Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 39-41

Summary

In the evening after Monks had his meeting with the Bumbles, Sikes wakes up from a nap in his usual vicious temper. He is living in slum-like rooms near his former home. He is marked by the ravages of illness compounded with extreme poverty. Nancy is present, and she is "pale and reduced with watching and privation." Anyway, Sikes has recovered enough strength to abuse his only friend. The girl protests that this hard treatment is a poor return for the patient care that she has given. Then she faints from exhaustion.

At that moment, Fagin comes in with The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates. The combined help of all present restore Nancy to her senses. The newcomers have brought an abundance of food and drink. Nevertheless, Sikes complains spitefully at having been neglected during three weeks of sickness. Fagin protests that he has been out of town for a week and hindered from coming during the rest of the time.

Sikes demands five pounds but is obliged to settle for less. He will trust only Nancy to deliver the money, so the entire company except Sikes leave. At Fagin's residence, they find Crackit and Chitling. Toby goes off with the money he won from Chitling, and being nudged to action by Fagin, the boys also leave.

As Fagin is about to get the money for Sikes, he is stopped by the sound of a voice. Unobserved by the old man, Nancy snatches off her shawl and bonnet and shoves them under the table. Fagin remarks that it is a man he expects, who proves to be Monks. Nancy acts strangely and does not budge from the table, so Fagin takes his visitor to another part of the house.

The instant they leave, Nancy goes to the door and then also climbs the stairs. Fifteen minutes later, she comes back. When Fagin re-enters the room alone, the girl is apparently ready to be off, and he gives her the money.

Nancy is highly distraught. Outside, she first starts in a direction opposite from the way to Sike's place. Then, in tears, she turns back and hastens to Sikes with the money.

The next day, Sikes does not at first notice that Nancy has "the abstracted and nervous manner of one who is on the eve of some bold and hazardous step." But in the evening, while he is guzzling his gin toddies, the man comments on her strange appearance, finally concluding that she is getting the fever. When Sikes asks for his medicine, Nancy turns her back to pour it. After an interval of restlessness, the sick man sinks into a sound sleep. Leaving the bedside, Nancy notes that the opium has taken effect.

Nancy quickly gets ready, kisses Bill, and bolts from the house. It is almost ten o'clock as the girl begins a mad dash through the London streets. An hour later, she stops at a family hotel in Hyde Park. She asks to see Miss Maylie but is barred by the servants. After some delay, Nancy gets a message through to Rose, imploring an interview. Rose responds by having the bedraggled girl shown upstairs to wait in an anteroom.

Nancy mobilizes her pride to meet Rose Maylie but breaks down when she is received with kindness. After confessing that she waylaid Oliver and then delivering some insight into her shocking history, Nancy declares that she would surely be murdered if her present action were known. Then Nancy asks Rose if she knows Monks. Rose says, "No," but her visitor replies, "He knows you." Nancy explains that she learned of Rose's location by overhearing it from the man who calls himself Monks.

Nancy goes on to tell how she eavesdropped on Fagin and Monks. Monks offered a sum if Oliver were recovered and more if Fagin made a thief out of him. Monks's motives were not mentioned before the girl's shadow on the wall alarmed him. Then just last night, Nancy listened to the conspirators again. Monks stated that all traces of the boy's identity were eliminated and Monks has his money. However, he would prefer to have the lad suffer all of the indignities of imprisonment and worse. Monks announced his determination relentlessly to persecute the butt of his hatred — his brother Oliver. Nancy also heard Monks say that Mrs. Maylie and her niece would give a fortune to know who Oliver is. Then Nancy announces that she must be on her way.

Rose wants to know what steps she can take, and Nancy's only suggestion is to seek the advice of some trustworthy gentleman. The girl insists that she must return to her associates at all costs, although Rose repeatedly offers her protection and assistance. But Nancy rejects every overture, arguing that it is too late for her to turn back to a better life. She is fully aware that Sikes is a violent criminal who may yet kill her, but she is irresistibly drawn to the only person who ever filled the void in her existence.

In case she should be sought, Nancy promises to walk on London Bridge every Sunday night from eleven o'clock until midnight. There she will meet Rose and whomever Miss Maylie elects to take into her confidence. Refusing even a gift of money, Nancy starts back for her dreary lodgings with Sikes. Rose is left emotionally exhausted.

Rose and her aunt expect to be in London two more days. She is perplexed over the selection of someone to whom she can entrust Nancy's information. There are objections to all of the persons available to her. The next day, Rose gives in to the necessity of consulting Harry, but beginning a letter to him is a painful step.

