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Oliver Twist | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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How does Rose Maylie's illness further the plot of Oliver Twist?

Rose's illness furthers the plot in two ways. Firstly, Mrs. Maylie asks Oliver to post a letter to Mr. Losberne asking him to come take care of Rose. When he goes to the inn to post it, Oliver runs into a man who is shocked to see him. In this way Monks once more learns where Oliver is. Secondly, because Rose seems to be on the brink of death, Mrs. Maylie notifies her son, Harry, who comes immediately. Readers learn that Harry and Rose are in love. Even more importantly, they learn that Rose's origins are unknown and that Mrs. Maylie took her in and raised her but is not her real aunt. It may be that she is illegitimate. This revelation adds conflict to the story because the stigma of illegitimacy prevents Rose and Harry from marrying. The mystery of Rose's birth and her possible illegitimacy also parallel Oliver's situation. He is also an orphan whose true parentage is unknown. What's more, Rose and Oliver have similar natures—compassionate and honest. Ultimately both related mysteries are finally resolved through the same revelations.

In Chapters 40 and 41 of Oliver Twist, why is Mr. Losberne traveling with Rose and Mrs. Maylie?

In the 1820s there were practical reasons why women—especially middle- and upper-class women—avoided traveling unaccompanied. Women traveling alone were considered easy targets for thieves. In fact women often traveled with an escort and would opt to give most of their valuables to the person for safekeeping. Most likely Mr. Losberne held most of the money and any jewelry the Maylie women had brought with them. Another danger was the possibility that a con artist might be among the strangers they met while traveling. Because it was considered acceptable to speak with other travelers, it was best not to allow a casual conversation to become something more. Having Mr. Losberne on hand to help with bags or getting in and out of a coach helped enforce a distance between the Maylies and the strangers they met in coaches and hotels. As the century progressed, women traveled more and more frequently. To some extent this was related to the spread of the British Empire. Women traveled to and from their husbands' or fathers' postings. Female missionaries spread Christianity. Female researchers studied other cultures and found respect abroad that they did not find in Europe.

In Chapter 42 of Oliver Twist, why does Noah Claypole assume the name Morris Bolter?

Noah and Charlotte have stolen 20 pounds from the Sowerberrys and run off to London. Noah fears that Mr. Sowerberry has set the police on him, so he chooses to get a room in a pub on a dark street in a bad section of town where he believes no one will look for him. He also decides to use a different name. Charlotte, who is unaware of this plan, still calls him Noah at first. Noah chooses the surname Bolter, which reflects the fact that he and Charlotte have "bolted," or run away. This corresponds to Dickens's motif of associating a character's surname with some aspect of that character. Noah's original surname, Claypole, also conforms to this motif; it is a reference to his long, lanky physique.

What is Fagin's relationship with Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist?

Fagin and Bill Sikes depend on one another, but this dependence is based on contempt. Bill Sikes is a housebreaker (a burglar), and Fagin fences the goods that Sikes steals. The narrator doesn't say how they met, but they may have met through Nancy. Sikes doesn't treat Fagin with the deference that most others do; in fact he often insults him. In Chapter 44 Fagin puts his hand on Sikes's shoulder, and Sikes says, "Reminds me of being nabbed by the devil ... There never was another man with such a face as yours." Typically, Fagin doesn't respond to or make light of Bill's comments, but the narrator describes Fagin's expression changing when he turns away. Fagin doesn't like how Bill treats him. But there are two reasons for Fagin to put up with Bill: Bill's talents as a burglar and Nancy's attachment to Bill. Nancy herself was a child of four or five when Fagin took her in. He often seems to have a soft spot for her, and it is possible there is some rivalry between the two men for her affection (though Fagin's interest is not romantic). The narrator reveals Fagin's true feelings about Sikes in Chapter 44. Fagin contemplates having Nancy poison him, calling Sikes a "dangerous villain: the man I hate."

What kind of thief is Noah Claypole in Oliver Twist?

Because he's lazy Noah doesn't want to do anything too strenuous or to have to learn any skills. He also doesn't want to do anything that might get him caught or injured. For instance he doesn't want to steal handbags from old women because they might shout and fight back. So Fagin suggests he should take on the kinchin lay—stealing money from children. On his first day out, Noah also brings back some unattended pint-pots and a milk can. Stealing money from children is perhaps a logical progression from beating up weak little Oliver on Oliver's first day with Mr. Sowerberry. Just like Noah the apprentice undertaker, Noah the thief is an indolent bully who wants all the glory he can get for the least investment of effort. As a result even though he's much older than Fagin's other boys, Noah doesn't add much to the gang's income. So why does Fagin keep him on? Although Noah is not a profitable thief, he is a good sneak. Fagin makes use of this talent by sending Noah to learn what goes on at the Artful Dodger's trial and by having him tail Nancy. Fagin is even willing to pay him for these services, so it is likely this is Noah's real value to the old criminal.

In Chapter 47 of Oliver Twist, why and how does Fagin arrange for Sikes to kill Nancy?

