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Oliver Twist | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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What similarities exist between events in Chapters 1 and 24 of Oliver Twist?

Both Chapter 1 and Chapter 24 tell about a woman dying in the workhouse; both women die in not only the same room, but in the same bed. In Chapter 1 Oliver's mother is nursed by an old woman who drinks; in Chapter 24 Mrs. Thingummy, who nursed Oliver's mother, is tended by two older women who also drink. Oliver's mother knows her child's identity, but she does not divulge it; Mrs. Thingummy is in possession of a clue to his identity, but she dies before saying what it is. Of course there are also notable differences. Oliver's mother is young and valiant; Mrs. Thingummy is old and wracked with guilt over her theft of the gold object, which might have changed Oliver's life.

In Chapter 25 of Oliver Twist, how and why are Fagin's actions out of character?

In earlier chapters where readers have seen him with his crew, Fagin has been busy and often playful. Sometimes he has been threatening. In Chapter 25 he sits apart from the boys, lost in thought. Tom, fed up with Charley's teasing, aims a fist at Charley and ends up hitting Fagin. Tom clearly expects trouble but doesn't get it because Fagin is distracted by the bell. Toby Crackit has arrived, and Fagin is impatient for news. Fagin has read in the paper that the burglary failed and has not heard from Sikes. However, his main concern is not the lack of income or Sikes's health or whereabouts; it's Oliver. Fagin is impatient to hear what has become of the boy, and he pushes Toby for news. Distressed that Oliver was shot, Fagin actually runs off. But why is Fagin so concerned? A somewhat unlikely answer is that he cares for Oliver, but Fagin is probably too hardened a criminal to allow that to happen. It is more likely that he doesn't want to lose such a potentially valuable asset to his business as the sweet-faced boy. He may also fear that, if caught, Oliver will rat him out.

In Chapter 27 of Oliver Twist, why is it surprising that Mr. Bumble berates Noah for saying he will kiss Charlotte?

Noah and Charlotte have certainly been behaving badly, and Mr. Bumble would have every reason to scold them. Noah is clearly drunk, which one might expect the beadle, as a parish official, to find fault with. What's worse, Charlotte has been feeding Noah the Sowerberrys' oysters. Not only is this stealing from their employers, but oysters are also a sort of meat, which Mr. Bumble warned Mrs. Sowerberry against feeding to Oliver, who, like Noah, is an apprentice. However, he takes Noah to task for the very natural desire to kiss Charlotte and does so shortly after kissing Mrs. Corney several times himself. His rebuke is hypocritical.

In Chapter 33 of Oliver Twist, what is the significance of the setting of the countryside?

The countryside offers a welcome contrast to the urban life of London: Oliver, "whose days had been spent among squalid crowds, and in the midst of noise and brawling, seemed to enter on a new existence there." Dickens associates the countryside not only with fresh air and quiet but with education, the arts, and spirituality. In contrast to the dirt and poverty he experienced in London, the countryside provides an important opportunity for Oliver to lead a happy, healthy, and constructive life in which his mind, as well as his body, is properly nurtured. In the countryside Oliver studies birds and plants, listens to music as Rose plays the piano and as hymns are sung in church, and improves his reading and writing. He attends church and reads the Bible. Oliver is even able to grieve for his mother more effectively. When he visits a small churchyard, it reminds him of her "wretched grave," and he sobs, but "when he raised his eyes to the deep sky overhead, he would cease to think of her as lying in the ground, and would weep for her, sadly, but without pain." The countryside offers an important setting in which Oliver may grow and heal.

In Oliver Twist how does Rose Maylie exemplify the Victorian concept of the "angel in the house"?

Victorian art and literature developed the concept of the "angel in the house"—the perfect wife and mother. The phrase comes from the title of a poem by Coventry Patmore in which the poem's narrator praises such wives and mothers as representing the feminine ideal. These domestic angels are skilled in homemaking, tender and caring with their children, and self-sacrificing. They put the interests and needs of others—especially their husbands and children—before their own. Dickens's novels were instrumental in establishing the concept of the "angel in the house," an important motif in Oliver Twist. Rose Maylie is a perfect example. Immediately compassionate toward Oliver, Rose takes him in and performs the role of mother, tending him when he is sick, entertaining him endlessly, and seeing to his education. As Mrs. Maylie points out, "perfect sacrifice of self ... has always been her characteristic"—so much so that the old woman believes Rose would refuse Harry's proposal if she thought her own mysterious past might damage him in any way, which is exactly what Rose does.

