Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 49–50 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 49

Mr. Brownlow, Mr. Losberne, and Harry Maylie bring Monks to Mr. Brownlow's house. Readers learn that Monks, whose real name is Edward Leeford, is the son of Mr. Brownlow's long-dead friend. Mr. Brownlow's friend had been ordered to marry an older woman; the marriage was unhappy, and the two parted—but not before having a son, Edward. Some years later Edward's father met the daughter of a widowed naval officer and fell in love. Soon after he became ill and died. His estranged wife destroyed his will so that all his money passed to her and Edward. But they knew that there was another child, who, it turns out, was Oliver. After meeting Oliver Mr. Brownlow had gone to the West Indies to look for Edward Leeford, but Leeford was in London, posing as Monks. Mr. Brownlow makes clear that he knows everything Monks has done, and Monks agrees to sign a confession and to give Oliver his portion of their father's estate.

Chapter 50

Tom Chitling pays a visit to Toby Crackit and his associate Kags. Chitling gives the latest news: Fagin and Bolter (Noah) have been arrested. Bet went to identify Nancy's body and went crazy with grief; she has been locked away in a mental hospital. Others in the gang have been taken as well, and the police are lying in wait at the gang's usual haunts. Tom says he saw Fagin taken away, covered in blood and surrounded by police, who were defending him from onlookers. He expects Bolter to testify against Fagin and speculates that Fagin will hang within the week as an accomplice to murder. Bull's-eye, who's in bad shape, jumps in the window, and the men are glad to see Bill Sikes isn't with him. Several hours later, though, Sikes arrives, too. Grudgingly, Toby says he can stay and that they won't turn him in. But Charley Bates soon arrives and, upon seeing Sikes, calls him a murderer, says he will turn him in, and, shouting for help, attacks the larger man.

A search party comes for Sikes, led by a man on a horse. As the searchers try to enter the front of the house, Sikes takes a rope, goes to the roof, and prepares to climb down the back. The man on horseback offers 50 pounds to anyone who can capture Sikes alive. Sikes makes a loop in the rope, and he's about to lower himself from the roof when he again sees Nancy's eyes looking at him. He cries out, staggers, and falls from the roof, hanging himself. Bull's-eye jumps to reach Bill but misses and is killed in the fall.

Analysis

Victorian readers expected a novel to be wrapped up tidily, which occurs in the last five chapters of Oliver Twist. In Chapter 49 Dickens explains many of the mysteries, including that of Oliver's identity. The author also provides an answer to the question of nature versus nurture: Oliver is innately virtuous because his parents loved one another and his mother was good and selfless; Monks is innately immoral because his parents did not love one another and his mother, who destroyed her dead husband's will, was greedy and selfish.

Chapter 50 begins with social criticism: Dickens comments on the dangerous conditions in which the poor live. Several of Fagin's gang members meet in a ruined house on Jacob's Island in Southwark on the south shore of the industrially polluted Thames. Jacob's Island had been a thriving area, with most people employed in the timber industry and shipbuilding. But when that industry moved downriver, closing a local water mill, the population sank into poverty. A lead mill took over from the water mill in the 1830s, quickly adding its poisons to the waste-filled Folly Ditch, which supplied the inhabitants' water.

Sikes does not live to stand trial, but he hangs for his crime nevertheless. Just as in the police courts, where criminals are brought face to face with their victims, Bill looks into Nancy's eyes one last time, and then "justice" is done. However, it is unlikely that Nancy, who was so selfless, would have wanted Bill to hang under any circumstances, as she made clear in Chapter 16.

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