Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

“Stay another moment,” interposed Rose. . . . “Will you return to this gang of robbers, and to this man, when a word can save you? What fascination is it that can take you back, and make you cling to wickedness and misery?” “When ladies as young, and good, and beautiful as you are,” replied the girl [Nancy] steadily, “give away your hearts, love will carry you all lengths—even such as you, who have home, friends, other admirers, everything, to fill them. When such as I, who have no certain roof but the coffin-lid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us, lady—pity us for having only one feeling of the woman left and for having that turned, by a heavy judgment, from a comfort and a pride into a new means of violence and suffering.”

This exchange takes place between Rose and Nancy in Chapter 40. It is one of the most emotionally heightened conversations in the novel, and it represents a sophisticated treatment of the moral and social issues that dominate the story. Nancy, a prostitute, embodies for Dickens all the degradation into which poverty can force otherwise good people. Rose, on the other hand, represents all the purity that comes from good breeding. Both women embody the feminine compassion that compels them to help Oliver. That feminine compassion, maternal and sisterly when directed toward Oliver, is also what binds Nancy to her vice-ridden lover Sikes. In this passage, Dickens emphasizes the key role that environment plays in distinguishing vice from virtue: the same loyalty to a loved one that would be a virtue in Rose is a self-destructive force for Nancy. Though Nancy is compassionate and intelligent, she deflects Rose’s attempts to save her from her life of crime, thus proving that the damage done by a bad upbringing is irrevocable. Yet Nancy’s decision to return to a life of “vice” is arguably the most noble—if foolhardy—act in the entire novel. Her love for Sikes and her compassion for Oliver together compel her to sacrifice her own life. Though Dickens clearly approves of the second emotion far more than the first, it is likely that they stem from the same impulse in Nancy’s character.