Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 13–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13

Jack Dawkins tells Fagin that the police have Oliver. Bill Sikes arrives, followed by his dog, a canine version of his brutal master. Sikes and Fagin worry that Oliver will say something that will lead the police to them. They realize they must retrieve Oliver, but neither the men nor the boys are willing to endanger their freedom by doing so. Sikes then insists that Nancy go. When she returns Nancy reports that the gentleman took Oliver to his house. Fagin sends Nancy and Jack to find Oliver and bring him back.

Chapter 14

When Oliver recovers Mr. Brownlow invites him to his study, where they discuss Oliver's future. Oliver learns that the people Mr. Brownlow loves most are dead. Just as Oliver is about to tell the story of his life, a visitor arrives—Mr. Grimwig, an old friend of Mr. Brownlow. When Oliver leaves the room, Mr. Grimwig asks archly whether Mrs. Bedwin tallies the silver, finding it likely that some might turn up missing. Later Mr. Brownlow asks Oliver to come to him in the morning to continue their conversation, and Oliver, feeling scrutinized harshly by Mr. Grimwig, is slow to reply. Mr. Grimwig takes this as an indication that Oliver is lying, which angers Mr. Brownlow.

A packet of books is delivered. Mr. Brownlow realizes they have not been paid for and that he has books that need to be returned. Oliver is dispatched to the bookseller's to attend to these matters. Mr. Grimwig warns his friend that, with new clothes, a parcel of valuable books, and money, Oliver will "join his old friends the thieves, and laugh at you. If ever that boy returns to this house, sir, I'll eat my head." The two men sit waiting as night falls.

Analysis

When Nancy acts the part of a woman looking for her little brother, her habitual slightly soiled, untidy dress is masked with "a clean white apron," and her hair and "curl-papers" with a straw bonnet. She also carries a basket and a door key. These are the outward signs of respectability—cleanliness, tidiness, possessions, and a home with a lock on the door. Nancy is one of the few characters in Oliver Twist who is layered and who develops as the novel progresses. In Chapter 13 readers don't yet know her very well, but it is clear that she is resilient and quick-thinking. In Chapter 16 readers will learn more about Nancy's past and motivations. And her acting talents will stand her in good stead later, when she must hide her true intentions from those around her.

Dickens uses language carefully and effectively in his characterizations. For instance in Chapter 13 Jack Dawkins asks whether Oliver is "to be kidnapped to the other ken"; a ken is a house. A few lines later, Fagin says, "He has not peached so far"; to peach is to inform on someone. Both characters use the vocabulary of crime; these words would be out of place in the mouths of Mr. Brownlow or Mrs. Bedwin. In his characterization of Mr. Grimwig in Chapter 14, Dickens repeatedly uses the idiomatic expression "I'll eat my head" to emphasize that character's eccentricity.

In these two chapters, the criminal world that Oliver has fallen into and the respectable, kind world he longs for have come together. As the novel unfolds, the reader will find these two worlds in continual conflict, with Oliver caught in between.

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