Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator justifies, in the beginning of this chapter, the novel's tendency to move from "serious" or tragic to "unserious" or comic stories, back and forth. The narrator argues that these shifts in the story are indicative of the quick shifts between tragedy and comedy that occur in real life. The narrator then moves on to describe Bumble, who is paying a visit to Mrs. Mann at the workhouse.
Occasionally, the narrator will break into the action to justify the way in which he tells the story. Here, the narrator plays with the reader's expectations for the tone of a Victorian novel; Dickens, unlike some other writers of the time, believed that comedic and tragic elements could be blended in a novel, without making the novel wholly comic or tragic.
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Bumble has been charged with overseeing the transport of some paupers to London, where there will be a "settlement," or a return of these paupers to their originally registered location (since it was illegal in England, at this time, to travel if one was a pauper). Bumble then provides Mrs. Mann with her monthly stipend from the Anglican parish, and Mrs. Mann brings in Dick, Oliver's old friend from the workhouse, to speak with Bumble.
Another instance of Bumble's callousness. Bumble does not care at all if the paupers he is to take to London die en route. He cares only that he dispatches his job and gets paid for it. The paupers are nothing more than "objects" for him—something more akin to trash than to human beings.
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Dick, who fears that he is dying, tells Bumble that, when he does die, he would like to leave his "love" for Oliver, since he has no other earthly possessions to bequeath anyone. Bumble sends Dick away, and becomes angry, in front of Mrs. Mann, that Oliver has encouraged this kind of "worship" among his friends at the workhouse.
Bumble begins to realize the effect that Oliver has had on others in the workhouse, largely from Oliver's efforts to stand up to the kitchen staff and demand more gruel. Dick is an emblem of the love for Oliver which still exists, quite strongly, in Oliver's home village.
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Bumble, still agitated, travels to London on a cart with the paupers, and having deposited them in their rightful jurisdiction, he enters a pub, only to read in the paper a notice regarding Oliver, placed by Brownlow, and offering a five-guinea reward for any information regarding his location or life history. Bumble, excited at this development, immediately leaves the pub and seeks out Brownlow at his home.
Another of the novel's coincidences. It is hard to imagine it would be likely that Bumble would open the newspaper exactly to a notice regarding Oliver, the boy who has occupied his thoughts for some time—but Dickens needs these small coincidences to drive the plot of the novel.
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Bumble is admitted to Brownlow's parlor, where Brownlow and Grimwig are sitting. Brownlow asks Bumble to tell what he knows of Oliver's past life, and Bumble unspools a slander about Oliver, claiming that the boy has always been a "bad seed" and a rabble-rouser. Grimwig feels he has been corroborated in his fears of Oliver's badness, and Brownlow, sadly, tells Mrs. Bedwin that Oliver was an "imposter."
Bumble seems poised only to do wrong—here, he arrives at exactly the worst moment, for Oliver's sake, and tells a series of lies which, when heard by Grimwig and Brownlow, seem to play into the pair's worst fears: that Oliver was a liar and a cheat, and that he pretended to be good only to steal from Brownlow, when the opportunity arose.
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Mrs. Bedwin refuses to believe that Oliver is bad, but Grimwig is convinced, and Brownlow, with heavy heart, says he never wishes to hear any more about Oliver for as long as he lives. Bumble leaves, and there are "sad hearts" at the Brownlow home that night.
An important scene. Mrs. Bedwin, alone in Brownlow's house, cannot accept that Oliver is bad, because she feels she has seen into his soul, and has appreciated the goodness of his heart. Mrs. Bedwin will, of course, be vindicated in her belief.
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