Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
Context: Oliver Twist is a foundling whose mother died without revealing her identity after she was found in the street. As an infant Oliver is farmed out to the branch-workhouse operated by elderly Mrs. Mann, who receives seven-and-a-half pence each week for his keep, most of which she pockets for herself, so that Oliver, like the other small boys in Mrs. Mann's care, grows up hungry. Oliver is luckier than some of her charges, for he is not smothered by accident, does not die by falling into the fireplace while unwatched, nor sickens and dies without any medical care. On Oliver's ninth birthday Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, who gave Oliver Twist his name, arrives to take the boy to the workhouse itself. He removes him from Mrs. Mann's house and takes him for an appearance before the parish board, made up of fat, well-fed gentlemen, who examine the boy briefly and then consign him to the workhouse as an oakum picker. In the workhouse Oliver is the victim of slow starvation, his diet consisting of three small bowlfuls of oatmeal gruel per day, with an onion twice a week and a roll on Sunday. Under this regimen which reduces the boys to living skeletons, Oliver and his companions become voraciously hungry. At last they hold a council among themselves and resolve to choose by lot one of their number to ask the overseer for more gruel. The victim of the lottery is Oliver Twist:
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver, while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
"Please, sir, I want some more."
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.
"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."
The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support