Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Because the parish determines that the workhouse does not have a woman in place to care for Oliver, he is "farmed" to a branch-workhouse three miles away, where he plays with twenty or so other young children. He is nursed "by hand," or with a bottle. The woman in charge of this branch-house, Mrs. Mann, spends most of the parish stipend on her own purchases, and leaves only a very small amount to feed the children, many of whom die of malnourishment. But the surgeon and the local beadle make sure not to investigate the branch-house's activities, which continues operating to the detriment of the children in it.
Although this "farming house" is supposed to exist to raise the children of deceased parents, it mainly serves to keep these children "out of the way." Many of the children die before they even reach adulthood, meaning that the state no longer has to look out for them or take care of them. Those children that do, almost by accident, survive to "grow up" will simply be placed in the workhouse, to labor alongside other paupers—and to be shelved, similarly, out of sight of the general populace.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
It is Oliver's ninth birthday, and Mr. Bumble, the beadle, or church official in charge of administering the Poor Laws in that region, has arrived to speak with Mrs. Mann about him. The beadle declares also, as an aside, that he gave Oliver his full name (he invented the first, and the last was the next alphabetically, after a previous boy named "Swubble"). After this, the beadle announces that Oliver, being aged nine, will have to leave the "farm" and return to the workhouse.
Oliver's iconic last name was invented by Bumble and assigned to him—much of the novel, indeed, will be a search for Oliver's origins, for his "true name." It should be noted, too, that conceptions of "adolescence," or teenage years, did not exist at this time, nor did child labor laws. From the age of nine, Oliver is expected to work like an adult.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
Although Oliver finds Mrs. Mann to be a cruel woman, he pretends that he has loved her and his time at the "farm." He goes with the beadle to the workhouse, and is brought before "the board," or the group of men that manage and administer the house. Oliver cries before them, out of nervousness, and they wonder why he would be crying. They tell Oliver he is to be assigned a trade: he will learn to pick "oakum," or hemp used for making ships, the next morning.
Some trades were reserved specifically for children, as they involved small, repetitive actions that would better be practiced by those with lots of time and small hands. The picking of oakum is one of these trades; and it is irrelevant whether or not Oliver agrees to this assignment—he has no choice in the matter.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
The narrator describes how the board regulates the amount of food those in the workhouse are allowed to eat; it is mostly water mixed with thin oatmeal, and many of the workers starve and die. An episode is then related: Oliver, after three months of near starvation, approaches the master in the dining hall and asks if he might have more oatmeal. The master is flabbergasted, and calls for the beadle, who brings Oliver before the board again.
An iconic scene in the novel. Oliver dares do what no one else does—this is an indication that Oliver possesses "heroic" qualities—that he is a beacon of virtue toward which other characters in the novel seem to gravitate. Oliver's decision to ask for more—to think that he might deserve more or that the world might be willing to give him more—precipitates his leaving the workhouse, and his journey through the world and into London.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
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One member of the board, a "man in a white waistcoat," remarks aloud, over and over, that he believes Oliver, a troublemaker, will eventually be hung. The beadle and the board decide to post a notice outside the workhouse: five pounds to anyone who will take on Oliver Twist as their apprentice.
This man in the white waistcoat will repeat his refrain, of "hanging for Oliver," numerous times. Of course, it is not Oliver but several of the criminals around him, namely Sikes and Fagin, who will be hanged later on.
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