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by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist Chapter 52 Summary
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"The Jew’s Last Night Alive" The chapter opens in a courtroom. A huge crowd is staring at "the Jew" at the front of the court. He’s watching the jury members’ facial expressions—they’re about to discuss amongst themselves to decide on the verdict. He sees people out in the gallery craning their necks to look at him, and they look at him with hate and horror. No one seems to feel any sympathy for him at all. The jury asks the judge to leave the courtroom to discuss. He tries to guess from their faces as they’re leaving, whether they’re feeling inclined to be merciful towards him or not, but he can’t really tell. As he’s waiting, he feels distant and removed from the whole process, and watches people moving around the court. The jury comes back in: guilty. And he’ll die on Monday. The whole courtroom cheers. The judge has to put on a special black hat to issue the "may God have mercy on your soul" speech to the condemned man. The jailer leads Fagin out of the courtroom, and Fagin seems numb as he follows. Other prisoners have friends visiting them, and chatting through the bars—but everyone there to watch him walk back to the condemned hold is there to yell names at him. They leave him in one of the condemned cells alone. Fagin sits alone and repeats the judge’s sentence over and over again in his head: "to be hanged by the neck until he was dead." He remembers all the men he’d sold out who had, perhaps, sat in that very cell. Thinking about it in alone in the dark drives him crazy, and he starts banging against the walls and door, calling for light. Two guards come in—one brings a candle, and the other brings in a mattress so that a guard can stay nearby, outside the door, all night. Fagin listens to the clock strike all the next day, and each hour is an hour less to live. They send in rabbis to talk to him, but he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, and curses them until they leave. By Sunday night, he’s become so horrible to be around that the two guards stay outside his door together—neither of them can stand to be near him alone. Later that night, Mr. Brownlow and Oliver arrive at Newgate, and ask to see the prisoner. The guard is a little doubtful about letting Oliver in, because it’s hardly a place for children. But Mr. Brownlow figures that Oliver’s seen worse. Once they’re alone with Fagin, Mr. Brownlow asks him where he’d hidden the papers that Monks had given him for safekeeping. Fagin won’t tell Brownlow, but calls Oliver over. Fagin mostly wants to persuade Oliver to help him escape (he seems to be slightly out of his mind), but he does tell Oliver where the papers are. Oliver tries to comfort Fagin and asks to pray with him, but Fagin starts shrieking and gets all clingy, and they have to skedaddle. The chapter ends with a crowd of people assembling to watch the hanging.
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