Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 5–7

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 5–7 of Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist.

Oliver Twist | Chapters 5–7 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5

After an uneasy night, Oliver wakes to the sound of someone kicking the door. It is Noah Claypole, who also works for Mr. Sowerberry. They go to the kitchen, where Charlotte, the serving girl, gives Noah "a nice little bit of bacon [she has saved] from master's breakfast" and Oliver some stale bits of bread. Several weeks later Mr. Sowerberry decides that Oliver's "expression of melancholy" would make the boy an effective mute—a professional mourner—at children's funerals and takes Oliver along to an adult's funeral to learn about the undertaker's profession.

Chapter 6

In a month Oliver's probationary period is at an end. As the town is experiencing "a nice sickly season," Sowerberry has a lot of work. Oliver learns the trade quickly and is promoted to mute. Because Noah Claypole treats him badly, so does Charlotte. And because Mr. Sowerberry likes Oliver, Mrs. Sowerberry does not. One day when Mr. Sowerberry is out, Noah goads Oliver viciously about the younger boy's mother. Finally the older boy says that it's best "that she died when she did, or else she'd have been hard labouring [in prison], or transported, or hung; which is more likely than either, isn't it?" Oliver knocks the larger boy down. Charlotte cries out, drawing Mrs. Sowerberry to the kitchen. The two women beat Oliver and lock him in the cellar and send Noah to fetch Mr. Bumble.

Chapter 7

Noah tells the beadle an exaggerated version of events: Oliver has tried to murder Noah, Charlotte, and Mrs. Sowerberry and has stated his desire to kill Mr. Sowerberry as well. Arriving at the undertaker's, Mr. Bumble shouts through the cellar door to Oliver, assuming that Oliver will be terrified by the sound of his voice. But Oliver is not. The beadle explains that this insolence is caused by meat: they have fed Oliver too much meat. After several more beatings, Oliver decides to leave and sets out for London, passing the baby farm on his way. In the garden he sees one of the young boys, Dick, who hugs Oliver and says, "God bless you!" It is the first time Oliver has ever been blessed, and he never forgets it.

Analysis

Dickens makes frequent use of the literary device of authorial intrusion: he stops telling the story and speaks directly to the reader, often employing irony to satirize characters' words and actions. For instance, in Chapter 5, he comments on Noah Claypole's interest in bullying Oliver: "This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy." These sentences do not further the plot or describe Noah's character; instead Dickens directly shares his private thoughts with the reader.

Food is a continuing motif in Oliver Twist and one that is tied to the pervasive theme of poverty. In the first two chapters, Oliver is given only bread, gruel, and onions. As a result he is weak. However, Mr. Sowerberry, a middle-class professional, and his household (including Noah and Charlotte) eat much better than the paupers in the workhouse. Even though Oliver eats only scraps that might otherwise be given to the dog, they are often scraps of meat. It is also likely that he receives potatoes, some fresh vegetables, and possibly some fruit. Along with his diet, his health begins to improve, and he grows stronger in body and mind.

Noah comments that Oliver's mother was better off dead than facing a worse fate. During the Victorian period, people who were convicted of crimes, even minor ones such as stealing food, could face tough sentences. Some were sent to prison and forced to do grueling work, such as walking on a huge treadmill. Another option involved being "transported," or sent to far-off Australia, a penal colony to which England condemned thousands of prisoners. The third option was the most drastic: death by hanging, usually at a public execution.

In Chapter 7 readers meet Dick, Oliver's friend, who is still trapped at the baby farm. Although Dick appears in the novel only once more, he is mentioned frequently and assumes great importance for Oliver. He represents one of the few kind people Oliver knew as a child and was the first person who ever blessed him.

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