Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 23–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23

Mrs. Corney, the workhouse matron, has just made herself a pot of tea when Mr. Bumble stops by for a chat. They speak about the greed of the paupers under their care. Mr. Bumble moves closer to the widow and kisses her. Just then the message arrives that an old woman is about to die and has asked for the matron. Left on his own to wait for her return, Mr. Bumble expresses delight as he takes inventory of Mrs. Corney's silver and furnishings.

Chapter 24

Mrs. Corney is brought to the dying woman, who turns out to be the nurse who attended at the birth of Oliver Twist. She confesses to the matron that after Oliver's mother died, she stole something made of gold from the body. But the old woman dies before she can say exactly what she took.

Analysis

To understand Mr. Bumble's actions in Chapter 23, readers should know that in the early 1800s when a woman married, everything she owned or earned became the property of her husband. This would not begin to change until the first of series of Married Women's Property Acts was passed in 1870.

Characters in Oliver Twist—especially lower-middle-class and poor characters, as in Chapter 24—frequently drink gin, an alcoholic beverage. In the 1700s London, the heart of England's gin distilling, experienced a "gin craze," with Londoners drinking on average 14 gallons of gin a year. It was cheap and easy to find—cheaper than wholesome food—so it was the preferred drink of the poor. Widespread drunkenness was the root of much of London's high crime and death rates and low birth rates.

Oliver has been immersed in a gin-soaked environment since his arrival in London. Fagin provides plentiful supplies of it to his boys and girls. And even the poorest of the poor find it available, including the kind old crones in the workhouse who administer it to the dying woman. This tolerant attitude toward and easy availability of gin poses yet one more threat to young Oliver as he strives to escape this world.

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