The orphan is a popular archetype. It embodies want, need, desperation, but most importantly, someone without any societal value. Once upon a time this meant rags and hunger, and probably an early death unless their innate goodness melted the hearts of some rich buggers who raised the poor little blighter as their own.
In these modern times, starvation isn’t much of an issue. And while the clothes are hand me downs, they usually aren’t actual rags. Those are worn by the children in third world countries who make the clothes. Finding a sense of self worth, however, is every bit as difficult as it always has been. What is the value of someone who nobody loves, who is never hugged, who is not wanted anywhere, who is surplus to requirement? How can such a child find value in himself?
To complicate matters even further, orphans are typically raised apart from what might be considered normal society. There is no family model. All aspects of their daily lives are governed by a school based system. Discipline is of primary importance. Love often doesn’t make the list. Sometimes these orphanages (which are never called that, but rather something like “The Happy Valley Children’s Home1) have their own schools right on the premises which means the orphans never even associate with children who are not themselves orphans. What then are the child’s options?
Rebellion. That is how the orphans soul survives. Oliver is traded in for the Artful Dodger. By rejecting the values of a society that has rejected him, he recalibrates his self worth to a new paradigm with himself as the model. His importance is increased exponentially. Because he is outside the norm he becomes more important than anyone else. By extrapolation, great things lay in his future. Events will congeal around him. He becomes the hero of the tale. But for every hero, a thousand orphans die in the streets.