Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 47–48 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 47

Bill Sikes comes to Fagin with the loot from his latest burglary, and Fagin and Noah tell him about Nancy's conversation the night before with the gentleman and young woman. Bill is infuriated. When he gets home he tells Nancy he knows all about her meeting, and she says that he must know that she didn't betray him, and she begs him to leave their criminal life behind and come away with her. He knocks her down and beats her to death with a club.

Chapter 48

Sikes leaves in the glare of the morning sun and wanders aimlessly around north London. That evening he stops for a meal in a village pub, where he feels safe until a peddler grabs his hat to demonstrate his stain remover. Bill grabs it back angrily and leaves. He comes upon the mail coach from London and overhears people talking about the "dreadful murder" of a woman. Bill starts walking north, imagining Nancy's corpse following him. While trying to sleep in a shed, he awakens to shouting. A farm is on fire, and Bill joins people in fighting it. After working among them all night, he hears the rumor that the murderer has fled to Birmingham and decides no one would think to look for him in London. So he heads back to lie low at Fagin's. Realizing that Bull's-eye might be recognized, he gets ready to drown the dog, but Bull's-eye senses his master's intention and runs off.

Analysis

Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows something the character does not. Dickens creates dramatic irony twice to tragic effect in Chapter 47 when Fagin leads Sikes to believe Nancy has agreed to inform on them; the reader, however, knows that is not what she said—or what Noah reported. Subsequently Bill tells Nancy he knows what she said, and she of course knows that she refused to give them up and speaks with him based on that knowledge. She cannot know what Fagin has told Bill, but the reader knows that Fagin has misled him and deliberately placed Nancy's life in jeopardy.

After the murder Bill, so skilled at creating fear in others, becomes frightened himself. His crime colors the world around him, and he vividly imagines Nancy as a phantom following him wherever he goes. Bill describes his experience of Nancy's ghost in hair-raising sensory language: "He could trace its shadow in the gloom, supply the smallest item of the outline, and note how stiff and solemn it seemed to stalk along. He could hear its garments rustling in the leaves, and every breath of wind came laden with that last low cry." For him there is no escape from his crime.

Sikes desperately tries to conceal his identity and realizes he can only avoid capture if he no longer has the dog with him. Bull's-eye is an extension of Sikes, and Bill's decision to kill him can be seen as an unconscious decision to commit suicide. Like Sikes, in Chapter 48 Bull's-eye evades capture and "execution," but later he will, in effect, commit suicide in order to stay with his master.

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