Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 37–38 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37

Mr. Bumble has been married to the former Mrs. Corney for two months, and things are not going well. He is depressed over the loss of his status as a beadle, disappointed in the material goods that came to him upon his marriage, and decidedly henpecked. Even the paupers know his wife rules the roost and have lost all fear of him. One day he takes refuge in a pub, where he meets a stranger in a long cloak. The stranger wants to know what has become of Oliver's birth nurse, and Mr. Bumble tells him she died in the winter but he knows a woman who might tell him more. The man tells Mr. Bumble to bring her to him the next evening. Mr. Bumble rushes after him to ask his name; it is Monks.

Chapter 38

The Bumbles make their way to a rundown neighborhood near the river, where they meet with Monks. His brusque disdain intimidates even Mrs. Bumble at first. But she recovers and won't part with her information about Oliver until she's paid 25 pounds in gold. Monks pays, and Mrs. Bumble tells her story: Mrs. Thingummy took something from Oliver's mother's dead body but died before she could say more. In her hand was a pawnbroker's ticket, and Mrs. Bumble redeemed it for a locket. Inside were two locks of hair, a wedding ring, the inscription "Agnes," and a date one year before Oliver's birth. She gives these things to Monks, who drops them in the river.

Analysis

Chapter 37 offers some comic relief. As Dickens points out, Mr. Bumble has always been a bully, and it is satisfying to see him get his comeuppance, not only from his wife but also from the pauper women. Soon, however, the comedy is over as Bumble enters a public house and meets an unexpected but—to readers—familiar character. Monks's extensive knowledge about the nurse at Oliver's birth and about Mr. Bumble makes him seem an even greater threat and deepens the mystery surrounding Oliver's true identity.

Monks pays Mrs. Bumble 25 pounds in gold, the pound being the basic unit of currency in England. At that time the pound coin was made of gold and was known as a sovereign, reflecting the fact that the coins were traditionally stamped with the monarch's image. Although paper money—called notes—had long been in use in England, recent economic instability had made people uncertain that the notes would be honored. And how much was 25 pounds worth? It would have paid a typical lower middle–class rent for a year.

While Oliver Twist was being serialized, Fagin was referred to "the Jew" throughout. But while he was editing the first book version of Oliver Twist, Dickens received a letter from a Jewish acquaintance who pointed out that his constant use of this term was a "great wrong" to Jews. The first 38 chapters had already been typeset and could not be changed. Still Dickens removed almost all mention of "the Jew" from the remaining chapters.

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