Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse with the help of a drunken nurse and the parish surgeon. His mother, who they had found on the streets that night, has no wedding ring and after kissing her child on the forehead, dies.
Oliver is sent to a workhouse branch for children like him. The overseer is given a sum of money to keep each child healthy, but she keeps most of it for herself and lets the children starve and occasionally die. When Oliver turns nine, a church official named Mr. Bumble takes Oliver to return to the workhouse. At the workhouse, the poor slowly go hungry instead of the quick starvation they would face on the streets. During dinner one night, the children cast lots to see who will ask for more food. Oliver is chosen and and when he makes the request, the officials are so upset they offer a five pound reward to whoever will take Oliver away from the workhouse.
Oliver is flogged and locked away as an example to others. A cruel chimney sweep makes and offer to take Oliver and his apprentice. However, many boys have died under his care so he is only rewarded three pounds. Oliver, Mr. Bumble, and the chimney sweep appear before a judge to finalize the deal, but the judge notices Oliver's frightened and pale face. When asked why he seems so scared, Oliver falls down and begs to be beaten or killed instead of being made the chimney sweep's apprentice. The judge refuses to allow the apprenticeship and the reward for Oliver is once again advertised.
The officials consider making Oliver a cabin boy, thinking he will die very quickly in the horrible conditions, but the parish undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, takes Oliver as an apprentice. Mrs. Sowerberry developes a disliking for Oliver and he is fed the dog's leftovers.
Oliver is teased by Mr. Sowerberry's other apprentice, Noah, and maid, Charlotte, during breakfast. Oliver helps Mr. Sowerberry prepare a pauper's barrial. Oliver witnesses all of the tearful sadness that accompanies these processions and decides he does not like the business of undertaking.
During a severe measles outbreak, Oliver gains much undertaking experience. He is given nice clothes to wear for when he marches in the processions. Noah becomes jealous of Oliver's success and insults Oliver's mother. Out of rage, Oliver attacks him and Oliver is beaten and locked in the cellar.
Noah fetches Mr. Bumble and makes his injuries seem much more severe, to get Oliver into more trouble. Bumble tells Mrs. Sowerberry that feeding Oliver meat gives him too much spirit. When Mr. Sowerberry returns, he beats Oliver some more and locks him away again. Later that night, Oliver runs away.
Oliver walks almost seventy miles, trying to get to London, but he collapses in a small town just a bit away. A boy named Jack Dawkins approaches Oliver and purchases him a large meal. He claims he knows a man who will allow Oliver to stay with...