Last Updated on April 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1288
After his first month with Sowerberry, Oliver becomes an official apprentice. He gets lots of practice because there are many deaths in the “nice sickly season” that he begins. Oliver gains experiences observing the behavior of people at funerals and notices that when a wealthy older person dies, the relatives don’t seem to grieve so deeply, and spouses don’t mourn the losses of partners but seem to be ready to attract a new husband or wife. Oliver admires the composure he interprets in these mourners.
Noah continues to abuse and harass Oliver, and Charlotte and the mistress, Mrs. Sowerberry, are united against him, as well. In one incident, Noah begins to goad Oliver about his mother and alludes to her possibly ignominious background. Oliver strikes Noah, but he is met with attacks from all three of his enemies and is locked in the cellar as a result. The trio completely blame Oliver and wonder why Sowerberry keeps him around and allows his behavior. The mistress sends Noah to get Bumble and report what Oliver has done.
Noah tells Bumble that Oliver has tried to murder him, Charlotte, and the mistress. Noah makes sure to tell his story dramatically, for maximum effect. Noah says that since Sowerberry is out working, the mistress needs Bumble to come flog Oliver as a punishment. Bumble readily agrees. When Bumble meets Oliver at Sowerberry’s shop, he is surprised to see that Oliver is more defiant and less meek than he used to be. Bumble concludes that the change in behavior, namely the increased aggression, is a result of Oliver being fed meat. Bumble advises the mistress to keep Oliver in the cellar and feed him only gruel from now on.
Sowerberry returns home. Oliver tells him that Noah insulted his mother, precipitating his outburst. But Sowerberry knows he must side with his wife, so he hits Oliver. Miserable and alone, Oliver decides to run away to London. He stops by his former workhouse on his way out to say hello to a friend named Dick. It seems that Dick is very ill and will die soon, and he comments that he looks forward to dying so he can go to heaven. The boy blesses Oliver, the first time he has received such kindness in his life.
Oliver walks five miles and is worried that someone may be following him to take him back to Sowerberry. He remembers that London is seventy miles away, and he thinks about the rumors he’s heard about London—namely, that it’s an ideal place for a homeless boy. He thinks there will be many opportunities for him there. Throughout his journey, Oliver struggles to stay warm and to find food; he only has one penny with him, which he uses early on to buy bread. He passes through villages that have criminalized begging, so it is difficult for him to make his way. Nonetheless, he does encounter some kind strangers, like a “turnpike-man” and an old lady, who donate meals or change.
After seven days of walking, Oliver reaches a town called Barnet, which is where he meets Jack Dawkins, who goes by “the Artful Dodger.” Oliver first notices Jack looking at him from across the street. Jack then comes over and strikes up a conversation. Oliver is surprised by Jack’s attire and mannerisms, both of which seem more those of a man than a child, even though Jack is about Oliver’s age. Jack and Oliver go to a shop and procure food and beer, and Jack asks Oliver some questions. Upon learning that Oliver is going to London and has nowhere to stay, Jack offers to accompany him, as Jack is returning to London where he lives with an older gentleman who Jack says will welcome Oliver. In accepting, Oliver also resolves to try to win the favor of the gentleman when he meets him.
When Oliver and Jack approach the building where the gentleman lives, Oliver notices how dirty and crowded the area is, and he also observes the success of the pubs in this filthy environment. Jack takes Oliver up to meet Fagin, the older gentleman. Fagin is described as “villainous-looking” and physically repugnant. The lodgings are crowded and spare, with several sacks on the floors for beds. Oliver sees other young boys his age who are smoking, drinking, and, like Jack, behaving like adults.
Fagin welcomes Oliver by bowing to him and trying to stop the other boys from stealing what little Oliver has in his pockets. Oliver notices all of the handkerchiefs collected in the apartment, and Fagin makes a remark about washing them that results in laughter all around the room. Oliver obviously doesn’t understand yet, since he does not yet know about these characters’ activities outside the apartment. Oliver drinks some gin and goes to sleep.
When Oliver wakes up the next morning, he sees only Fagin in the room. Not seeing that Oliver is awake, Fagin takes some valuable watches from a trapdoor. While Fagin admires the valuables, Oliver has a hard time reconciling the worth of those watches and expensive items with the squalor of the apartment. Fagin then notices that Oliver is watching him and questions Oliver as to what he has heard and seen. Oliver claims to not have seen much, and indeed the narration suggests that he does not fully understand what he has seen.
When Jack returns to the apartment, he brings with him Charley Bates, and the boys report to Fagin that they’ve been “at work.” They have procured a couple of pocketbooks and several handkerchiefs. Fagin asks Oliver if he wants to learn these boys’ trade, and he happily agrees. Jack and Charley then play a “game” with Fagin, where they attempt to lift items from Fagin’s pockets without him noticing. Oliver is impressed by what he observes. Next, two girls named Bet and Nancy arrive, and everyone has a pleasant time drinking and conversing. Fagin tells Oliver that he should look to Charley and Jack as his models and learn from them. He tells Oliver to take the handkerchief without Fagin feeling it, and Oliver is successful. Oliver shows his innocence when he does not understand what the boys mean when they say that this skill will make him “a great man.”
Oliver continues to practice stealing from Fagin’s pockets, and he observes that when the other boys come in with little to nothing from a day’s “work,” Fagin is angry, sends them to bed without food, and even abuses them. Oliver is finally allowed to go out with Jack and Charley, and he observes that they move at a slow pace, which is not what he expects of people he has viewed as industrious. He sees the boys stealing food from stalls and filling their endlessly deep pockets.
The boys decide to target an old man at a book stall who is attending to a book. Jack successfully lifts the man’s handkerchief and both boys take off running. Oliver is disillusioned, because he finally realizes where the boys have gotten all the handkerchiefs he has seen in the apartment. Oliver starts running, and the old gentleman sees him, thinks his behavior is suspicious, and accuses him of the theft. Everyone in the surrounding street joins the chase, yelling “‘Stop thief!’” Even Charley and Jack join the crowds. Eventually, Oliver is struck and falls to the ground. The gentleman from the book stall accuses him, and a police officer takes Oliver into custody, even though he pleads that it wasn’t him who stole the handkerchief.
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