Oliver Twist

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Oliver Twist Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Oliver spends the night, alone, among the coffins, and can barely sleep, he is so disturbed by the strange and macabre sight of the coffins laid out. Oliver is awoken the next morning by Noah Claypole, a boy only slightly older than him, who nevertheless begins ordering Oliver about. Charlotte, the Sowerberry's daughter, finds Noah's mistreatment of Oliver funny. Noah believes himself superior to Oliver because, though he is also poor, he knows his parents, who live close by—unlike Oliver, the orphan, who has never known his parents.
This section indicates the "naturalness" of certain hierarchies, which will always develop in societies, no matter how impoverished the circumstances. Noah is a boy of no means, but his family is alive, and his parents work trades—menial ones, but trades nonetheless. This makes Noah, in his own mind, superior to Oliver. Of course, there is a dramatic irony here, for it will be revealed, later, that Oliver is in fact the son of a gentleman, and of higher social station than anyone in the Sowerberry home.
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
City and Country Theme Icon
One night, after about a month of Oliver's apprenticeship, Sowerberry tells his wife that, because Oliver is an attractive young man with a "melancholic" disposition, he would make a good "mute," or a mourner brought along to accompany and "enhance" funeral parties.
These "mutes" help mourners to feel that their loved one was an important personage, one for whom many will come and pay respects. At the same time, the more people at a funeral, the more who know about Sowerberry's coffin-making services; it is an advertisement for the man's business.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
The beadle arrives soon thereafter, and tells Sowerberry that a woman in the parish has died, and is in need of a coffin and a funeral preparation. The beadle does not ask after Oliver, nor does he seem to remember that Oliver is even present at Sowerberry's. Sowerberry decides to take Oliver along with him to the house of the deceased woman.
How quickly Oliver is forgotten. Bumble seems only to care about Oliver when Oliver is making problems for him in the workhouse—otherwise, the poor, to the beadle, are nothing more than objects to be collected, managed, moved about, and profited from.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Oliver and Sowerberry find the house in squalid, impoverished condition. The husband of the deceased woman is afraid to have her in the ground, "where the worms can get her," and mourns her quick passing, of fever. The woman's mother asks when the funeral is to take place, and Sowerberry responds that it will be the next day. The beadle has sent to the house a small amount of food, to placate the family.
A harrowing scene, intended surely, by Dickens, to show the crushing horrors of poverty outside the workhouse. The woman has died simply for want of basic amenities, yet even in her death the family is being charged (to them) high rates just to bury the body and perform the last rites.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
City and Country Theme Icon
Get the entire Oliver Twist LitChart as a printable PDF.
Oliver twist.pdf.medium
Oliver walks with Sowerberry, the beadle, and four pallbearers the next day, at the woman's funeral; the casket is so light, with the woman's frail body, that the pallbearers more or less run to the grave, where they are kept waiting by a pastor busy with other funerals. The casket is buried atop numerous others in a shallow grave, and the ceremony is very brief.
A continuation of the harrowing scene above. To bury bodies more cheaply, the poor are placed in makeshift mass graves, some of which are then exposed by heavy rains. All this contributes to an atmosphere of horror and degradation for the poor.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
Sowerberry asks, after the funeral is over, whether Oliver minded being a "mute" mourner; Oliver says he does not like the job very much, but Sowerberry ensures he will get used to it. Oliver wonders how long it took Sowerberry to get used to this line of work.
At least Sowerberry shows some concern for Oliver—even if this concern ultimately derives from a business interest (Sowerberry believes Oliver's handsomeness will bring in more customers). Although Sowerberry is cruel to Oliver, he is the least cruel of the novel's early characters.
Themes
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon