Contrast the lives and fates of Agnes, Rose and Nancy in "Oliver Twist" In Oliver Twist, the three main female characters all meet different fates. Agnes, Rose and Nancy all lived different lives, but did this influence the outcome of their fates? This can only be answered by looking at their lives and by construing what Charles Dickens, and society thought of women at the time.
Nancy is one of the female characters in the book that is the most complex to understand. If we analyse her actions after chapter, 38 we learn of her life and we get an insight of why she reached her tragic fate.
Fagin and his gang wove Nancy into criminality at a very young age. She soon began living a life of crime; stealing, kidnapping and becoming a "drab (prostitute)." As Nancy speaks with Rose Maylie, we learn of her many hardships and we begin to sympathise with her.
She has "never known a better life or kinder words" then Fagin and the gang provided for her. For Nancy, Fagin was her rescue from "the midst of cold and hunger, and riot and drunkenness..." Nancy understands what kind of person she is and does not think so highly of herself and sees herself as "the infamous creatureÃ¢ÂÂ¦that lives among thievesÃ¢ÂÂ¦" However, Nancy wants us to understand that if she did not join Fagin's gang, she would have died on the streets.
When Nancy met Oliver the first time, she insists on "taking care" of him. She does not really "take care" of him, but she helps him in all possible ways and in the end, she dies because she helped him. Nancy offers to take Oliver to Fagin for the house burglary, mainly, because she knows that if anyone else in the gang would take him, they would be violent and probably beat him. She also gives Oliver advice and tells him to listen to Sikes or he will die, which she does not want. At another occasion, at one of the thieves' hideouts, Fagin starts beating Oliver, because he starts calling for the police. However, Nancy "throws" herself in front of Oliver, to protect him. Both these actions illustrate Nancy's humanity and that she is more then an "...infamous creatureÃ¢ÂÂ¦" However, the event which is of most significance and shows the "good hearted" of Nancy is when she eavesdrops on Fagin and hears of Oliver's parentage had been destroyed, and Monks referred to the boy as his brother and wanted Oliver's identity to forever remain a secret, goes to Rose to reveal this. Nancy reveals that she was the woman who had stolen Oliver out of the street long ago and for her this was her way of making up for all the crimes she had committed.
Rose tried to convince Nancy to stay and be protected, but she refuses. Why did Nancy decline this offer? This might seem strange for some readers, but if Nancy could, she would have left Sikes and Fagin, but the ties between them were too strong, even though they beat her and would eventually kill her. Fagin took Nancy off the streets and took care of her to an extent, more then anyone else had done. Nancy makes Rose and Mr. Brownlow swear that no harm will come to her friends, but tells of Monks appearance. She tells of Monks appearance, because she owes him nothing, she hardly knows him and therefore does not betray him. She has a lot of respect and loyalty for Fagin. She is in love with Sikes and she feels she cannot live without him. She has never had anyone else, any friends or family and therefore she feels very strong about Sikes, Fagin and the rest of the gang.
An ironic thing, with the death of Nancy is of Fagin's hypocrisy. He assumed that she was seeing another man, and that he offered to help her kill Sikes, if she wanted. However, it turns out that she is meeting Rose at the bridge and Noah reports this and gets Sikes to kill Nancy. We see that Fagin has no feelings towards Nancy. He wants her dead, mainly because she could tell of all his criminal activity. However, she does not and remains loyal, which he does not.
Nancy dies, because she lived a life of criminality and for helping Oliver. However, it can also be interpreted that Nancy chose her own fate, because she refused help from Mr. Brownlow and Rose. What did Dickens intend to show by the death of Nancy? Dickens tells us that the death of Nancy is what society thought of women who had committed crimes like her. Nancy, after living a life of criminality and having pre-martial sex, because she was a prostitute could not be forgiven. Even though she died to help Oliver, it was too late to avoid her punishment.
