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Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens

Criminality Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

When the Dodger and his accomplished friend Master Bates joined in the hue and cry which was raised at Oliver’s heels, in consequence of their executing an illegal conveyance of Mr. Brownlow’s personal property, as hath been already described with great perspicuity in a foregoing chapter. (12.1)

Dickens uses all these big words to sound almost legalistic. It’s an ironic reminder of how legal jargon can be used to justify what is, in effect, stealing. If you cover over crimes with all these fancy words, will it still be illegal?

Quote #5

[…] overpowered by the conviction of the bystanders that he was really the hardened little wretch he was described to be, what could one poor child do? (15.63)

This passage suggests that you become what people think you are – you can be "overpowered" by the opinions of other people. So if you treat someone like a criminal, they become a criminal? That’s an interesting take on where criminal behavior comes from.

Quote #6

"He’ll come to be scragged, won’t he?"

"I don’t know what that means," replied Oliver, looking round.

"Something in this way, old feller," said Charley. As he said it, Master Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief, and, holding it erect in the air, dropped his head on his shoulder, and jerked a curious sound through his teeth, thereby indicating, by a lively pantomimic representation that scragging and hanging were one and the same thing. (18.39-41)

Oliver doesn’t know cant, or criminal’s slang – but neither do we. We’re in the same position as Oliver, here – in need of a translator. And Charley is so obliging as to throw in a little pantomime to go along with his translation (foreshadowing his own death, perhaps?). But what about Dickens’s language, here? He describes Charley’s pantomime with very precise, almost journalistic detail, as though he’s just a detached observer who doesn’t know what’s going on, either. Why would he do that? Is he trying to distance himself from the criminals who know cant? But we know he knows the slang – he’s the one writing it. What else could he be up to here?

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