Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 42–43 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 42

Noah Claypole and Charlotte have stolen the money from Mr. Sowerberry's till and walked to London. There they get a room at the Three Cripples. While they're eating dinner, Fagin spies on them and learns that Noah wants to join a criminal gang and make his fortune. Fagin makes himself known and arranges for Noah—who introduces himself as Morris Bolter and Charlotte as Mrs. Bolter—to meet someone the next day who can set them up with a place to live and jobs in the gang.

Chapter 43

Noah Claypole and Charlotte move into Fagin's house, where Fagin says that he has just lost his "best hand": the Artful Dodger has been arrested for pickpocketing, and Fagin expects him to be transported. Charley is uncharacteristically sad at the news, and Fagin convinces him that Jack Dawkins is so clever that he'll have the courtroom in stitches with his humor. Noah is costumed as a country wagoner and sent to attend the trial and report back on the outcome. At his trial Jack's confidence and wit keep the audience and even the police laughing but don't prevent him being sentenced and taken off to jail.

Analysis

On their way into London, Noah Claypole and Charlotte travel along the Great North Road, the main highway from the north, and pass the Angel in Islington, an important coaching inn that dated to the early 1600s. The inn was a landmark, and readers in Victorian England would have been able to place them exactly. Readers would understand why Noah would not want to stay at the Angel: not only would it charge more than he wanted to spend, but he and Charlotte might stand out.

The conversation between Fagin and Charley Bates in Chapter 43 reflects the importance of the Artful Dodger to the mythology of the group. Fagin hopes Charley will retain his naïve sense of the fun, flash, and romance of being a thief—in line with the popular image of the dashing highwayman. Jack, with his wit, humor, and endearing self-assurance, has helped to brand Fagin's crew in this way. Now, with everything falling apart, Fagin tries desperately to hold on to this image.

Chapter 43 returns to the Victorian justice system. Fagin talks about the gallows with Noah, who then watches Jack Dawkins's trial. Jack is tried at Bow Street, the main magistrates' court in London. Dickens was familiar with the Bow Street magistrates' court because he had covered trials there as a reporter. Jack performs and is sentenced to transportation just as Fagin predicted. Serious or habitual child criminals under 14 were generally not sentenced to death but to transportation. In the 1830s—the decade in which Oliver Twist appeared—some 5,000 young convicts per year were transported to Australia, where they were employed in construction and other manual labor.

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