In the morning, Noah Claypole, Mr. Sowerberry’s apprentice, wakes Oliver. Noah and Charlotte, the maid, taunt Oliver during breakfast. Oliver accompanies Sowerberry to prepare for a pauper’s burial. The husband of the deceased delivers a tearful tirade against his wife’s death. She has starved to death, and although he once tried to beg for her, the authorities sent him to prison for the offense. The dead woman’s mother begs for some bread and a cloak to wear for the funeral.
At the graveyard before the funeral, some ragged boys jump back and forth over the coffin to amuse themselves. Mr. Bumble beats a few of the boys. The clergyman performs the service in four minutes. Mr. Bumble quickly ushers the grieving family out of the cemetery, and Mr. Sowerberry takes the cloak away from the dead woman’s mother. Oliver decides that he is not at all fond of the undertaking business.
A measles epidemic arrives, and Oliver gains extensive experience in undertaking. His master dresses him well so that he can march in the processions. Oliver notes that the relatives of deceased, wealthy, elderly people quickly overcome their grief after the funeral.
Noah becomes increasingly jealous of Oliver’s speedy advancement. One day, he insults Oliver’s dead mother. Oliver attacks him in a fit of rage. Charlotte and Mrs. Sowerberry rush to Noah’s aid, and the three of them beat Oliver and lock him in the cellar.
Noah rushes to fetch Mr. Bumble, sobbing so that his injuries from his confrontation with Oliver appear much worse than they are. Mr. Bumble informs Mrs. Sowerberry that feeding meat to Oliver gives him more spirit than is appropriate to his station in life. Still enraged, Oliver kicks at the cellar door. Sowerberry returns home, beats Oliver, and locks him up again. Oliver’s rage dissolves into tears. Early the next morning, Oliver runs away. On his way out of town, he passes the workhouse where he used to live and sees an old friend, Dick, in the yard. Dick vows not to tell anyone about Oliver’s flight and bids him a warm farewell.
Oliver decides to walk the seventy miles to London. Hunger, cold, and fatigue weaken him over the next seven days. In one village, signs warn that beggars will be thrown in jail. Finally, Oliver limps into a small town just outside London and collapses in a doorway. He is approached by a boy about his own age named Jack Dawkins, who dresses and acts like a grown man. Jack purchases a large lunch for Oliver and informs him that he knows a “genelman” in London who will let Oliver stay in his home for free. Oliver learns that Jack’s nickname is “the Artful Dodger.” He guesses from the Dodger’s appearance that his way of life is immoral. He plans to ingratiate himself with the gentleman in London and then end all association with Jack.
That night, the Dodger takes Oliver to a squalid London neighborhood. At a dilapidated house, the Dodger calls out a password, and a man allows them to enter. The Dodger conducts Oliver into a filthy, black back room where an “old shrivelled Jew” named Fagin and some boys are having supper. Silk handkerchiefs hang everywhere. The boys smoke pipes and drink liquor although none appear older than the Dodger. Oliver takes a share of the dinner and sinks into a deep sleep.
Noah Claypole’s relationship with Oliver illustrates Victorian England’s obsession with class distinctions. The son of destitute parents, Noah is accustomed to the disdain of those who are better off than he. Thus, he is relieved to have Oliver nearby, since, as an orphan, Oliver is even worse off than he is. Dickens characterizes Noah’s cowardice and bullying as “the same amiable qualities” that are “developed in the finest lord.” Dickens shows that class snobbery is a universal quality, characteristic of the lowest as well as the highest strata of society. Moreover, snobbish behavior seems a component of class insecurity. The poor mercilessly taunt those who are poorer than they, out of anxious desire to distinguish themselves from those who are even worse off in life.
In protesting the parish’s treatment of Oliver, Dickens criticizes the Victorian characterization of the poor as naturally immoral, criminal, and filthy. His principal character, Oliver, after all, is virtuous, good, and innocent. Although we might expect a criticism of the popular conception of the lower classes to describe many lower-class characters who are essentially good, honest, and hardworking, Dickens does not paint such a simplistic picture. The character of Noah, for example, exhibits the same stereotypes that Dickens satirizes in the first several chapters. Noah, the son of a drunkard, seems to have inherited all of the unpleasant traits that his father presumably has. Big, greedy, cowardly, ugly, and dirty, Noah is the quintessential Victorian stereotype of the good-for-nothing poor man.
Part of Dickens’s motivation for writing Oliver Twist was to expose the horrid conditions in which the lower classes were expected to live, and, as a result, much of the narrative focuses on the sensationally disgusting settings in which the poor live their lives. At one point, Oliver and Sowerberry travel to a squalid section of town to retrieve a dead pauper’s body. The neighborhood is full of shop fronts that are “fast closed and mouldering away.” The people of this neighborhood have apparently been left behind by the economic expansion of the Industrial Revolution, which was in full force at the time of Oliver Twist’s publication. The bereaved husband’s wife does not starve to death as a result of her “natural” laziness—she starves to death because of the economic realities of the society in which she lives.
Oliver’s attack on Noah is an important moment in the development of his character. Most of the time, he is portrayed as sweet, -docile, innocent, and naïve—sometimes to the point of seeming somewhat dim. Indeed, it might seem that Dickens, in his fervent desire to exact his Victorian audience’s sympathy for the poor orphan, exaggerates by making Oliver angelic. Oliver’s fit of rage, however, makes him seem more passionate and human, like an ordinary child. Oliver, raised in the workhouse, has never seen a functioning family except for the Sowerberrys, who are childless. His sense of familial love and duty is strong enough to compel him to violently come to his mother’s defense. Dickens implies that loyalty to kin, and the desire for the love of a family, is an impulse with which children are born, not one that needs to be learned and nurtured.
Oliver’s trip to London parallels the migration of the poor to the urban centers of England during the Industrial Revolution. His hungry, exhausted condition is a result of the laws forbidding begging, and it leaves him vulnerable enough to accept the questionable charity of a band of thieves. Dickens clearly blames the crimes committed by the poor on the people who passed the draconian Poor Laws. Thus, in order to survive, Oliver must accept the aid of Fagin’s band. Oliver’s stay with Fagin’s band represents the first truly domestic experience in his life. Although Fagin’s house is filthy and derelict, it contains a relatively idyllic dinner scene, with plenty of food laid out in pewter dishes and no one to begrudge Oliver his full share of the food.
This is my favourite ever book!
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