderly gentleman, who has had his heart broken many times, including losing his fiancee on the day of their wedding. He takes a liking to Oliver even after suspecting him of stealing his handkerchief, and takes him in, doing everything he can to help him.
Nancy is a young woman and prostitute raised into that profession by Fagin. Nancy eventually betrays Fagin and Sikes to save Oliver, but she will not leave them, and pays her life for this decision.
A stoutly-built man in his thirties, Bill is a vicious housebreaker and thief who often works with Fagin, and is involved with Nancy. He often mistreats, and eventually kills her.
Rose is Mrs. Maylie’s niece, a beautiful seventeen-year-old woman, who is both intelligent and perfectly kind. She is an orphan who is taken in by Mrs. Maylie, and ends up marrying Harry Maylie.
Mr. Bumble is the beadle of the parish, a fat and choleric man who takes great joy in abusing those below him, and is often offended by their impositions on him.
Edward is Oliver’s half-brother, who goes by the alias Monks for most of the novel. He offers to pay Fagin to corrupt Oliver, so that he may have Oliver’s inheritance. He is in his late twenties, but haggard in appearance, with extremely deep set eyes, and suffers from fits.
Mrs. Maylie is an older lady, who despite her age is very dignified and stately. She is the owner of the mansion that Sikes and Crackit attempt to rob, the mother of Harry Maylie and the adopted aunt of Rose Maylie. In her kindness, she takes Oliver in.
Jack Dawkins is better known as the artful Dodger, he is common looking enough but with the airs and manners of a man, although he is about Oliver’s age. He is Fagin’s best pickpocket, and it is he who finds Oliver and leads him to London and to Fagin’s place.
Charley Bates is a sprightly young friend of the Dodger’s and another of Fagin’s boys. He is very excitable, and laughs often. Other than Oliver, he is the only of Fagin’s boys to end up making an honest living.
Mrs. Corney, later Mrs. Bumble, is the matron of the workhouse at which Oliver was born. She has been a widow for twenty-five years, and ends up marrying, dominating and humiliating Mr. Bumble.
Mr. Losberne is the doctor who tends to Oliver after the shooting, an eccentric, kind, hearty and fat gentleman, who often acts without forethought, but is universally liked. He agrees to help the ladies try to protect Oliver.
Mrs. Bedwin is Mr. Brownlow’s housekeeper. She is a kind and motherly old lady who takes care of Oliver in his illness, and never doubts his honesty even when he disappears with Mr. Brownlow’s books and money.
Mr. Grimwig is an old friend of Mr. Brownlow’s, who is a little rough in manners, but a worthy man. He is a stout old gentleman who talks something like a parrot and has a strong taste for contradiction, and threatening to eat his own head.
Noah is a charity-boy with a fierce look who works for the undertaker and enjoys bullying Oliver. He later, with Charlotte, steals from the Sowerberrys and runs away to London, where he joins Fagin’s gang.
Harry is Mrs. Maylie’s son. He is about 25, has a frank and handsome face and an easy demeanor, and is deeply in love with Rose. Although first ambitious, he chooses to be come a country cleric so that he will be on Rose’s level, and she will agree to marry him.
Mr. Giles is a rather fat man who works as butler and steward to Mrs. Maylie. He shoots Oliver during the robbery, which he is at first very proud of, then very guilty about.
Bill Sikes’s partner in crime, Toby is known for his flashiness and ability to seduce servants into helping him and Sikes break in.
Mr. Sowerberry is the parochial undertaker, a tall and gaunt man, who takes Oliver on as an indentured servant. He rather likes Oliver, but cannot stand up to his wife’s hatred of the orphan.
Mrs. Sowerberry is the undertaker’s wife, a short, thin woman with a vixenish countenance, who has a strong dislike for Oliver, and treats him accordingly.
Mr. Brittles is a short and heavy man who has worked for Mrs. Maylie since he was a child as a “lad of all-work.” Everyone in the household still considers him a boy, although he is in his thirties.
Barney is the waiter at The Three Cripples. He has a very nasal voice and also works for Toby Crackit.
The Sowerberry’s servant, Charlotte will do anything for Noah Claypole, including stealing twenty pounds from the Sowerberry’s and running away to London.
Another of Fagin’s boys, Chitling is eighteen, but not as accomplished a thief as the Dodger, and has just come from spending six weeks in jail.
Mr. Blathers is an officer from Bow Street, a stout man of about fifty, who comes to Mrs. Maylie’s after the robbery.
Mr. Duff is an officer from Bow Street, a red-headed, bony man with a sinister expression, who comes to Mrs. Maylie’s after the robbery.
Dick is a young companion of Oliver’s at the workhouse, who blesses Oliver as he runs away from the undertaker’s. Dick dies before Oliver can come back to save him.
Betsy is a young woman prostitute who visits at Fagan's. Sheis a little messy and not quite pretty, but free and easy and hearty. She goes crazy when she sees Nancy's dead body.
Mrs. Mann runs the orphanage where Oliver grows up. She keeps for herself most of the money allotted by the parish for the care of the orphans, and neglects them rather steadily.
Also known as Old Sally, Mrs. Thingummy is an old woman pauper who acts as nurse during Oliver’s delivery, while having had a little too much beer. She steals a locket from Oliver’s dead mother, which holds the key to his identity.
Mr. Fang is the magistrate to whom Oliver is taken when accused of stealing the handkerchief. He is a lean, long-backed, stiff-necked, middle-sized balding man, with a stern and flushed face.
The bookstall keeper is the man who saw the robbing of Mr. Brownlow, and convinces Mr. Fang to drop the charges against Oliver.
Mr. Kags is a fifty-year-old robber and ex-convict with a scarred face, who is companions with Toby Crackit
Mr. Gamfield is a chimney sweep who is in debt to his landlord, and so is intrigued by the workhouse’s offer of Oliver and, more importantly, five pounds. He is a very cruel man who has already caused the death of several young chimneysweeps apprenticed to him.
Mr. Lively is a small man who works in Saffron Hill, buying and selling stolen goods.
The master is a fat, healthy man, who is in charge of giving out the food at the workhouse.
Mr. Limbkins is a member of the board of the workhouse.