Summary and Analysis
The day after Oliver's return to the thieves' den, Fagin scolds the boy for his ingratitude to those who had helped him. Fagin makes it plain that such conduct may oblige him to betray the offender into the hands of the hangman. Oliver is given time to ponder the theme of Fagin's sermon when he is locked up by himself from early morning until late at night.
After about a week, Oliver is allowed the run of the house while the other occupants are away. He wanders through the gloomy rooms that display signs of past elegance, but everything is now deteriorated from neglect and decay. All of the shutters are securely fastened except on one garret window that is barred. From this vantage point, Oliver can catch a glimpse of the ugly surroundings.
One afternoon, Bates and the Dodger remain in the house, and Dawkins grants Oliver the privilege of polishing his boots. While this operation is going on, the Dodger chides Oliver for not joining in their "trade," but Oliver declines. "I don't like it. . . . I — I — would rather go." He realizes, however, that it is unsafe to speak too freely, and Bates points out that Fagin does not agree with Oliver's sentiments.
Yet Oliver can't refrain from reminding his companions of their readiness to abandon another to suffer for a crime they committed. The others coolly explain that it was provident to take advantage of the situation to save themselves. The two predict that Oliver will eventually have to yield, and they advise him to curry Fagin's favor by learning from him.
Fagin, coming in just at this moment, overhears the last remarks and heartily endorses them. He is accompanied by Betsy and a shabby youth named Tom Chitling, who has just completed a six-week jail sentence, during which time he has developed a colossal thirst.
For Oliver's benefit, the conversation reverts to the earlier topics. These are "the greater advantages of the trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, the amiability of Charley Bates, and the liberality of the Jew himself."
Oliver's solitary detention is ended. From this point, someone is usually with him. Fagin tells stories of his criminal exploits, coloring them with diverting humor. Weakened by isolation, Oliver is open to any human influence; the boy is being outwitted by the old scoundrel.
On a foul, wet night, Fagin leaves his hideout and unhesitatingly threads his way through a labyrinth of mean streets. The grimy surroundings are consonant with Fagin's presence. His destination is Sikes's quarters, where he also finds Nancy. When Fagin hesitates to drink the brandy offered to him, Sikes gulps down a glassful to demonstrate that the liquor is not poisoned.
The old man has come to discuss a proposed burglary in Chertsey. Sikes asserts that it cannot be accomplished. For weeks the resourceful Toby Crackit has been trying to lay the groundwork by corrupting the servants. But the loyalty of both the men and the women is firm. This unexpected obstacle discourages the partners.
Sikes has a plan but refuses to unfold it, wary of Fagin's potential for betrayal and double dealing. Essential to the enterprise are the services of a small boy. Fagin tries to send Nancy from the room, but she spurns his ruse, having already anticipated that Fagin will propose Oliver. Sikes is doubtful at first, but Nancy recommends that Oliver be employed.
Fagin is enthusiastic over the advantages. If Oliver becomes implicated in one crime, he will be resigned to a lawless existence, which in turn will remove the danger of his again escaping, with likely fatal consequences for the gang. This method of silencing the boy is much preferable to eliminating him.
The burglary is to be staged two nights later. It is arranged for Nancy to bring Oliver to Sikes the following night, and the boy is to be wholly under his control. The housebreaker then adjourns the conference by drinking himself into a stupor.
Fagin goes out, satisfied that Nancy can be trusted, in spite of her obvious favoritism for Oliver. When Fagin arrives at his quarters, he intends to speak to Oliver at once, but he refrains when he finds the careworn child asleep.
This section brings Oliver to a stage of acute crisis. He lacks the strength and ingenuity to help himself and can evidently expect no relief from external sources. Fagin knows that a course of physical constraint and psychological duress will break the boy's resistance to becoming his tool. Oliver's naturally trusting nature is a liability to him in the uneven contest.
Accordingly, Fagin first works on the boy's fears by graphically representing to him that failure to conform will put the noose around his neck. A period of solitary confinement makes the boy inclined to be liked and do anything at any price. Then he is subjected to propaganda extolling the life of a thief, while all contradictory influences have been extinguished. The process of indoctrination is approaching its designed goal.
The opportunity to trap Oliver in a life of crime presents itself in the shape of the Chertsey operation. In spite of her kindly feelings toward the boy, Nancy does not object to Oliver's being used in the burglary; in fact, she anticipates what Fagin will propose. Nancy's willingness is not unnatural, for although she cannot bear to see the gentle child abused, she views him as one entering her way of life. Nancy has absorbed the outlook of her surroundings and calmly regards "the trade" as a means of livelihood.