Hi tgal - and thanks for the question!
http://www.sparknotes.com is a great source for high school exam
notes, and happens to include a lot of information on Oliver Twist.
Here is an excerpt from Sparknotes.com's character analysis:
"Nancy - A major concern of Oliver Twist is the question of whether or
not a bad environment can irrevocably poison someone's character and
soul. As the novel progresses, the character who best illustrates the
contradictory issues brought up by that question is Nancy. As a child
of the streets, Nancy has been a thief and drinks to excess. The
narrator's reference to her free and agreeable . . . manners
indicates that she is a prostitute. She is immersed in the vices
condemned by her society, but she also commits perhaps the most noble
act in the novel when she sacrifices her own life in order to protect
Oliver. Nancy's moral complexity is unique among the major characters
in Oliver Twist. The novel is full of characters who are all good and
can barely comprehend evil, such as Oliver, Rose, and Brownlow, and
characters who are all evil and can barely comprehend good, such as
Fagin, Sikes, and Monks. Only Nancy comprehends and is capable of both
good and evil. Her ultimate choice to do good at a great personal cost
is a strong argument in favor of the incorruptibility of basic
goodness, no matter how many environmental obstacles it may face.
Nancy's love for Sikes exemplifies the moral ambiguity of her
character. As she herself points out to Rose, devotion to a man can be
a comfort and a pride under the right circumstances. But for Nancy,
such devotion is a new means of violence and sufferingindeed, her
relationship with Sikes leads her to criminal acts for his sake and
eventually to her own demise. The same behavior, in different
circumstances, can have very different consequences and moral
significance. In much of Oliver Twist, morality and nobility are
black-and-white issues, but Nancy's character suggests that the
boundary between virtue and vice is not always clearly drawn."
You can access more information on Oliver Twist here, at
Sparknotes.com's contents page for Oliver Twist:
Sparknotes: Oliver Twist
In my opinion, Charles Dickens intended to portray somewhat of a
dichotomy in his character Nancy. Dickens goes beyond the simple and
the predictable, by extending his characters passed this - Nancy, as
Sparknotes states, is one of the only characters capable of both good
and evil. Dickens then uses her to make an argument about humankind -
Nancy's choice for good at personal cost reflects man's nature to
revert to basic goodness when the circumstances arise.
I hope this helps you out, and if you need any clarification, please
feel free to ask!
"Charles Dickens" "oliver twist" "character analysis"