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 tells Rose and Brownlow, 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.
Coffins Quotes in Oliver Twist
The Oliver Twist quotes below all refer to the symbol of Coffins. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Oliver Twist published in 2002.).
Chapter 4 Quotes
Then come with me . . . your bed's under the counter You don't mind sleeping among the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn't much matter whether you do or don't, for you can't sleep anywhere else. Come . . . !
Coffins Symbol Timeline in Oliver Twist
The timeline below shows where the symbol Coffins appears in Oliver Twist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...a "mute," and because it's a time of year when sickness is more prevalent, the coffin trade increases, and Oliver attends more funerals. Oliver notes that many mourners—including people who have... (full context)
Sowerberry beats Oliver to Bumble's and Mrs. Sowerberry's satisfaction, then has him sleep in the coffin workshop alone. That night, Oliver realizes how alone he is in the world, and resolves... (full context)
...go to Sowerberry's to make arrangements for Old Sally's funeral. When he arrives at the coffin-maker's house, Bumble walks in on Noah Claypole and Charlotte flirting, kissing one another, and having... (full context)
...Oliver caused; the strange man says, among other things, "He'd start up from a marble coffin, to come in my way!" Oliver is perturbed by this man's behavior, but continues running... (full context)