Her efforts are interrupted by the entrance of Oliver, unusually excited. He reports that as he was out walking with Giles, he saw Mr. Brownlow enter a house. Giles learned that it was the gentleman's house and secured the address. Rose sees a way out of her quandary and immediately determines to take Oliver to Brownlow.

Rose goes in alone to see Brownlow and finds him with Grimwig. The young lady announces that she has knowledge of Oliver Twist. Grimwig is severely disturbed. Brownlow eagerly listens to Rose's report of all that has happened to Oliver since the gentlemen last saw him, without divulging Nancy's discoveries. In reply to Brownlow's inquiry, Rose admits that Oliver is waiting outside. The old gentleman dashes out of the house and into the coach. Brownlow brings the boy into the room and Grimwig greets him cordially. The reunion between Oliver and Mrs. Bedwin is a joyous one.

Rose privately confers with Brownlow about Nancy's disclosures. He volunteers to tell Mr. Losberne that evening and advises that Mrs. Maylie be quietly informed.

When the doctor learns of the developments, he becomes characteristically carried away with indignation. Brownlow pacifies him and argues the advantages of discretion. To set the law on the gang would not benefit Oliver. Brownlow believes it is essential to trap Monks alone. In order to find out from Nancy how they can get at the villain, it is necessary to wait calmly until next Sunday. Brownlow recommends that nothing be done until then, and that Oliver not be told about the turn of events.

Brownlow's proposals are accepted. He requests that Grimwig be admitted to their proceedings; and Mr. Losberne agrees on the condition that Harry Maylie also be included. With these provisions settled, Mrs. Maylie announces her intention to spare no time or expense in helping Oliver.

Mr. Brownlow ends the meeting by telling of his wish to remain silent for a time about his abrupt departure from the country.

Analysis

The meeting of Nancy and Rose — a specimen of pure goodness confronting a tattered emissary from the camp of evil — is one of the big dramatic scenes of the book. Dickens successfully keeps himself out of the narrative, although some of Nancy's high-flown discourse sounds more like Dickens talking than one of Fagin's pupils. Nancy at first assumes a defiant attitude, but that is thawed by the warmth of Miss Maylie's benevolence, reminding us once more of the power of Miss Maylie's goodheartedness.

The groundwork leading up to this scene has been carefully prepared by means of ingenious foreshadowing. Nancy's daring action explains the many oddities of her behavior during the preceding thirty hours. We know now that she concealed her bonnet and shawl while Monks was in the room because it was her shadow on the wall that interrupted his earlier conference with Fagin. We further realize that when the door seemingly closed of its own accord in Chapter 26, Nancy was slipping into the darkened house. Her extreme distraction after overhearing the second exchange between the two plotters was the consequence of her shocking discovery that Monks's grim exertions are directed toward the destruction of his own little brother.

The unraveling progresses, with a considerable amount of surface detail laid bare. Even so, only details that Dickens has let the reader in on are set out, leaving the underlying causes as murky as ever. Suspense is not diminished, but rather increased, owing to the lack of reasons that could rationally account for the baffling relationships among the characters. Moreover, Mr. Brownlow's secrecy about his activities has stirred up a new current of mystery.

It is worth noticing how subtly Dickens treats Oliver's reunion with Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin. We are allowed to witness the tender reception of Oliver by the old housekeeper. But the meeting between man and boy is neither shown nor alluded to; the reader is encouraged to apply his imagination in this instance. Dickens probably recognized that two successive scenes of similar emotional content would be excessive, so he made a shrewd choice.

In this section, there is a re-emphasis on the dismal character of the criminal's life style. Chapter 39 shows us Sikes and Nancy subjected to the normal conditions of their existence: disease, lack of money, and filthy living conditions. Worse than these are the barriers that divide them from all humanity. Alienated from the world at large, they are further separated from each other by mutual fear and distrust. At the same time, escape from the life they lead is virtually impossible, for they are all tangled in the same web of depending on one another.

This state of siege from without and hostility within has nurtured the rather implausible alliance between Sikes and Nancy. Bill is a thorough realist and carries his role to its logical conclusion. He is frank in his contempt for all human life, including his own, and he refuses to pretend otherwise. He does believe, however, that Nancy is one person whom he can actually trust. This confidence even betrays him into expressions of grudging esteem for the girl on several occasions. Because of their relationship, Nancy clings to Sikes. He is the only individual who approaches fulfilling an insistent human need.

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