Coffins crop up repeatedly in the novel, and symbolize not only the proximity of death throughout Oliver Twist
, but the very real possibility that Oliver
himself will not live long enough to realize his high birth and receive his due inheritance. Oliver is apprenticed, first, to Sowerberry
, a coffin-maker, and is forced to sleep among the coffins while in the house. Oliver is made to witness numerous burials while working as a "mute" mourner for Sowerberry—someone brought along to enlarge the size of a funeral party. Other characters in the novel, too, use coffins in their figures of speech: Monks
, on seeing Oliver in the town of Chertsey, while Oliver is delivering a letter, utters an oath involving the word, and Nancy
, later, that the only home she will ever know is the final home provided by a coffin. Indeed, the novel ends with a bittersweet image of a tomb for Agnes
, Oliver's unwed mother, in the local church near where Oliver settles; this tomb has no coffin, symbolizing the fact that, though Agnes was a good women, she committed a crime against God by having a child out of wedlock, and her body was not buried with the rest of the family but rather interred in a shallow grave near the workhouse. Thus Oliver manages, at the end of the novel, to avoid the grisly fate, the waiting coffin, reserved for others—Nancy and his mother among them.