Warning: This post contains spoilers for Oliver Twist and Star Wars: A New Hope.
Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist, is a novel full of darkness and despair. But that evil is lessened by the hope found in little Oliver himself. No matter the tragedy, he maintains his sweet, hopeful innocence.
Because of these incredibly dark themes, the ending needs to be bright and happy. Otherwise Dickens’ readers would be depressed for days.
While I personally enjoy bittersweet endings the most, I was satisfied by the conclusion of Oliver Twist.
How did Dickens pull off this “happily ever after” ending?
The Good Guys Win
As humans, we have God’s Law written on our hearts. (Romans 2:14-15) Even an atheist knows that murder is wrong.
Because of this, we have an innate sense of justice. We want to see good win and evil be punished. Dickens understood this and used it to his advantage.
He doesn’t cheapen the ending by making the heroes win too easily. They have to overcome many huge obstacles in order to achieve victory. Oliver finds a home. Rose finds love. Mr. Brownlow finds the long lost family of an old friend.
The Bad Guys Lose
The antagonists in Oliver Twist are utterly despicable. They tried to corrupt Oliver, to lead him into a life of thievery. And after 400 pages of watching them spread their influence, we’re ready to see them punished.
Bill Sikes, the murderer, is dead. Fagin, the ringleader, is in prison, waiting to be hung. Mr. Monks leaves the country and travels to America. Mr. Bumble is in the workhouse.
After the last page, we can breathe a sigh of relief. None of these characters will be back to torment Oliver anymore. They are all dealt with. There is no loose villain running around. (*cough* Unlike the ending of my first novel. *cough*)
How can you create the same kind of ending in your own story?
First, determine what your reader wants from the ending. If it’s a romance, they’ll want the two characters to get married. If it’s a mystery, they’ll want the culprit to be found.
Each genre has a certain set of expectations.
After reading the dark themes of Oliver Twist, I wanted a happy ending full of hope for the future.
Of course, there will be stories where you don’t give the reader what they want.
Deal out justice to the villains, or at least give them closure. Sometimes killing the villain at the end of the story is not what you need to happen. Perhaps you’re writing a series and he or she needs to return in book two.
If that is the case, be sure the reader leaves with a sense of resolution. Meaning this, don’t let the villain just slip off the page never to be see again until book two. Sure, leave a teasing loose end, the kind that people love, but don’t leave a glaring plot hole.
For example, at the end of A New Hope, Darth Vader is flying around in his Tie-Fighter somewhere. But we still feel closure because the Death Star is blown up. Yes, Vader disappears for the remainder of the story, but the main threat has been destroyed.
In Oliver Twist, Monks goes off to America. He disappears. But the other antagonists, the more active ones, are all dealt with.
Don’t just settle for the easy way out by killing off your antagonists. Like I said in the previous point, sometimes it just won’t work to kill them at the end. Sometimes you need to handle them another way.
Maybe they are in prison for life. Maybe they are exiled.
In Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble doesn’t die at the end. His status in life is simply lowered. He becomes one of the workhouse people he had taken advantage of at the beginning.
It will take a lot of effort to craft as great an ending as Dickens did, but with a lot of practice we can do it ourselves!
Oliver the cat, that is. 😉
With his green eyes, tiny bow-tie, and one white paw, what’s not to love?