Oliver has few qualifications to have a novel named after him. He lacks the qualities and abilities ordinarily expected in a protagonist, whose acts and decisions have at least some influence on the course of events. Instead of being an active participant in the shaping of his own destiny, Oliver becomes the prize for which the opposing forces contend. The boy does take one crucial step when he flees from bondage to Sowerberry. After that, from the moment that he is taken in hand by The Artful Dodger until Brownlow assumes direction of his affairs, he is more acted upon that acting.
Oliver emerges as a shadowy, unrealized figure. Our knowledge of his character comes largely from Dickens. The boy's harsh and repressive upbringing has made him yielding and wanting to please. When he is cast adrift in the world, he is wholly without defenses against the cruel and unscrupulous. For a protagonist, Oliver even speaks relatively little, which is fortunate because when the boy does talk, it is usually to recite stale mottos and generalities that come from Dickens.