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Quotes

Quote #1

Darkness had set in; it was a low neighbourhood; no help was near; resistance was useless. In another moment he was dragged into a labyrinth of dark, narrow courts, and forced along them at a pace which rendered the few cries he dared to give utterance to, wholly unintelligible. (15.63)

Oliver’s just been kidnapped by Nancy and Bill Sikes, and they immediately drag him into a "labyrinth," which is described as "low, "dark", and "narrow." We’ve all been through neighborhoods like that (or at least, we can imagine them). But it’s the word choice here that’s important – why a "labyrinth"? The whole point of a labyrinth is that once you’re in, it’s impossible to get back out of it. And that’s the idea that Dickens is trying to convey – once Oliver turns down the wrong path (literally or figuratively), he’ll never get back on the right one again. It’s like the city itself is part of the system that’s trapping and controlling Oliver (and all the other members of Fagin’s gang).

Quote #2

He kept on his course through many winding and narrow ways until he reached Bethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he soon became involved in a maze of the mean dirty streets which abound in that close and densely-populated quarter. (19.4)

Fagin’s on his way to visit Bill Sikes and Nancy, and yet again, we’re in a "maze" (OK, last time was a "labyrinth," but close enough). To become "involved in a maze" sounds like getting into something that you can’t get out of – it seems to us that Fagin has gotten himself into something (knowingly or not) that he can’t extract himself from too easily. Or maybe it’s the people who already live in these "mean dirty streets" who are trapped in them, and unable to get themselves out? Again, it’s like the city itself is part of the system that controls all the people of the lower classes – or maybe we’re just getting paranoid.

Quote #3

Who can tell how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds of pain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places, and carry their own freshness deep into their jaded hearts? Men who have lived in crowded pent-up streets, through whole lives of toil, and never wished for change; men […] who have come to love each brick and stone that formed the narrow boundaries of their daily walks. (32.51)

So if the city is part of what confines and controls and imprisons the lower classes (it has "pent-up streets"), the country refreshes and renews and liberates them. This is all very idyllic, and it’s easy to laugh at it, but it does fit in with the theme of imprisonment and control that Dickens has been associating all along with the city, and with institutionalized authority.

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