In Chapter 37 of Oliver Twist, why does Mr. Bumble miss his cocked hat?

Appearance, including clothing, recurs as a motif throughout Oliver Twist. In Mr. Bumble's case, the cocked hat represents a very visible part of his uniform as parish beadle; it is a symbol of that office, and the narrator often calls attention to it. When readers first meet Mr. Bumble in Chapter 2, he "officiously deposit[s] his hat and cane on the table before him" as if he wants to make sure Mrs. Mann cannot overlook these symbols of his status. As beadle Mr. Bumble has significant power over people and feels important and impressive. When Mr. Bumble becomes workhouse master, he is no longer entitled to wear the cocked hat, an indication that his status has been reduced. He no longer has power throughout the parish, but only over the workhouse inmates. In fact, because of his wife's domination, he has lost even that. Thus, for Mr. Bumble, the loss of the cocked hat also represents the loss of his influence over those around him and even of his sense of self-worth.

What is the significance of the setting in Chapter 38 of Oliver Twist?

The Bumbles go to meet Monks in a slum comprising "ruinous houses" built on "a low unwholesome swamp." Throughout Oliver Twist dirty, dilapidated structures are associated with crime, as is the case here. The criminals here, as in London, do not take care of their surroundings. The only decorations are meant to project a deception: boats, oars, and ropes to indicate—falsely—that the inhabitants make their living on the nearby river. The narrator also describes "the clouds, which ... spread out in a dense and sluggish mass of vapour"; this action must have made it much darker, and darkness functions in Oliver Twist as a symbol of crime and evildoing. "A violent thunder-storm" threatens as the Bumbles approach, which indicates a dangerous change not only in the weather but in the circumstances of the characters. Just as Monks pays for Mrs. Bumble's information, thunder crashes, and the reader knows that something of evil significance has just occurred.

In Chapter 38 of Oliver Twist, what can the reader infer about Oliver from the locket?

When Oliver's mother died, she told Mrs. Thingummy she had something that would tell her child its mother's name and "raise up some friends for it," but the old woman never helped Oliver, and she feels guilty about it. On her deathbed she tells Mrs. Corney her secret: she stole something golden the young woman might have sold to alleviate her desperate situation. Mrs. Corney takes a pawn ticket from Mrs. Thingummy's body, just as Mrs. Thingummy took the locket from Oliver's mother's corpse. Mrs. Corney redeems the pawn ticket for a locket. The locket identifies Oliver's mother as Agnes. Agnes Fleming was the name of the girl in the portrait at Mr. Brownlow's, and Oliver looks just like her. Readers can infer, then, that Oliver is Agnes Fleming's son. Moreover the locket contains a wedding ring and a date a year before Oliver's birth. Therefore it seems likely that his parents were married or planned to marry. Taken altogether it would appear that Oliver is the child of possibly wealthy parents (since the locket is made of gold) who were very probably related in some way to Mr. Brownlow. But the locket does not reveal Oliver's real last name.

In what way does Dickens employ foreshadowing in Chapter 40 of Oliver Twist?

When Rose Maylie offers to help Nancy leave her life of crime, Nancy refuses. She knows she would pay with her life if her betrayal of the gang were to become known. She also loves Sikes, which she makes clear by saying, "I am drawn back to him through every suffering and ill usage; and I should be, I believe, if I knew that I was to die by his hand at last." When Rose wants to know where she can meet Nancy again, Nancy says that "Every Sunday night ... I will walk on London Bridge if I am alive." Just before she leaves Rose, Nancy says, as if she knows for a fact what is going to happen, "it would be something not to die in the hell in which I have lived." This foreshadowing proves accurate as Nancy returns to Sikes. In Chapter 47, in a fury at her betrayal, Sikes kills Nancy.

In Oliver Twist how are Rose and Nancy alike?

Both Rose and Nancy are compassionate women who work hard to help Oliver. Nancy defends Oliver from Bill and Fagin and goes to Rose to tell her what she has learned about his true identity. Rose and Nancy both sacrifice themselves for the men they love. Rose refuses to marry Harry so that her possibly unsavory origins will not prevent him from having a successful career in politics; this action condemns her to live without the man she loves. Nancy refuses to leave Bill to pay the price for her betrayal of Fagin; this loyalty ultimately leads to her own death. In this way Nancy, like Rose, can be seen as a domestic angel. This is ironic since Victorian society considered a prostitute the polar opposite of a domestic angel.

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