Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The board and the beadle decide that they will try to send Oliver to sea, to apprentice him to a captain on a ship. On his way back to the workhouse, the beadle encounters Mr. Sowerberry, a coffin-maker, who looks to collect money for recent coffins he has made for the workhouse, and who complains, to the beadle, that the workhouse pays him very little for his coffins. The beadle replies that the pay is small because the coffins, and the people that go inside them from the house, are small.
Sowerberry, as evidenced here, also participates in the economy of poverty that surrounds the workhouse, but which benefits no one who actually lives in the workhouses. Sowerberry makes a profit manufacturing cheap coffins for the poor who die while in the workhouse—the coffins can be cheap because the bodies of the poor placed inside are so frail.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
Bumble asks Sowerberry if the latter knows of anyone needing an apprentice, and Sowerberry responds that he himself needs one. Sowerberry also compliments the beadle on his "button," a medal he received from the church of the Good Samaritan for healing a sick man. The beadle recalls that he first wore the medal to the official meeting wherein the death of a tradesman was investigated, and Sowerberry reminds the beadle, not without irony, that the tradesman died because he was locked out of the workhouse late at night, and froze to death just outside the door.
Another irony. Bumble has been given an award for his "Samaritanship," meaning his willingness to help others when they are in need, but of course Bumble cares not a jot for the needs of anyone but himself. Sowerberry points this out, subtly, to Bumble, who has difficulty taking the hint. Sowerberry, though a participant in the exploitative economy surrounding the workhouses, does seem more aware of the injustices this system creates.
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
The beadle brushes of Sowerberry's criticism aside and informs Oliver, while Sowerberry is meeting with the board, that Oliver will either go as apprentice to Sowerberry, or he'll be sent to sea, where surely he will drown. The board approves this apprenticeship. Later that evening, Oliver becomes quiet and frightened. As Bumble drags Oliver to meet Sowerberry and his wife at their home, Oliver begins to cry again, and the beadle starts to yell at Oliver. But Oliver pleads that he is merely lonely at the workhouse and afraid of what will become of him. The beadle, confused by Oliver's emotion, allows Oliver to collect himself, then continues dragging him to Sowerberry.
Here, again, Bumble's lack of concern for others shows. Bumble has no idea why Oliver might be crying—why Oliver might be afraid to be taken out of the only home he has ever known (and a terrible home at that), to be placed in the house of a strange family, and to be forced to work a terrifying trade from a young age. Bumble appears, for a moment, to sympathize with Oliver here, but just as quickly drags Oliver along to Sowerberry—Bumble is incapable actually of changing his attitude toward the poor.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
Mrs. Sowerberry remarks that Oliver is very small and thin, when he is dropped off at their house by the beadle. She offers Oliver small bits of meat that their dog wouldn't eat, and Oliver eats them down in the basement. Mrs. Sowerberry then shows Oliver upstairs, to the attic containing the coffins, where Oliver is to sleep.
Mrs. Sowerberry believes she is doing Oliver a good deed by giving him any meat at all, even if this meat is of such low quality that a dog won't eat it. No one seems to think that Oliver might be terrified by the thought of sleeping among so many coffins, about to be placed in the ground.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
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