Summary and Analysis
Oliver is disappointed to note that the portrait has been removed from the wall; it was done to spare him further agitation, Mrs. Bedwin says. The boy now spends happy days in clean, calm, and orderly surroundings, such as he has never before known. Mr. Brownlow outfits him with his first new suit, and Oliver throws away all his old rags.
One evening, Brownlow summons Oliver to his study and requests a faithful account of the boy's life. Just as Oliver is about to begin, he is hindered by a visitor, Brownlow's friend Mr. Grimwig. This loud, outspoken gentleman has cultivated an aggressive pose. His special appeal to distinction is the declaration, "I'll eat my head"; this is sometimes abbreviated to a thump of his heavy stick.
The interview with Oliver is deferred until the next day. Grimwig attempts to demolish his friend's good opinion of the boy, but Brownlow's trust remains unshaken.
A parcel of books arrives from the stall where Mr. Brownlow was robbed. He is anxious to return some books and to pay his bill, but efforts to recall the messenger fail. Brownlow then consents to test Oliver's honesty by sending him on the errand. Grimwig maintains that Oliver, with "a new suit of clothes on his back, a set of valuable books under his arm, and a five-pound note in his pocket," will rejoin the thieves instead of returning.
Oliver is expected back in twenty minutes, and the two friends sit gazing at Brownlow's watch. When it becomes too dark to read the dial, they are still waiting.
In a sleazy pub, Bill Sikes is alone with his hideous dog in a room where daylight never penetrates. A fracas between master and beast is interrupted by the entrance of Fagin. Fagin is reminded that his security depends upon protecting Sikes, who threatens: "If I go, you go; so take care of me." Fagin has had their plunder melted and pays Sikes his share in coin.
A younger man brings in refreshments. The waiter reports that Nancy is on the premises, and Sikes sends for her. Later, the girl and Sikes leave together.
Meanwhile, Oliver is in a contented mood as he proceeds toward the book stall. He takes a wrong turn and is halfway down a side street before realizing his error. Suddenly a young woman wraps her arms around his neck, screaming, "Oh, my dear brother." It is Nancy, who cries out to people in the vicinity that her younger brother had left home to take up evil ways. Sikes and his dog emerge from a beer tavern to join the commotion. The man pounds Oliver on the head with the books that he was carrying while the bystanders shout their approval. The frail boy is quickly overpowered and helplessly dragged away by his captors.
During this time, Mrs. Bedwin is waiting anxiously, and the two old gentlemen maintain their vigil in the dark parlor.
Oliver is pushed along between Nancy and Sikes. The man promises that the dog, Bull's-eye, will attack the boy if he calls for aid. The night is so dark and foggy that Oliver has no idea where they are. As a church bell strikes eight, Nancy speaks in pity of the condemned men who will go to the gallows the next time eight o'clock is struck.
The trio stop before a ruined house in a narrow street; they are admitted with elaborate caution by John Dawkins. Seeing Oliver in his respectable garments, Fagin and Bates greet him with ridicule and mockery, while The Artful Dodger searches his pockets. Fagin and Sikes quarrel over the five-pound note, which Sikes snatches out of the old man's hands.
Oliver begs to have the books sent back to Mr. Brownlow. When it is gleefully conceded that he will be held guilty of deliberate theft, the boy makes a frantic attempt to escape. Nancy slams the door to protect Oliver from the vicious dog. When Fagin starts to beat the recaptured boy, Nancy grasps his club and flings it into the fire.
The aroused girl then turns on Fagin with incurable anger. She declares vehemently that if Fagin harms the boy, she will be hanged in order to even the score with him; she cries out all of her grievances against Fagin for making her what she is. Even Sikes cannot stem Nancy's hysterical fury. When she is about to attack Fagin, Sikes catches her wrists and she faints.
Oliver's clothes are taken from him and replaced by the tattered remnants he formerly wore. Fagin had seen the old suit in the hands of the dealer who purchased them, thereby gaining a clue to the boy's exact whereabouts. Oliver sleeps in a locked room.
Oliver's return to the clutches of Fagin before he even has a chance to recount his life's history to Mr. Brownlow is brought about by a series of accidents. First, Mr. Grimwig bursts in before Oliver manages to utter a word. Then, "as fate would have it," the bookseller's delivery boy comes unexpectedly and leaves before Mr. Brownlow can transact his business with the boy. On his way to the bookstall, Oliver accidentally turns down a side street and falls into the hands of Fagin's agents. Probability is not severely strained by this series of coincidences. Since a net was being set for the unwary boy by accomplished evildoers, it was inevitable that he should soon be trapped.
Brownlow's friend, Mr. Grimwig, is another minor character labeled with an idiosyncrasy. Grimwig is on a higher social and intellectual plane than Bumble, so his oral quirk is evidently a deliberate invention, in contrast to Bumble's pretensions and blunders. In sketching Grimwig, Dickens uses the authorial privilege of confiding directly to the reader what he knows about the character's personality. This assumption of an omniscient viewpoint that can examine a character's innermost thoughts and feelings is an economical way of revealing a minor figure.
The most convincing character delineation is one that gradually evolves with the story. Rather than by Dickens's unsupported assertion, the reader is more likely to be persuaded by a portrayal that is presented through what a character does, what he says, and what other characters say about him. We cannot help being impressed by Sikes's speaking favorably about Nancy on several occasions, for he is such a callous brute that we expect him never to speak well of anyone. Evidence that Nancy feels compassion for unfortunates is found in her being moved to tender pity for the convicts spending their last night in condemned cells while she and Sikes are engaged in the grim business of kidnapping. This sympathy is confirmed by her spirited and brave defense of Oliver against harm from Fagin.
Far from leading lives of bold adventure, the criminals exist under an oppressive weight of fear and peril. The danger from the authorities is no greater than the potential for violence and betrayal from one another. Fagin does not shrink from tricking into the hands of the hangman those who might do the same to him. Sikes makes it clear to Fagin that he will betray his hoary partner if his own life should be forfeited. To protect Oliver from injury by Fagin, Nancy's first impulse is to scream her readiness to face the gallows with the rest of them if Fagin does not desist. And Nancy is noted for her loyalty and dependability. Thus they all share the same atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion.