Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapter 50

Summary

On the south side of the Thames, in the grungiest district on the river, there is an inlet with an island — Jacob's Island. At high tide, Jacob's Island is surrounded by the muddy water of Folly Ditch. On the island are crumbling warehouses and abandoned dwellings. The whole area is disfigured by "every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage." The houses become havens for the needy and desperate. Think of these people as the Victorian equivalent of homeless wanderers and street people.

In the upper room of one of these larger ruined dwellings, three persons are gathered, in evident anxiety. They are Toby Crackit, Chitling, and Kags, a middle-aged convict who has sneaked back into England (after having been "transported" to a penal colony). Crackit has chosen this hideout as a last resort.

Chitling now describes the disasters that the gang has experienced: Fagin was arrested, Noah Claypole was taken at the same time, while Chitling and Bates made their escape. When Betsy had gone to identify Nancy's battered body, the sight drove her out of her wits. She was taken to a hospital in a straitjacket.

Kags predicts that Fagin, as an accessory before the fact, may be tried and hanged within six days. Chitling describes how a crowd of people battled with the police to get at Fagin. The officers had to form a cordon around the battered old man to rescue him from the fury of the mob.

Sikes's dog comes into the room. The animal is grimy and spent from running. The fugitives are apprehensive, thinking Sikes cannot be too far behind the dog. They hopefully conclude that he has left the country, leaving the dog behind.

After dark, the three huddle together, shaken by the "terrible events of the last two days." When a knock at the door is heard, the dog's eager whine assures them it is not Bates. Reluctantly, they admit a muffled figure; it is "the very ghost of Sikes." The atmosphere is strained and conversation forced.

When Charley Bates arrives, he shrinks from Sikes with the cry, "You monster!" With no thought of the possible consequences, Charley is determined to give Sikes up to the police. He begins to call for help. Charley then attacks Sikes, and the two struggle fiercely. Crackit pulls Sikes off the boy at the sounds of great commotion outside.

As officers begin pounding on the door, Bates shouts at them from within to break it down. Sikes seizes the boy and locks him in a vacant room. The others assure Sikes that the lower door and windows are strong and well secured. Sikes goes to a window and yells defiance at the huge, wrathful crowd. He then demands a rope so that he can attempt to escape by dropping into Folly Ditch, at the back of the house.

Except for a small enclosure in the room where Bates is confined, all windows at the back of the building have been bricked up. The boy keeps calling through the opening that the rear should be watched. His cries are heard, and the people come surging around to the back.

Sikes climbs to the roof and looks over the edge; the tide is out and there is no water in the ditch. The growing crowd cheers over the frustration of the killer's obvious intention. An old gentleman proclaims an award of fifty pounds to whoever takes Sikes alive. The house is broken into from the front, and there is a frantic rush of spectators back to that side.

Sikes determines to lower himself from the house top, gambling on the chance of getting away under the protection of darkness and confusion. He ties one end of the rope around a chimney and, holding his knife, is about to put his arms through the loop he has made. At that instant, he glances behind him and screeches, "The eyes again!" He loses his balance with the noose around his neck; a drop of thirty-five feet relieves the hangman of his task.

Bates, seeing the body swinging past the small window, calls to be released. Sikes's dog, which has been hiding on the roof, jumps for its master's shoulders but misses and is killed on a stone in the ditch below.

Analysis

The tempo of the narrative continues to increase as the novel rushes to a conclusion. A high state of excitement is set in motion by the rapid succession of stirring events. As a counterpoint, the reader is conscious of important activities, happening at the same time in various places.

In the rejection of Sikes by his former comrades, we see another example of how totally the thief-turned-murderer is disowned. He is now outside the concern of his own kind. By killing Nancy, he has severed the bond of mutual interest. The unanimous clamor of the crowd for retribution further proclaims universal condemnation of the taking of any human life.

The setting for the final performance of Sikes's violent career is appropriate. There is wry irony in his defiant yell to the crowd: "I'll cheat you yet!" A melodramatic peak is reached as the bloodthirsty mob roars and shrieks at the fugitive trapped on the roof of the dilapidated building. The apparition of Nancy's accusing eyes, causing Sykes to slip and plunge to his death, fulfills some traditional concepts of "poetic justice." The gruesome death of Sykes's dog then pushes melodrama into the region of the absurd.

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