The simple fact was, that Oliver, instead of possessing too little feeling, possessed rather too much; and was in a fair way of being reduced, for life, to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness by the ill-usage he had received.
When the board at the workhouse sends Oliver to apprentice with the undertaker, he shows no sign of emotion, which the board members take as a sign that he is a hardened ruffian. However, as explained by the narrator here, the mistreatment that he has known all his life renders Oliver numb. Even as a boy, Oliver gleaned that no one cares what he thinks or feels so he needn’t bother trying to communicate.
Oliver thought the old gentleman must be a decided miser to live in such a dirty place, with so many watches; but, thinking that perhaps his fondness for the Dodger and the other boys, cost him a good deal of money, he only cast a deferential look at the Jew, and asked if he might get up.
On the first morning that Oliver wakes up in Fagin’s house, he spies the old man gloating over his gold jewels and watches. Oliver finds Fagin—also referred to as the Jew— curious: The objects imply that Fagin is rich, yet he chooses to live in a dirty, broken-down home. Oliver’s reasoning shows his naiveté and innocence. Unexposed to the world of criminality, he never makes a connection between so many of the same type of items with a stash of stolen goods.
“Oh, don’t tell me you are going to send me away, sir, pray!” exclaimed Oliver, alarmed at the serious tone of the old gentleman’s commencement! “Don’t turn me out of doors to wander in the streets again. Let me stay here, and be a servant. Don’t send me back to the wretched place I came from. Have mercy upon a poor boy, sir!”
Alarmed that Mr. Brownlow may turn him out, Oliver begs to stay, declaring his willingness to work for his keep. Throughout his young life, no one has ever cared for Oliver in any kind manner. His entreaty underscores his desperation to get away from the dangers and moral perils of life with Fagin and on the streets. He does not try to gain anything from Mr. Brownlow except a life built around hard work and decency.
“They belong to the old gentleman,” said Oliver, wringing his hands; “to the good, kind, old gentleman who took me into his house, and had me nursed, when I was near dying of the fever. Oh, pray send them back; send him back the books and money. Keep me here all my life long; but pray, pray send them back. He’ll think I stole them; and the old lady; all of them who were so kind to me: will think I stole them. Oh, do have mercy upon me, and send them back!”
When Fagin’s gang captures Oliver, he begs them to return the books he was carrying for Mr. Brownlow. Even as he faces a grim future at the hands of the ring of thieves, Oliver’s main thought lies with someone else. His concern shows his pureness and compassion. Fagin, on the other hand, seems delighted with the possibility that Mr. Brownlow may give up on Oliver as a thief and abandon his search for him.
In the short time he had to collect his senses, the boy had firmly resolved that, whether he died in the attempt or not, he would make one effort to dart up the stairs from the hall, and alarm the family.
When Oliver realizes that Sikes prepares to burgle the country house, he feels so horrified that he intends to risk his own life to warn the occupants. Oliver’s sacrifice stems from his desire to ensure the family’s safety. His actions also reflect his principles—he would rather die than commit a crime. Despite his time with Fagin, Oliver has always stood apart from the gang’s illegal activities, and a pure soul like Oliver prefers death to shame.
“And consider, ma’am,” said Oliver, as the tears forced themselves into his eyes, despite of his efforts to the contrary; “oh! consider how young and good she is, and what pleasure and comfort she gives to all about her. I am sure—certain—quite certain—that for your sake, who are so good yourself; and for her own; and for the sake of all she makes so happy; she will not die. Heaven will never let her die so young.”
When Rose falls ill, Oliver asserts that God will not let her die because she lives a good life and makes so many people happy. While revealing much about Rose’s character, Oliver also reveals much about his own state of mind. Despite all he has endured, Oliver remains pure and innocent. He still thinks virtue must prevail in the world.
“‘In short, Fagin,’ he says, ‘Jew as you are, you never laid such snares as I’ll contrive for my young brother, Oliver.’”
Nancy relates to Rose the conversation she overheard between Fagin and Monks, including the big reveal: Oliver is Monks’s brother. At this point, the connection between the two remains unclear, but Oliver’s true identity begins to come to light. While the reader needs far more information to piece together the mystery of Oliver’s background, this disclosure indicates that one of the novel’s main resolutions will explore Oliver’s family connections.
[H]ow the whole current of his recollections ran back to old times, and what a crowd of emotions were wakened up in his breast, when they turned into that which he had traversed on foot: a poor houseless, wandering boy, without a friend to help him, or a roof to shelter his head.
The narrator describes Oliver as he returns in the company of Rose and Mr. Brownlow to the place of his birth for the first time. The words recall the beginning of Oliver’s journey to London and underscore how far he has travelled, both physically and mentally. Oliver, the friendless pauper, has, through his own selfless, gentle nature and innate goodness, created a new, adopted family.
[A]nd we’ll—we’ll take him away from here, and have him clothed and taught, and send him to some quiet country place where he may grow strong and well,—shall we?
On drawing near the work farm where he grew up, Oliver’s thoughts turn to Dick, and he vows to find and help his childhood friend. Oliver desires to extend his own good fortune to the unfortunate boy. Throughout all of Oliver’s travails, he never forgot Dick, the only person from his former life who showed him any kindness. Oliver’s instincts remain true and pure.
Mr. Brownlow, unwilling to deprive the elder son of the opportunity of retrieving his former vices and pursuing an honest career, proposed this mode of distribution, to which his young charge joyfully acceded.
Upon learning that Oliver is the true heir of his father’s fortune, Mr. Brownlow nevertheless suggests splitting the money equally between the boy and Monks, to which Oliver agrees. Oliver’s acquiescence shows his forgiving and optimistic nature. Even though Monks wanted to kill him, Oliver feels happy to share his money in hopes of helping out his half-brother. Oliver seems wholly incapable of holding a grudge.
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