Oliver Twist | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist | Chapters 8–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 8

Oliver sees a milestone that indicates London is 70 miles away. He has only a crust of bread and a penny, both of which are soon gone. He tries begging but soon reaches towns that outlaw begging and view strange children with suspicion. Seven days after setting out, Oliver meets a boy his own age who treats Oliver to a meal. This is Jack Dawkins, otherwise known as the Artful Dodger. Jack offers to take Oliver home with him and introduce him to a "'spectable old gentleman" who will provide Oliver with a place to stay free of charge. Late that night Jack leads Oliver through London to a dark, dirty neighborhood full of unsavory smells and people. Finally the Artful Dodger pulls Oliver into a doorway and guides him up a dark stairwell into a room where several other boys are drinking and smoking. There, Oliver meets Fagin, "a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face [is] obscured by a quantity of matted red hair." Fagin gives Oliver a supper of sausages and watered-down gin before putting him to bed.

Chapter 9

The next day Oliver finds himself alone with Fagin. Fagin takes a metal box from a hiding place and examines its contents, which include a gold watch and some jewelry. When Fagin catches Oliver looking at him, he grabs a knife and demands to know whether Oliver was awake an hour ago. Satisfied with the boy's assurances that he was not, Fagin tells Oliver that the things in the box are his. Soon Jack returns with another of the boys, Charley Bates. The two give Fagin pocketbooks and handkerchiefs. Fagin explains that the boys have made them. Oliver is puzzled when Charley laughs at this. Fagin and the boys play a game that involves the boys trying to take things out of Fagin's pockets without his noticing. Two friendly young women arrive, have a few drinks, and leave with Jack and Charley. Then Fagin teaches Oliver how to pick the embroidery from handkerchiefs.

Chapter 10

After spending many days picking embroidery and playing the strange game, Oliver is finally allowed out with Charley and the Artful Dodger. He wonders what he will learn to make first—handkerchiefs or pocketbooks. Instead he is startled to see Charley swiping fruit and vegetables from market stalls. Then Jack spots a well-dressed gentleman at a bookstall and reaches into the man's pocket, takes out a handkerchief, and passes it to Charley. The two run off. Realizing where all the handkerchiefs and pocketbooks really come from, Oliver begins to run. Soon a crowd is pursuing Oliver, joined by Charley and Jack yelling, "Stop, thief!" A brutish fellow stops Oliver with a fist to the face. The gentleman arrives and identifies Oliver as the thief but shows concern for his injuries. With the gentleman in attendance, a policeman leads Oliver away.

Analysis

In Chapter 8 Oliver meets Fagin, who will become the greatest threat in his young life. Oliver's initial impression—based on Fagin's ugliness and dirtiness, and the general unpleasantness of the neighborhood in which he lives—is negative. But the boy gives Fagin the benefit of the doubt because of his apparent generosity to the boys he has taken in.

Victorian London had a substantial Jewish population, and England, like other parts of Europe, had a strong anti-Semitic tradition. The Jewish fence was a common stereotype. Dickens named Fagin after a boy he worked with in the book-blacking factory, Bob Fagin, whose name is actually Irish. Fagin taught him how to wrap and tie the pots of blacking, defended him against taunts from the other boys, and even tended him when he was ill. Dickens never explained why he immortalized such a kind boy by giving his name to a personification of the devil.

In Victorian London child criminality was common, and there was much talk of criminal bosses who trained and ran gangs of young thieves and then fenced the goods the boys stole. In the early 19th century these included the thief-trainer Thomas Duggin; Charles King, who, like Fagin, headed a gang of pickpockets; and Ikey Solomon, a notorious thief-trainer and fence. Like Oliver the boys were usually orphans and runaways in need of a livelihood, and of course, the criminal bosses were eager to improve their incomes by taking advantage of these young boys. Dickens, in his usual manner, felt the need to draw the public's attention to this human tragedy involving the young and vulnerable children of London.

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