Oliver Twist’s mother dies after the birth of her child in a workhouse. The infant’s father is unknown, and the orphan is placed in a private juvenile home. After nine years of mistreatment, the boy is returned to the workhouse for even more abuse. After representing his fellow sufferers in an attempt to get more food, Oliver is punished and is apprenticed to Sowerberry, an undertaker. Noah Claypole, a charity boy working for Oliver’s master, goads Oliver to rebellion, for which Oliver is savagely flogged. Consequently, Oliver runs away and heads for London.
Near London, Oliver joins company with John Dawkins, The Artful Dodger, a questionable character who brings the boy to Fagin, the ringleader of a gang of criminals. Instructed in the « art » of picking pockets, Oliver goes out with Charles Bates and the Dodger. His companions pick an old gentleman’s pocket and flee, and Oliver is arrested for their offense. At the police station, the terrified boy is cleared by the testimony of the bookseller who witnessed the theft. Oliver collapses and is taken home by Mr. Brownlow, the victim of the crime.
While Oliver recovers at his benefactor’s home, Brownlow is puzzled by the resemblance between Oliver’s features and the portrait of a young woman. Fagin is apprehensive and furious at Oliver’s rescue. Nancy, one of his trusty retainers, is set on the boy’s trail as the gang shifts headquarters.