What happens as if by fate in Chapter 3 of Oliver Twist?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As if by fate, the old gentleman on the board who was continually fixing his spectacles happened to glance at the terrified face of Oliver Twist.  Oliver, of course, was doomed to belong to anyone willing to take five pounds for him.  Mr. Gamfield "whose villainous countenance was a regular stamped receipt for cruelty" was a chimney sweep and in desperate need of rent money (and in lesser need of an apprentice).  Despite Bumble's coercion to the contrary, Oliver Twist couldn't conceal his horror in observing this terrible man who would become Oliver's master.  The papers were all ready to be signed.  Here even Dickens admits that "it was the critical moment of Oliver's fate (19).  Further, the chapter continues, "If the inkstand had been where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped his pen into it. . . . He looked all over his desk for it . . . and happening in the course of his search to look straight before him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist" (19).  Oliver's "expression of horror and fear" in regards to his new possible master, Mr. Gamfield, was "too palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate" (19).  As a result of Oliver's look as well as his request "that they would starve him--beat him--kill him if they pleased--rather than send him away with that dreadful man," the board "refused to sanction these indentures" and Oliver was allowed to go back to the workhouse (20).  If the reader understands the dreadful fate of a chimney sweep (to die at a very young age with soot consuming his lungs) versus the fate of a young boy in a workhouse (which isn't much better), one must understand that Dickens is subtly preparing his readers to expect a better life for Oliver Twist, . . . somehow.