Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 44–46 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 44

Nancy gets ready to meet Rose, but Bill Sikes won't let her leave. Their altercation makes Fagin suspicious. When Fagin leaves Nancy lights his way downstairs, and he asks her what the problem is. Fagin suspects that Nancy has a new boyfriend and wants to meet the man and bring him into the gang. But Sikes would be a danger to the new man and, since he knows so much about their activities, to the everyone in the gang. Could Nancy be induced to poison Sikes? This would rid Fagin of Sikes and bind Nancy to him more closely.

Chapter 45

The next morning Fagin asks Morris Bolter (a.k.a. Noah Claypole) to follow a woman and see whom she meets and where and, if possible, find out what she says. For this he will pay Bolter a pound. Six days pass before the opportunity arises, but on the next Sunday night, Fagin takes Bolter to the Cripples and points out the woman.

Chapter 46

Followed by Noah, Nancy arrives on London Bridge at 11:45 p.m. She finds no one there to meet her, but waits until past midnight, when Rose and Mr. Brownlow arrive. The three talk on the stairs leading down to the river; Noah hides nearby and hears every word. Mr. Brownlow promises that Fagin and his gang will not come to harm as long as he can talk to Monks, who will never know how they found him. Nancy tells them that Monks frequents the Cripples and when they can find him there. She describes Monks, and from the description Mr. Brownlow thinks he knows him. Once again, Mr. Brownlow and Rose offer to help Nancy, but she refuses.

Analysis

Fagin is generally a good judge of character; that's what makes him such an effective gang leader. But somehow Nancy deceives him again and again. In this case he does not see that she is suffering a deep moral dilemma; instead he assumes she's having an affair and looks for a way to turn it to his own benefit. His faulty assumption coupled with his inability to believe in Nancy's loyalty sets in motion the events that will end Bill and Nancy's lives, as well as Fagin's own.

In Chapter 44 Sikes says he will "let [Nancy] a little blood, without troubling the doctor." Bloodletting as a medical treatment for a variety of ailments dates back thousands of years. Doctors used methods such as leeches, which would suck the patient's blood, or phlebotomy, which involved opening the patient's vein with a lancet or a handheld instrument known as a fleam. Barbers were often called in to perform phlebotomies, so it is not surprising that Sikes might do it himself. However, while bloodletting was not an uncommon medical procedure, Sikes's threatening nature and capacity for violence suggest that he is not planning to heal Nancy, but to harm her.

Rose and Mr. Brownlow repeat their desire to help Nancy escape to live in "a quiet asylum." Prostitution was an acknowledged problem in the cities of that time. In the mid-1800s London may have been home to as many as 80,000 prostitutes. Concerned Victorians set up asylums to help "fallen women," and in 1846 Dickens became involved with one called Urania Cottage. He insisted the women be taught useful skills and treated compassionately.

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