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Charles Dickens once wrote, "I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance." It is no accident that the subtitle of the novel 'The Parish Boy's Progress' alludes to John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress'. 'Oliver Twist' is as much of a morality play as it is a treatise on Crime, Punishment and the Poor Law. In so far as Oliver represents incorruptibility, so Fagin represents entirely the opposite. A perverse creature devoid of conscience, Fagin is the wily old serpent to Oliver's flawless innocent. Throughout the novel, Dickens describes Fagin as sub-human, or rat-like, or demon-like; he is a blatant representation of "the respectable old gentleman" - Lucifer, who seeks only to corrupt and manipulate those around him. And yet, the dark colours with which he is portrayed bleed with an unsettling naturalism, highlighting a larger truth specific to Dickens' exposé – that one's environment, not birth, influences character. Confined to workhouses, starved, and mistreated, the poor had no way of redeeming themselves from misery and death except by running away or turning criminal. Should then the judgment of Fagin be confined to his crimes or should the blame be shouldered upon the injustices of the Poor Law?


Based on 'Oliver Twist' and inspired by the chapter 'Fagin's Last Night Alive', I have chosen to tell this story through the words of Fagin; a criminal under extreme mental distress, imprisoned and condemned to death by the societal laws that created him; in order to lend poignancy to its uncompromising truth, that the order of the civilized, and the principles therein diffused, must be held accountable for the devils it seeks to purge. In today's society, the issue of capital punishment is no less relevant. Sister Helen Prejean, a long-time campaigner against the death penalty, can recite every argument against its usage: It's immoral; it's reserved for the poor; it's racially selective; it's a political decoy. "Basically, it's an act of despair," she says. "It's society saying we don't know what to do with some people – and when you don't know what to do with some people, it's okay to kill them."


James Hyland, 2011

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