Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 15–17 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

Fagin meets Bill Sikes in a pub to pay Bill for his latest haul. Nancy arrives and tells the men that Oliver has been sick in bed. She would say more, but a look from Fagin silences her. Nancy and Bill leave to hunt for Oliver, and they soon find him. The boy is on his way to the bookseller, lost in memories of his workhouse friend Dick, when Nancy runs up and throws her arms around him, crying out that Oliver is her brother, who ran away, breaking their parents' hearts. Bill appears, grabs the boy, and snatches the books out of his arms, accusing Oliver of stealing them. Egged on by several bystanders, Bill doles out some punitive blows and calls on Bull's-eye to guard the boy. Meanwhile, night has fallen, and Brownlow's household waits in vain for Oliver's return.

Chapter 16

Bill Sikes and Nancy return Oliver to Fagin's, where Oliver begs Fagin to return the books and money so that Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin will not think he has stolen from them. Fagin and Sikes are congratulating each other on Oliver's fall from grace when Oliver makes a break for it. Fagin retrieves him and is about to beat him when Nancy grabs the club out of his hands and throws it in the fire. Nancy argues, "He's a thief, a liar, a devil, all that's bad, from this night forth. Isn't that enough ... without blows?" She then blames Fagin for making her into a thief to make her living on "the cold, wet, dirty streets" until she dies. Distressed, Nancy faints. Oliver is stripped of his new clothes and locked in the kitchen to sleep.

Chapter 17

Mr. Bumble visits Mrs. Mann, where Dick asks to leave a dying message for "poor Oliver Twist." To punish him for having fallen under Oliver's sway, Dick is locked in the coal cellar. Mr. Bumble goes to London on parish business. There he reads a newspaper announcement that Mr. Brownlow is offering a five-guinea reward for information about Oliver Twist. At Mr. Brownlow's Mr. Bumble tells Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Grimwig that Oliver's parents were "low" and "vicious" and that Oliver had always behaved with "treachery, ingratitude, and malice." When Mr. Brownlow calls Oliver "an imposter," Mrs. Bedwin refuses to believe it.

Analysis

In Chapter 15 Bill Sikes and Nancy leave Fagin reading the Hue-and-Cry in the Cripples. The actual name of this newspaper was the Police Gazette, but it had originally been the Public Hue and Cry. Every Saturday it was sent by the Bow Street magistrates' court to mayors, magistrates, court clerks, prison officials, police and military officers, and other officials throughout the United Kingdom concerned with law and policing. The Gazette contained information about the criminals, including details about convicts on parole, wanted foreigners, military deserters, and the activities and locations of criminals. It also provided follow-ups on criminals it had previously listed.

When Oliver dashes out to the bookseller, books and money in hand, it is an unplanned outing; moreover, he takes a wrong turn. Nancy and Bill Sikes cannot know where Oliver will be, yet he runs straight into them. Later in the story, when he has once more escaped Fagin's grasp, it will again be pure coincidence that enables the old man to locate him. These coincidences may seem hard to believe, but without them the story could not move forward. Despite the realism of the subject matter in Victorian novels such as Oliver Twist, the use of coincidence was typical of the era.

Mr. Brownlow lives in Clerkenwell, a part of London that was partly reconstructed in the 18th century. It is likely that he would have lived in a house in one of the Georgian terraces built at that time. When Bill Sikes and Nancy capture Oliver, they lead him south into the old streets that escaped the Great Fire of London, through Smithfield, and on to one of Fagin's less-used houses.

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