Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Oliver decides to walk to London, which is about seventy miles away. He is five miles outside the town, but he hides during the morning hours in case someone might be sent to find him and bring him back. He has only a "crust of bread," a penny, and a change of clothes, and he walks another four miles, wondering whether he will make it to the big city at all.
This is one of the most arduous tasks Oliver must accomplish in the novel. It is not an easy walk for anyone, and Oliver is a small, undernourished boy. Dickens here shows the extent of Oliver's resolve and courage: his willingness to risk his life in order to escape his circumstances.
Themes
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Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
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On the first day Oliver walks twenty miles and sleeps under a pile of hay; the next morning, he exchanges the penny for another loaf of bread. In the towns he passes through, Oliver attempts to get a ride in others' coaches, but they do not admit him, and he often sees billboards stating that beggars will be arrested and prosecuted (as it was illegal to beg, and to travel as a pauper; the poor were supposed to report only to their local workhouses for relief).
One of the additional savageries of the Poor Laws in England was the fact that paupers, as the poor were known, were not permitted to leave the place in which they were born. That is, paupers had only one option: the poorhouse, which was no option at all. Oliver has forgone this "option," and therefore is, technically, a criminal, in the eyes of Victorian law.
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
Oliver continues walking for days. He encounters a roadworker and his wife, who give him bread and cheese—enough to keep him alive. Oliver is thankful for their kindness and continues on. On the seventh day, in the town of Barnet, Oliver comes upon a young boy who asks him what's the matter. The boy is dressed in the manner of a young gentleman, though he is very small, and he speaks to Oliver in a slang Oliver does not understand. But he says he will help Oliver to get food. Oliver agrees readily, as he is nearly starved.
This couple, the roadworker and his wife, play a very small part in the novel, but they help Oliver a great deal—without their aid, Oliver might have perished on the way to the great city of London. Dickens, and the narrator, appear to have a large amount of sympathy for this couple—it should be noted that it was also illegal to help the poor to flee the region of their birth, as this couple does.
Themes
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Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
City and Country Theme Icon
The strange boy purchases ham and bread from a shopkeeper, and takes Oliver to a pub, where Oliver eats ravenously. The boy asks Oliver whether he is heading to London, and if he needs shelter; Oliver says yes to both. The boy introduces himself as Jack Dawkins, and says that he lives with a "kind old gentleman" who will be able to provide Oliver shelter. Dawkins says his nickname is the Artful Dodger.
The narrator introduces one of Dickens' most famous characters, across all his novels. The Artful Dodger is not much older than Oliver, and not much larger, but is impossibly wise in the "ways of the world." The Dodger has been educated in the streets of London, and he speaks a language so full of slang it is sometimes difficult for Oliver to understand.
Themes
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Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
City and Country Theme Icon
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Oliver distrusts some aspects of the Dodger's bearing—he senses that the Dodger might be using him for some kind of trick—but resolves to go with him into London, to see about the "old gentleman," and from there to decide on the best course of action. The pair make their way, in the evening, into London, a distance of several more miles, and go through a series of increasingly impoverished neighborhoods, until they reach an apartment building, where the Dodger provides a password to another young boy and asks if Fagin is home. The other young boy says yes, and Oliver and the Dodger enter the building.
It is hard to piece through the Dodger's motives. Of course he brings Oliver to Fagin because Fagin is always on the look-out for other boys to bring into the fold—small boys who won't be considered "marks" or thieves. But the Dodger also seems to take a liking to Oliver, and he wants, in however small a way, to help him, in the way that the Dodger was helped when he arrived in the city. The Dodger is still a largely immoral character, but he is not without his humanity.
Themes
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Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
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Oliver walks into the dirty, grimy apartment, and is introduced by the Dodger to Fagin, a Jewish man described (with great prejudice) by the narrator as being small, shriveled, and evil-looking. There are "four or five" other boys in the room, and they appear to work for Fagin. The boys cook sausages for Oliver, who eats them hungrily, and Fagin mixes Oliver a hot gin and water to help him sleep, which Oliver does almost immediately, as he is exhausted from his journey.
Dickens' anti-Semitism in this section deserves a mention. In Victorian England, it was common in popular culture to attribute shockingly "evil" characteristics to Jewish people. These representations go back to the Middle Ages, and though they should not by any means be excused or ignored in Dickens, they are a product of the time and the dominant culture in which, and to which, Dickens was writing.
Themes
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
City and Country Theme Icon