Oliver Twist Chapter 4 Summary
"Oliver, Being Offered Another Place, Makes His First Entry into Public Life."
- The parish board decides to send Oliver to sea as a cabin boy; "the probability being, that the skipper would either flog him to death, in a playful mood, some day after dinner, or knock his brains out with an iron bar" (4.1). Sounds like a blast.
- On his way back from asking about possible places for Oliver on a ship, Mr. Bumble runs into Mr. Sowerberry, the parish’s undertaker and coffin-maker.
- After a brief (and macabre) discussion of how business is doing (apparently the thinness of the inmates at the workhouse mean that their coffins are smaller when they inevitably starve to death), Mr. Bumble asks Mr. Sowerberry if he knows anyone who might need an orphan as an apprentice.
- Mr. Sowerberry, as it turns out, needs an apprentice himself, and agrees to take Oliver starting that evening for a trial period – after which he could sign real legal indentures, if he should "find, upon a short trial, that he can get enough work out of the boy without putting too much food in him" (4.34).
- When Oliver is told that he’s heading to a coffin-maker’s, he accepts it with remarkably little emotion, not because he’s "a hardened rascal," as the board members declare, but because he is in danger of "being reduced to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness for life, by the ill usage he had received" (4.36). Poor Oliver.
- So then, when Mr. Bumble is taking Oliver to Mr. Sowerberry’s house, Oliver actually starts bawling and, before Mr. Bumble can smack him with his cane, Oliver cries out that he’s "lonely," because "everybody hates me […] I feel as if I had been cut here, sir, and it was all bleeding away," and he beats himself on the heart (4.45).
- Even Mr. Bumble isn’t so hard-hearted as to be unaffected by a scene like that, but instead of comforting Oliver, he clears his throat and walks on. At least he doesn’t smack him with his cane.
- Mr. Bumble delivers Oliver to the Sowerberry house and, after complaining at how small Oliver is (like it’s his fault), Mrs. Sowerberry sends Oliver to the basement to eat the scraps of meat that the family dog had rejected. Oliver’s hungry enough that he devours every morsel.
- Oliver’s introduction to the Sowerberry house and the coffin business closes the chapter, when he’s sent to sleep under a counter in the workshop, surrounded by empty coffins.