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A story with a twist: Always look for the happy ending

With reference to the main themes of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, to encourage students to develop a positive frame of mind in the face of life’s crises (SEAL theme: Motivation).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


With reference to the main themes of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, to encourage students to develop a positive frame of mind in the face of life’s crises (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • Prepare two readers.


  1. Imagine a story which contains the following ingredients:

    Reader 1  Career criminals.

    Reader 2  An unmarried mother.

    Reader 1  Murder.

    Reader 2  Child abuse.

    Reader 1  An extra-marital affair.

    Reader 2  Anti-semitism (racism against Jewish people).

    Reader 1  Child labour.

    Reader 2  A police chase –

    Reader 1  resulting in an accidental hanging.

    Reader 2  And, finally, the execution of one of the villains for his crimes.
  2. I know it sounds a little like a Christmas special episode of Eastenders, but it’s not. The story with a plotline that contains all those elements made its first appearance in 1837, one chapter a month, in a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany.

    If you’ve not already guessed, it’s known to us today as Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens, the author of Oliver Twist and of many other novels, was born 200 years ago, on 7 February 1812, and there have been numerous commemorative events up and down the country.
  3. Many of you will know essential elements of the plot: Oliver asking for more food, the pickpocketing scenes, Fagin’s school for thieves, Bill Sikes brutally murdering Nancy. However, films and musical versions have all found it necessary to heavily edit the plot because it’s so complex and contains so many cliff-hangers.

    The story was written this way because Charles Dickens needed to ensure that his readers would want to rush out each month to buy the magazine and read the next chapter of the novel. It’s how he earned his living. Have a look at the end of each chapter to check this out. Oliver, or some other character, is always left in a situation of danger or uncertainty. What will they do? Surely things can’t get any worse? Buy the magazine next month to find out the answer.
  4. Sometimes life can seem a little like that for us, can’t it? We seem to lurch from crisis to crisis, barely having time to catch our breath before another problem arises.

    Maybe it starts right from when we get up. Some people say they’ve got out of the wrong side of the bed, meaning they’ve woken up in a bad mood. It only needs a little provocation from someone or a piece of bad news either to send us into a depression or to make us lash out verbally or even physically. This gets us into trouble, raises our stress levels further and may lead to another incident. Do you recognize the picture?
  5. There are many factors that may cause our problems:

    Reader 1  The break-up of a relationship.

    Reader 2  A poor test result.

    Reader 1  A cold or a headache.

    Reader 2  A bad night’s sleep.

    Reader 1  Worry about homework you forgot to do.

    Reader 2  The time of the month.

    Reader 1  A broken promise.

    Reader 2  A rainy day.

    Whatever the cause, we find ourselves on a kind of cliff-hanger and we can’t see the way out. However, unlike the readers of Oliver Twist, we can’t wait for a month. We need either a solution now or something to hold on to, to keep us going.
  6. Charles Dickens’ readers knew one thing for certain: however bad things got for Oliver, however many good people died, however much pain and sadness at the end of each chapter, in the end Oliver would live happily ever after. They knew this because that’s the way a novel like this always ended.

    The magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, serialized novels that gave their readers the assurance that in the end good would prevail. If you want to check out how this happens for Oliver, then get hold of a copy of the novel.

Time for reflection

Do you believe the world is out to get you? Or do you believe that there’s a force for good at work to ultimately sort things out? Some people use horoscopes to try to see the shape of the future. Others pessimistically accept the worst.

Christians believe that ultimately God is in control. At least, he is if we allow him to be, and follow his guidance. That’s one reason why Christians pray: they pray to invite God to be with them in the bad times and show them how to tackle what’s going on. It may mean hard work, saying sorry, avoiding knee-jerk reactions, or simply practising patience. What matters is the belief that God will make good of whatever is happening.

It’s a positive frame of mind, a refusal to go under, a denial of despair, a waiting for the best twist in the tail (or should that be tale?).

Dear Lord,
thank you that want a happy ending for everyone.
Thank you that you offer to be with me even in the hardest times.
Today I invite you to help me with (encourage students to insert their own ideas).


‘Always look on the bright side of life’ by Monty Python (widely available to download)

Publication date: March 2012   (Vol.14 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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