Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapter 17

Summary

Dickens discusses the ways tragedy and comedy may follow one another in close succession in life, just as on the stage. Similarly, in books, abrupt transitions in time and place are to be expected. This explanation is a way of leading up to a shift of scene back to Oliver's birthplace.

Mr. Bumble strolls down the street inflated with a sense of high purpose. He stops at Mrs. Mann's establishment and tells her he is taking two paupers to London to appear in court regarding a settlement. The women assures Bumble that all of her charges are well except perverse little Dick.

Bumble wants to see the recalcitrant child, and Dick is "led into the awful presence." The boy is in a dismal state; his limbs have "wasted away, like those of an old man." With an exaggerated sense of how kind he is being, Bumble lets Dick make a request.

The innocent child says that before he dies, he would like someone to write for him a message to Oliver Twist, conveying his love and good wishes. Bumble is scandalized; this is a matter for the illustrious board: "That out-dacious Oliver had demogalized them all!" The heretic is instantly rushed to the coal cellar.

In London, Bumble finishes dinner at his inn and then looks at a newspaper. The first item to meet his eye is an advertisement inserted by Mr. Brownlow offering five guineas for information about Oliver Twist. Shortly thereafter, Bumble is announced at the Pentonville residence.

Bumble finds Grimwig in Mr. Brownlow's company. Bumble is requested to tell what he knows about Oliver. There follows a wordy speech about low-class origins and immoral behavior, supported by papers that the narrator shows to Mr. Brownlow.

Oliver's generous protector is deeply hurt by Bumble's communication but believes it without reservation. The promised reward is duly paid, after which Mrs. Bedwin is summoned. Her employer forbids her ever to mention Oliver's name again, but the uncommonly intelligent housekeeper cannot be shaken from her conviction that Oliver is a wholly good child.

In his desolation, Oliver is spared the pangs of knowing that also at Mr. Brownlow's there is sadness this night.

Analysis

This transitional chapter serves to preserve a tie between London, the present main scene of action, and the town where Oliver spent his first miserable years. Bumble's damaging report about Oliver further darkens the boy's prospects, for there now is apparently no one in outside society who might be interested in protecting him from being held captive by the criminals. Mr. Brownlow is, perhaps, too eager to believe the circumstantial evidence against Oliver, but his trusting nature is what originally caused him to place confidence in Oliver.

Bumble continues to mangle the language, and there is pronounced irony in his complaint that "all public characters . . . must suffer prosecution." It can also be seen how Dickens's satire loses its force when grossly overdone, as when Bumble explains, "We put the sick paupers into open carts in the rainy weather, to prevent their taking cold." This is so bizarre that, even coming from Bumble, it does not transmit conviction.

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