In chapter 4 of Oliver Twist, Oliver has narrowly escaped being apprenticed to Mr. Gamfield, the chimney sweep, a fate which he regarded as being worse than death, probably with good reason. Instead, he is apprenticed to Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker. This is a much better position, as Mr. Sowerberry is a reasonable man with a relatively humane disposition. He soon conceives the idea that Oliver is ideally suited to being a mute, a formally dressed attendant and professional mourner, at the funerals of children.
If he only had to deal with Mr. Sowerberry, Oliver would have few problems. However, everyone else in the house is against him. Mrs. Sowerberry and her maid, Charlotte, both mistreat and bully Oliver, but he suffers most from Mr. Sowerberry's other apprentice, Noah Claypole. Noah discovers that the way to antagonize Oliver is to refer to his mother disrespectfully and, when he does so, Oliver beats him soundly, despite being much smaller. Mrs. Sowerberry inevitably sides with Noah and has Oliver severely punished, even calling Mr. Bumble back from the workhouse to beat him again, whereupon Bumble declares, quite erroneously, that Oliver has been overfed. It is this combination of misfortunes that persuades Oliver to escape from the Sowerberrys' house and go to London.