Even though Morris Bolter (a.k.a. Noah Claypole) has reported Nancy's entire conversation to Fagin, including her refusal to give away Fagin's gang, Fagin cannot believe it. He himself would turn on even his closest associates. After all, just a week ago, he was plotting Sikes's murder. Fagin cannot be angry that Nancy would hand over Monks, whom he dislikes. His anger probably derives from shock that someone he thought he knew well and believed to be in his power would go against him. He must also be angry with himself for trusting Nancy where Oliver was concerned. Fagin knew she wanted to protect the boy, but he hadn't understood how committed she was. So he must also feel Nancy has made a fool of him. Fagin never tells Sikes to kill Nancy. Instead he relies on rhetorical manipulation. When he and Noah recount Nancy's meeting on the stairs, Fagin gives the impression she's turning on the entire gang. He has already worked Bill up by asking what he'd do if Bolter, Fagin, or another gang member betrayed them. Each time Bill says he would kill the traitor. When he learns the traitor is his own Nancy and that she even dosed him with laudanum, he's ready to do his worst.

How does Dickens portray Sikes's feelings of guilt in Chapter 48 of Oliver Twist?

Chapter 48 recounts Sikes's attempts to flee both London and his own guilt over murdering Nancy. Dickens describes his aimless wandering, as Bill keeps crisscrossing the same sections of town, unable to act decisively. He is distraught and guilt-ridden over what he has done and terrified by its consequences. As night falls Sikes senses Nancy's corpse drifting along behind him wherever he goes. Every sound seems to emanate from the ghostly corpse: "He could hear its garments rustling in the leaves, and every breath of wind came laden with that last low cry." When he hurries, she hurries; when he stops, she stops. If he turns around to confront her, she isn't there—but he knows she has swung around behind him. When he finally tries to sleep, he sees Nancy's lifeless eyes in the darkness; when he shuts his eyes, he can see their room with her body lying on the floor. He can't escape the sensation that Nancy is there because she embodies his guilt, which is constantly with him. In Chapter 50 Sikes is still haunted by visions of Nancy's eyes. After killing her he tried to cover her "glaring" eyes, but he found himself imagining them turning to watch him. This is part of why he fled, but he can't avoid them. Whereas Nancy looked at him with so much love and concern in life, now her eyes regard him with accusation, full of knowledge of his betrayal of her love. Seeing them again on the roof shocks him so much that he falls, catching his neck in the looped rope with which he'd intended to escape, and hanging himself.

How does Dickens create situational irony in Chapter 50 of Oliver Twist?

Situational irony occurs when events defy expectation. In Chapter 50 there are four instances of situational irony. First, when Bull's-eye arrives, the men expect Bill to be with the dog, but he's not. Second, when Bill arrives, they expect him to be dangerous, but he's quiet and nonconfrontational. Third, when Charley arrives, the men do not expect him to be dangerous, but he is the one who calls the search party down on them. The fourth example of situational irony occurs when Sikes tries to escape. Intending to loop a rope around his waist, rappel down from the roof, cut the rope, and drop to the mud before his pursuers can reach the back of the house, Sikes makes a loop in the rope and begins to slip it around himself. Suddenly he thinks he sees Nancy's eyes looking at him and staggers off the roof with the rope looped around his neck. The irony is that Sikes expects to escape the hangman's noose, but he ends up hanging himself.

As they near the end of their lives in Oliver Twist, how are Fagin's and Sikes's senses of guilt for their crimes alike and different?

In Chapters 48 and 50, it is clear that Bill Sikes feels guilty for killing Nancy; he sees her eyes and feels her corpse following him wherever he goes. But in Chapter 52, Fagin does not seem to feel any guilt. He sees the images of hanged men and remembers being the cause of some of their deaths, but he feels no regret for his actions. His visions are more a terrified fascination with what awaits him. Bill Sikes accepts responsibility for murdering Nancy and thus for being hunted; when he talks with Toby, Tom, and Kags, he asks for information but doesn't try to shift blame to Fagin or to Nancy herself. In contrast Fagin mutters that it is Bolter's fault that he is facing death and even manages to blame Oliver.

How does Chapter 52 of Oliver Twist explore the theme of virtue versus evil?

In Chapter 52 Oliver and Fagin meet under new conditions. For the first time each knows the truth about himself and about the other: Oliver knows his true identity and Fagin's role in keeping it from him, and Fagin knows his own (very short) future, as well as Oliver's identity. Neither has power over the other: Oliver is in the care of good, loving people; Fagin is in prison. Knowing all this, each is true to his nature. Oliver acts with virtue: he wants to pray with Fagin and to keep him company until morning. But Fagin acts out of evil impulses: although it appears briefly that he might be acting out of contrition when he tells Oliver where he has hidden the papers, he has actually used this information to get Oliver close to him so that he can make a bid for survival. Even now he seeks to corrupt Oliver, to cajole the boy into helping him escape.

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