The field of literary study is perceived by some to be disproportionately represented by negative or critical analysis of canonical literature on the grounds that it has significant flaws when judged by today's standards. Though such criticism is necessary and important, this article reengages the progressive potential, that is to say the lessons of the text that offer hope for positive social change, in Dickens's Oliver Twist. Slavoj Žižek's theorization of violence is deployed as a method of engaging Oliver Twist with an eye toward systemic (i.e., objective) violence, and this focus is then leveraged to analyze the progressive elements of the novel more broadly, emphasizing how the minor characters, double-speak, and capitalistic language are all highly constructive in unpacking the complex social relations and progressive message that underlies the text's seemingly bourgeois façade. Ultimately, this close reading serves as a larger call to action that champions optimistic and sympathetic readings of popular texts in order to situate literary studies more generally as a force for social improvement in society.

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