by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist Chapter 5 Summary
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 5
"Oliver Mingles with New Associates, and, Going to a Funeral for the First Time, Forms an Unfavourable Notion of his Master’s Business"
- Oliver is understandably depressed in his new surroundings—he’s in the dark and surrounded by coffins in a strange place—but he does finally go to sleep.
- He’s woken up by kicking at the shop door. The owner of the kicking feet promises to "whop" Oliver when he comes in, and introduces himself as "Mister Noah Claypole."
- Noah is another apprentice in the undertaker’s shop and, as a charity boy himself (his mother is a washerwoman and his father a drunken soldier on pension), he’s used to being at the bottom of the ladder. So Noah’s pretty psyched to have Oliver around to beat up on. We think Noah has some repressed anger issues.
- Noah and Charlotte, the "slatternly" servant girl introduced at the end of the previous chapter, are apparently good friends: Charlotte saves Noah the best pieces of bacon for his breakfast, while Oliver again gets the scraps, and has to eat them in the coldest corner of the kitchen.
- After Oliver’s been there for about a month, Mr. Sowerberry comes up with the great idea of using Oliver as a "mute" in children’s funerals—in other words, they’d dress him up in black and have him go along with the funeral procession to make it all look more "interesting." After all, as Mr. Sowerberry points out, "there’s an expression of melancholy in his face […] which is very interesting" (5.38).
- Mr. Bumble comes by to order a funeral for some poor person who had the audacity to die at the workhouse (Mr. Bumble seems to take personal offense that the poor people are unable to live on the tiny allowance of food they’re given under his supervision). He ignores Oliver entirely, to Oliver’s great relief.
- Oliver has to go along with Mr. Sowerberry to measure the corpse for the coffin. He discovers that the person who died was a wife and mother, and her bereaved husband is almost crazy with grief. The children are half-starved, and the dead woman’s mother can’t talk about anything but having a new cloak and some cake for the funeral. The husband goes on a long rant about how his wife had starved to death, and he blames the whole workhouse/poor-law system. All in all, it doesn’t make Oliver all that enthusiastic about the funeral profession—especially since Mr. Sowerberry seems to take it all in stride.
- The funeral itself is even more depressing: Oliver, the husband, and the mother are the only people there (Mr. Sowerberry hangs out with Mr. Bumble and the church’s clerk indoors, where it’s nice and toasty warm). The minister is over an hour late, and keeps them waiting in the rain in the graveyard. Once he arrives, he babbles out the funeral service in "four minutes," and then runs off again without trying to comfort the husband or offer to help his family. Cemetery space was at a premium in those days, so poor people had to share graves—the coffin was plopped into a grave that was already so full of other coffins that hers was only a couple of feet below the surface.
- When Oliver admits to Mr. Sowerberry that he didn’t like the funeral at all, Mr. Sowerberry assures him that he’ll get used to it in time. Oliver isn’t so sure.
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 5