Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back at Fagin's safehouse, Fagin yells at Oliver, calling him ungrateful, and to keep Oliver from running away again, Fagin goes on at length about the horrors of being hanged, hinting that, should Oliver betray Fagin and the boys, he will be executed. Oliver is terrified. Fagin has Oliver locked in a small room for days, to punish him for his intransigence.
Fagin has not threatened Oliver explicitly until this point in the novel. Fagin, essentially, implies that he has methods of framing Oliver, to send him to the gallows as a criminal—unless Oliver agrees to commit crimes. This paradox appears to trap and frighten Oliver.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Slowly, the Dodger and Bates begin visiting Oliver in the locked room, and Oliver shines the Dodger boots and does other small tasks for the boy; he is simply happy to have human company once again. The Dodger admits to Oliver that he, the other boys, Fagin, Nancy, Bet, and Sikes are all criminals and thieves—Oliver seems to have known this is the case, but is still horrified to hear the Dodger say it so blithely.
Oliver is, after all, a young boy, and though the Dodger and Bates are criminals, still Oliver longs for some company with boys his own age. Oliver can never be friends with the Dodger and Bates, but as the novel goes on, both boys—especially Bates—appear more human, more morally complex and vulnerable.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
The Dodger and Bates ask Oliver why he doesn't simply apprentice in the trade of thievery with Fagin, but Oliver says he doesn't want to do it, and wishes he were free to go. Charley says that, of course, Fagin is inclined not to let Oliver go. Oliver subtly gibes the two boys, who speak so highly of their criminal life, for leaving him to take punishment for the theft of Brownlow's kerchief, but Bates and the Dodger say it was necessary to avoid getting the whole crew in trouble.
Oliver questions, in this section, Bates' and the Dodger's ease with which they blamed their own theft of Brownlow's property on Oliver. Oliver wonders if these boys can really be his friends, since they are willing, at the drop of a hat, to incriminate Oliver and send him to prison. This is the attitude among the boys Fagin cultivates—a kind of competition preventing true comradeship.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
Bates and the Dodger sing the praises of the criminal lifestyle, and the Dodger tells Oliver that, if Oliver doesn't go around picking people's pockets, someone else will, and will gain the benefit thereof. At this point Fagin walks in with Bet and a new person, a man of eighteen named Tom Chitling, whom Oliver has not yet met. Fagin and Chitling both hint that Chitling has been in prison for over a month, but Oliver does not understand their implications. After eating together, they all go to sleep.
Although Chitling is a good deal older than the other boys, he is not particularly bright, as evidenced later. It is implied that perhaps Chitling went to prison in the first place because he was unable to wrangle himself out of a dicey legal situation. Fagin likes Chitling because he is dependable, as a thief; but Fagin depends more on the street-smarts of the Dodger and Bates.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
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For the next several weeks, Fagin surrounds Oliver with Bates and the Dodger, hoping they can convince Oliver to give in to a life of thieving. Fagin has kept Oliver away from others, locked in his room, in order to insure that Oliver "prefers any company" to his solitude, hoping this will make Oliver more amenable to living a life of crime with the other boys.
One of the great questions of the novel, then, is whether Oliver will be corrupted by the other boys. Although Fagin seems to think it's possible, readers of Dickens know that Oliver's virtue cannot be destroyed; Oliver would sooner die than lose his virtue.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
City and Country Theme Icon