Summary and Analysis
Because Fagin and Sikes trust Nancy, she is well informed regarding their crimes. In spite of her grudge against Fagin, she would not willingly be the instrument of his undoing. In her conversation with Rose, Nancy said nothing that could injure Sikes. Still, she is worried and distracted by the burden of her thoughts.
Fagin and his contemptuous colleague have no new projects working, so on Sunday night they are idle while Nancy frets. After eleven o'clock has struck, Nancy attempts casually to leave the room. With normal perversity, Sikes forbids her to go out. The girl becomes desperate and hysterical. Sikes detains her forcibly in another room until midnight, when she ceases to struggle.
The two men discuss Nancy's weird behavior until she re-enters the room. She is apparently subdued, so Sikes directs her to light (guide his way with a candle) Fagin down the stairs. Fagin whispers to her that if the "brute-beast" is too hard on her she can turn to him for protection. Fagin alludes to his power to destroy the man whom he hates.
Walking home, Fagin ponders the change in Nancy. He has for some time been led to believe that the girl has "wearied of the housebreaker's brutality" and has formed another attachment. Supported by Nancy's talent, such a man would be a valuable addition to Fagin's roster, he tells himself.
In Fagin's opinion, Sikes knows too much. In addition, Fagin's hatred of Sikes is worked up by the constant taunts he receives from Sikes. While Fagin was left alone in Sikes's apartment that evening, he reasoned that Nancy must know that if she takes up with another man, neither he nor she would ever be safe from the savage fury of Sikes. So Fagin conceived the plot of having Nancy be the executioner — perhaps with poison. At their parting, she had betrayed no emotion at Fagin's hint that Sikes might be eliminated.
So as he goes homeward, the cunning old rogue plans to have Nancy watched in order to discover where the new boyfriend he supposes her to have is now living. Once he knows, Fagin will have the power to force her to help him murder Sikes, "one of the chief ends to be attained."
The next morning, Fagin has a private consultation with Mr. Bolter, which begins when Fagin congratulates the novice upon his first day's accomplishment. Then Fagin assigns Noah the task of spying on one of their associates and bringing back full information about her activity.
For six nights Noah stands by in his carter's costume but receives no further instruction. But on Sunday, Fagin tells his agent that his target will surely go out, for her oppressor will be gone all night.
Fagin conducts Noah to the Three Cripples. Nancy is in the little room where the old man first saw Sowerberry's late companions. Barney disturbs the girl so that Noah can get a good look at her through the secret pane. When Nancy leaves, the "regular cunning sneak" keeps her in sight.
Nancy reaches London Bridge shortly before midnight. She crosses to the opposite side of the river, constantly under Noah's surveillance. She returns to the center of the structure and lingers there. Immediately after midnight, Rose arrives, accompanied by Brownlow. Nancy stops them from speaking just as a figure in rustic dress brushes past with a surly grumble. Nancy proposes to the last arrivals that they move down some steps at the south end of the bridge, where it will be safer to talk.
Aware of Nancy's intentions, Noah hastens on ahead and descends the stairs. The others come and stop short of the spy's place of concealment. Brownlow dislikes Nancy's arrangements, but she says in defense that she was afraid to speak in the open. "I have such a fear and dread upon me to-night that I can hardly stand," the poor girl moans, and she goes on to say that she has been afflicted by morbid thoughts and fancies all day.
Nancy explains why she was unable to go out last Sunday and confesses that she drugged Sikes in order to see Rose the first time. Brownlow tells Nancy that he wants the opportunity to force Monks to reveal Oliver's secret. If this plan of attack fails, the old gentleman solicits Nancy's aid in delivering up Fagin.
The girl staunchly refuses to betray any of those who have trusted and stood by her, causing Brownlow and Miss Maylie to promise that Fagin will not be molested without Nancy's consent if she will cooperate in snaring Monks. The girl agrees on the condition that Monks does not learn who the informer is.
Nancy details the location of the Three Cripples and points out how Monks can best be observed. Then she gives a description of the man. When she is about to mention that his neckerchief covers something, Brownlow interrupts with "A broad red mark, like a burn or scald?" The old gentleman tries to pass off his unintentional utterance with indifference, but Noah hears him mumble to himself: "It must be he!"
After Nancy finishes giving her information, Brownlow assures her that she can be conveyed to some haven in England or in a foreign land, completely beyond the reach of her old companions. But Nancy cannot be budged from her conviction that it is too late for her to look forward to anything but death. Again she refuses money, but asks instead for some personal trifle of Rose's.
After Rose and Mr. Brownlow leave, Nancy reclines on the cold steps and releases her tears of despair. Presently she climbs to the street. When Noah can come forth unseen, he races "away at his utmost speed."
By the stubborn survival of benevolent traits in Nancy, Dickens underscores his belief that human nature is basically good. In spite of her awful circumstances, she cannot take part in injuring Oliver, but neither will she turn against the amoral criminals who have placed their faith in her. The struggle to reconcile these conflicting demands has been torturing the girl. She has had her eyes opened to the vileness of her environment but feels inescapably caught in it.
The secret meeting on London Bridge is liberally peppered with the seasoning of melodrama: It takes place in the middle of a dark, misty night, down near the edge of the black waters. The participants are trailed and overheard by a crafty spy. Nancy has been bedeviled by premonitions of evil, accompanied by fantasies of death, coffins, and bloody shrouds. After the grim interview, the unfortunate girl receives a personal token from a person she could never hope to be, then she sinks down on the cruel stones.
On this occasion, Dickens uses a sign by which Brownlow is able to identify Monks as someone with whom he has had past dealings. The details of Monks's appearance described by Nancy may seem improbable unless you recall the moment in Chapter 39 when Nancy, unobserved, peered at Monks, "keen and searching, and full of purpose." Dickens never deceives his readers: he scatters an abundance of significant clues about that all gradually fit into an unbroken pattern. This dexterous technique can only be fully appreciated if the novel is closely studied a second time after the first reading.
A crisis has been reached in the contest between Fagin and Sikes. The pivotal decision is made by Fagin when he resolves to take steps to murder his hated colleague. The lines of conflict that constitute the plot are now beginning to come together rapidly. Monks's hatred for his brother Oliver has become tangled with the antagonism between Sikes and Fagin. And remember, Fagin is involved in both struggles.