From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fagin is a fictional character and the secondary antagonist in Charles Dickens's 1838 novel Oliver Twist. In the preface to the novel, he is described as a "receiver of stolen goods". He is the leader of a group of children (the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates among them) whom he teaches to make their livings by pickpocketing and other criminal activities, in exchange for shelter. A distinguishing trait is his constant and insincere use of the phrase "my dear" when addressing others. At the time of the novel, he is said by another character, Monks, to have already made criminals out of "scores" of children. Nancy, who is the lover of Bill Sikes (the novel's lead villain), is confirmed to be Fagin's former pupil.
Fagin is a confessed miser who, despite the wealth that he has acquired, does very little to improve the squalid lives of the children he guards, or his own. In the second chapter of his appearance, it is shown (when talking to himself) that he cares less for their welfare, than that they do not "peach" (inform) on him and the other children. Still darker sides to the character's nature are shown when he beats the Artful Dodger for not bringing Oliver back; in his attempted beating of Oliver for trying to escape; and in his own involvement with various plots and schemes throughout the story. He indirectly but intentionally causes the death of Nancy by falsely informing Sikes that she had betrayed him, when in reality she had shielded Sikes from the law, whereupon Sikes kills her. Near the end of the book, Fagin is captured and sentenced to be hanged, in a chapter that portrays him as pitiable in his anguish.
In popular culture, Fagin (or at least his name) is used in comparison with adults who use children for illegal activities.
Role in the novel
Fagin is portrayed as a criminal mastermind who kidnaps orphaned children and trains them to be pickpockets in return for sheltering and feeding them; he keeps the ill-gotten money for himself. He treats the children with cruelty, beating, and threatens to starve them if they do not do his bidding, or if they bring in less money than he desires. His "wards" include the novel's title character, the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates, and Nancy. He also trained the novel's main antagonist, Bill Sikes, who later becomes his main competitor.Template:Citation needed
Oliver at first believes that Fagin is a tailor who makes wallets and kerchiefs which are, in fact, stolen at Fagin's order. Upon learning the truth about Fagin's crimes, Oliver reluctantly goes along with his new master's orders. The only one in the gang to protect Oliver is Nancy, who is also Sikes's lover.
When Oliver is caught robbing a gentleman, named Mr Brownlow, he is arrested. Instead of helping Oliver, Fagin turns his back on the boy. Brownlow takes pity on Oliver and brings him to his house, helping him recover from the abuse and malnourishment he has suffered at Fagin's hands. Fagin, fearing that Oliver will betray him to the police, joins forces with Sikes and sends him and Nancy to kidnap the boy again. Oliver tries to run away, but Fagin and Sikes beat him into submission, stopping only when Nancy begs them to show mercy.
Fagin forces Oliver and Nancy to burgle a house owned by the wealthy, elderly widow Mrs Maylie. After breaking into the house Oliver is shot in the arm. Fagin yet again abandons the wounded boy and flees. Maylie and her niece Rose take Oliver in and raise him in a polite society. Fagin later meets with a fellow criminal, the mysterious Mr Monks, and plots with him to destroy Oliver's newfound reputation as a young gentleman.
To make sure Oliver never learns of his true parentage, Fagin and Monks conspire to steal a locket and a ring left to the boy by his late mother, and throw them in the river. Nancy, ashamed of her role in Oliver's kidnapping, tells Maylie and Rose that Oliver is in danger, and secretly joins them in a plan to rescue him. Fagin becomes suspicious of Nancy, and follows her to one of her meetings with Maylie. He also sends one of his thieves, Noah, to spy on her. Upon learning what Nancy is up to, Fagin lies to Sikes that she intends to turn him over to the police, provoking Sikes to kill her.
After Sikes is killed by an angry mob, Fagin and Monks, revealed to be Oliver's half-brother, want the boy dead so that Monks can be sole beneficiary of their wealthy father's will. They attempt to flee London, but both are arrested. Monks is given a second chance thanks to Oliver, but Fagin is sentenced to be hanged for his crimes. The night before Fagin's execution, Oliver visits him in prison, and Fagin rages at him and the entire world for the sorry end he has come to. The following day, he is hanged.Template:Citation needed thumb|220px|Fagin waits to be hanged.
Fagin's name comes from one of Dickens's friends he had known in his youth while working in a boot-blacking factory.