Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-22


Fagin goes to see Bill Sikes, who is busy beating his dog, at a pub, to give him his cut of some profits. Sikes learns that Nancy is in the pub too, and sends for her. She starts to tell him about Oliver, but Fagin cuts her off, and soon she leaves with Sikes. At the same time, Oliver has gotten a little lost on his way to the book-stall, and Nancy comes upon him. Nancy makes a big scene, and tells those watching that Oliver had run away from his respectable parents to join a gang of thieves, so that when Oliver shouts that they are taking him against his will, everyone turns against him, and so Nancy and Sikes drag him away.

Sikes and Nancy take Oliver to a house, where the artful Dodger lets them in, and where they also find Charley Bates and Fagin. They all take Oliver’s new belongings, and Fagin and Sikes fight over the five pound note that Mr. Brownlow gave Oliver. Oliver begs them to send the books and the note back to Mr. Brownlow so that he won’t think that Oliver stole them, but this only makes Fagin and Sikes happier, because it means that Mr. Brownlow won’t go looking for Oliver.

Oliver suddenly runs out of the room, but Fagin and the boys catch him before he gets far. Fagin starts to beat Oliver with a staff, but Nancy runs over and grabs the staff and throws it into the fire. She implores them to leave him alone, having already done enough to hurt him, and she says that she wishes that she had never helped them to kidnap him. In fighting off Fagin and Sikes, she eventually faints, and Oliver is sent to bed.

Mr. Bumble goes to Mrs. Mann’s orphanage to tell her that he is going to London to deal with a legal matter, as appointed by the board. Mrs. Mann tells Mr. Bumble that Dick is still very ill, and Mr. Bumble asks to see him. Dick asks if they could write down and keep a message for him, after he has died, to Oliver Twist, which disgusts Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Mann.

While in London, Mr. Bumble sees an advertisement in the paper offering an award for information about Oliver Twist, put out by Mr. Brownlow. Mr. Bumble goes immediately to Mr. Brownlow’s house, where he is taken to see Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Grimwig. Mr. Bumble tells the men everything he knows of Oliver, and Mr. Brownlow pays him. Mr. Brownlow is quite vexed by Mr. Bumble’s perspective of Oliver, but Mrs. Bedwin refuses to believe it. Mr. Brownlow orders, however, that Oliver’s name is never to be spoken in his presence again.

Fagin gives Oliver a long lecture on loyalty, and tells him the story of a boy like him who ended up hanged for betraying them. For many days, Oliver is locked in his room, but then even when he is allowed to wonder the house, he can’t leave. One evening, the Dodger has Oliver come and clean his boots, and tries to convince him to become a thief, using twisted moral arguments. Oliver is not convinced, but is afraid to say too much. He then meets Tom Chitling, who is an older one of Fagin’s boys and has just come back from prison. From this evening on, they rarely leave Oliver alone, constantly trying to convince and train him to be a thief.

Late one night, Fagin leaves the house and goes to see Sikes. He finds Nancy there, who he hasn’t seen since their argument, but she is friendly to him. Fagin and Sikes plan a robbery together, one that requires a small boy to unlock a window for them, and Fagin recommends they use Oliver, since he is the smallest. Sikes agrees, and they finalize the plans.

When Oliver gets up in the morning, Fagin tells him that he is going to be taken to Bill Sikes that night. Fagin sets Oliver up with a candle and a book while he waits for Nancy to come and fetch him, and right before he leaves, he warns him to do just as Sikes says, otherwise he might kill him. While waiting, Oliver reads the book, which is a terrifying account of many crimes and criminals. Nancy arrives, and seems quite ill and distraught, but she gathers herself together.

Nancy tells Oliver that if he tries to escape from her as she takes him to Sikes, she will probably be killed. When they arrive at Sikes’s place, Sikes makes Oliver watch as he loads his gun, then holds it to his head as he tells Oliver that he will shoot him if he says a word while they are out. Sikes and Oliver go to bed while Nancy watches over and is ready to wake them at five. They get ready to go, and Sikes leads Oliver out.

Sikes leads Oliver through the crowded streets until they find an empty cart and manage to get a ride. They spend awhile at a pub, where they find another ride to take them further on. Late at night, they finally arrive at a dilapidated shack next to the water. Barney lets Sikes and Oliver into the house, where Toby Crackit is waiting for them. Crackit serves Sikes some food, and they both make Oliver drink a glass of wine. Oliver sits on a stool by the fire and dozes off while Sikes and Crackit take a nap.

They wake up, and get everything they need together, including more pistols. Crackit and Sikes each take one of Oliver’s hands and lead him out. They arrive at a house and climb over the wall surrounding it, and Oliver finally realizes that the aim of the night is to rob a house, and even possibly murder the occupants.

Oliver collapses in fear, and begs not to have to help them. Sikes almost shoots him, but Crackit stops him and drags Oliver to the house. They break into a very small window and put Oliver through, telling him to open the front door for them. Oliver plans to raise the alarm for those in the house, but suddenly a dog starts barking, and two men appear and shoot Oliver. Sikes drags him back and runs away with him.


This section reiterates and reinforces the theme of the powerlessness of children, while also emphasizing the powerlessness of women. Oliver is kidnapped in broad daylight, in the middle of the street, and the witnesses to the kidnapping only encourage it, because no one bothers to listen to or accept as truth what Oliver says, so his physical and legal weakness is only compounded by his inability to be heard.

The misperceptions of Oliver that come with this inability are emphasized in this section. Mr. Bumble is horrified that Dick would want to leave a last letter to such an awful child; he goes to Mr. Brownlow and tells him what he believes to be Oliver’s true character, but is anything but. This inability to affect the judgments passed on him is reflected throughout the rest of this section—Oliver never again has agency, being locked up, pushed around and forced to participate in a robbery.

Nancy’s powerlessness for the first time becomes clear, too. Even though it is she who originally overpowers Oliver in this section, we soon learn that she is not a pure villain when she defends Oliver against Fagin. She is successful, momentarily, more because Fagin is shocked that she would speak out against him than because she has any meaningful power over him. And although she stands up for Oliver, her stand does not last long—she faints—and does not having any meaningful result—Oliver must still go with Sikes.

In Fagin, the Dodger and Charley Bates’s interactions with Oliver in this section, we see that things generally to be considered virtues can be warped in the wrong context. For example, the Dodger and Bates try to convince Oliver that it is unfair for him not to work for his keep at Fagin’s—this generally would be considered a virtuous stance, but in this case, that work is crime, and so Oliver’s refusal to do it becomes the moral choice.

Similarly, Fagin gives Oliver a long lecture on loyalty, often deemed a virtue, but here it means loyalty to this thieving gang who keep him against his will. Dickens is not one-sided on the issue of loyalty, however. Oliver is certainly not blamed by the text for feeling no loyalty towards Fagin or his boys, but Nancy’s inability to betray them completely is presented as fairly virtuous. Loyalty is thus presented as something not inherently good or bad, something that can be moral, but something that can also at times be amoral, if not immoral.