Rose is a symbol of good in this book with her loving nature and perfect beauty. When she gives Nancy her handkerchief, and when Nancy holds it up as she dies, it shows that by her acts, she has gone over to the "good" side against the thieves. Her position on the ground is as if she is in prayer, and this shows her good features. She could not become good until she had died. That was her punishment and Dickens shows clearly that everyone gets what they deserve in one form of another. Another, woman, Agnes also received a punishment. If we compare her life with Nancy, we can back up our opinion that everything "bad" you do results in a punishment.
Agnes died after giving birth to Oliver. To understand Agnes's fate, we have to understand who Monks really is and what happened between Mr. Leeford, Agnes and Monks mother. Monks real name is Edward Leeford. As a child, Mr. Leeford was forced to marry a woman who he disliked and he had a child with her, Monks. Since the hatred between them was so strong, Monks and his mother went to live in France.
While, they were gone, Leeford meet a military man and fell in love with his daughter. This was Agnes, the mother of Oliver. Leeford ended up receiving a large inheritance, and his wife and son Edward came back to help him claim it. After finding out he was ill, Oliver's father wrote a letter to Agnes that told her of his marriage. It also stated his intentions for the inheritance.
After hearing about his daughter's shame, the military man changed his name and took the girls to Wales. Agnes, however, fled and walked to London. The military man soon died leaving the other girl child to a poor family there.
What did Agnes do, that led to her death? Agnes had premarital sex and became pregnant with Leeford's child. She was a mistress, and did not know that Leeford was married. Agnes believed Leeford would marry her, but he died before he could. Having sex outside marriage and getting pregnant is seen to be very shocking and is one of the worst crimes, which you could commit at that time. Agnes's punishment was death and she deserved it for two reasons. The first reason was that she had pre-martial sex and became pregnant. The second cause was that she brought shame on her father, for being a mistress. Dickens makes it very clear that everyone gets what they deserve. A woman who deserved a very different fate is Maylie Rose. When we look at Rose, it becomes even clearer why Agnes and Nancy deserved such harsh punishments.
Maylie Rose, adopted niece of Mrs. Maylie, symbolises the good in this book. Rose believes that she is illegitimate and she declines Harry's proposal. She did this, because she loved him very much. Rose could not accept his offer, because her name was stained and she would not bring that stain upon him. Harry was developing a good name and Rose did not want to ruin this. Rose, however, is not only morally correct, but also humane. After the burglary miserable failed, Oliver, wounded, stubbles to the house where they take care of him. Once, Rose sees Oliver, she believes that a so young and innocent looking boy could not be evil. She pleas to her aunt and the doctor that they will help him, and that he will no be put to jail or harmed. They agreed that Oliver would not go to jail or be harmed, until he woke up and they could judge if he had an evil character. Rose offering so much energy to help a person, who she does not even know, shows her kind heart.
Rose thinking she is illegitimate hears from Monks as he explains the whole story of what happened to Oliver, that she is Oliver's Aunt. This means that she is not illegitimate. When Agnes father died, he left a child, Rose, at a few paupers, who Mrs. Maylie later adopted. As Harry heard this news, he proposed again and she still declined. However, when he said that he would give up his career and settle down in the countryside, she accepted.
Why was Rose granted her wish to marry Harry? Well, Rose did what was right; she loved Harry so much that she was willing to give him up, because she thought she was illegitimate. For the reason of this and her humane conduct, she was not punished, but rewarded more then she deserved. She waited until she knew that she was not illegitimate and that she would not stain his name.
Were Nancy and Agnes "bad" and Rose "good"? This is a hard question to answer, if we look at Dickens perspective, they were "bad" and therefore they were punished. Dickens describes Agnes as "weak and erring" and that Nancy brought shame on herself. However, Nancy had no other choice then criminality or dieing on the streets. Agnes did not know that Leeford was married and so we sympathise with her a little. However, we can also wonder whether she would care if he were married. It can be debated whether their punishments were too harsh, but we get an idea of what Dickens and society thought of women.