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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Oliver is confined to a dark and secluded room. He gives vent to his feelings out of fear and hunger. Mr. Bumble makes a visit to the room every morning to inspect the boy's activities and at the slightest pretext canes him mercilessly. Poor child, he bears the onslaughts of Mr. Bumble severity and the chill of the air. For no fault of his, he is beaten, chastised, and asked to repent for his sins.
One morning Mr. Gamfield, the chimney sweeper, happens to read the bill pasted outside the gate of the workhouse. He meets the gentleman in the white waistcoat and expresses his desire to enroll Oliver as his apprentice. He is taken to meet the members of the board who question him about his profession and his ability to look after Oliver. His answers fail to satisfy the board and they refuse his offer. However, when he agrees to lower the price for Oliver, the members give their consent. On the next day Oliver is brought before the magistrate who asks him for his opinion about becoming a chimney sweeper. The boy refuses to work under Mr. Gamfield, much to the chagrin of Mr. Bumble. The magistrate dismisses the case and Oliver is once again sent back to the workhouse.
In this chapter also Dickens focuses attention on the parochial order who act in an arbitrary manner, unmindful of the feelings of the paupers. The mercenary attitude of the board is revealed through the incident where its members accept the offer of Mr. Gamfield only after he reduces the price for Oliver. Neither the board nor Mr. Bumble bother about Oliver's feelings. The beadle warns Oliver against refusing the offer of Mr. Gamfield and when the boy expresses his opinion, Mr. Bumble curses him. This chapter brings a ray of hope to Oliver in the midst of gloom, in the form of the magistrate who takes pity on the boy and considers his request.
Oliver is treated as a burden in the workhouse and the board thinks of ways and means to dispose of the boy. One morning Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker, arrives at the workhouse. When Mr. Bumble asks him to suggest the name of a person who would be prepared to take Oliver as an apprentice, the undertaker agrees to take charge of the boy himself. Mr. Bumble accepts his offer and takes him before the board. The members give their consent and Mr. Sowerberry is given the responsibility of taking care of Oliver for the next five years. Once again the boy is asked to state his opinion. Reeling under the pressure of fear and rejection, Oliver agrees to become an apprentice to Mr. Sowerberry.
On the next morning Oliver accompanies Mr. Bumble "to a new scene of suffering" where he is put under the chair of Mrs. Sowerberry. She gives him bits and pieces of food before taking him to his bed surrounded by coffins.
This chapter has symbolic overtones. Oliver, who displays an uncommon endurance and a desire to survive, is made to work under the shadow of death. The innocent boy fights against the harsh realities of life in order to live but accompanies the undertaker to continue his existence.
Dickens reveals through irony that death is a matter of joke and a subject of interest to both Mr. Bumble and Mr. Sowerberry. Deaths and coffins are a means to better their business.
The chapter also highlights the plight of poor and the helpless who are treated like pests to be abused and discarded. The work house officials, in order to get rid of Oliver, are too happy to sell him to the undertaker. Mrs. Sowerbelly treats Oliver like a dog by throwing him leftovers of good and pushing him into a dark rook filled with coffins.