Wrapped in the blanket . . . he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society.
Early in the story, while describing baby Oliver, the narrator calls into question stereotypes of social class as mere constructs of society. Wrapped in a blanket, no person examining Oliver could judge if his mother were rich or poor, of upper or lower class. While no distinguishing marks exist that identify a child such as Oliver as a pauper or a bastard, both of these labels shape Oliver’s future prospects and the way society treats him. Indeed, as the reader learns about Oliver’s true identity, this statement becomes more prescient.
Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan . . . now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with interest.
The narrator introduces Noah Claypole as only marginally placed on a higher social-class level than Oliver. And yet, as explained here by the narrator, when he comes into contact with the orphaned Oliver, he immediately delights in picking on the younger boy. Noah’s cruel attitude likely derives from the taunting he himself receives from the shop boys, who make fun of him because of his lack of money and station. Nevertheless, this pecking order shows the inherently unfair use of social class as an indicator of an individual’s character. Oliver, who occupies the lowest rung of the social ladder, still acts in the most honorable fashion.
Accordingly, with a clean white apron tied over her gown, and her curl-papers tucked under a straw bonnet . . . Miss Nancy prepared to issue forth on her errand.
In order for Nancy to go to the court to find out what happened to Oliver, she needs to dress the part of a respectable lady. If she dressed in her typical attire, which includes a red gown, a made-up face, and disheveled hair, no member of the court would pay any attention to Nancy’s queries. Once she acquires the trappings of a woman from a higher class, as described here by the narrator, she can pass herself off as Oliver’s sister and obtain information about him.
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