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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Finding himself alone in the undertaker's shop, Oliver surveys the scene around him. Coffins of different sizes and shapes are scattered in the room. The whole place smells of coffins. The poor boy feels depressed and lonely. He wishes he were laid down in one of the coffins and buried in the ground of the churchyard.
In the morning he is woken up by the sounds of kicking outside the shop door and a loud voice ordering him to open the door. Noah Claypole enters the room to taunt Oliver about his status and to assert his superiority over the newcomer. He is favored by both Mrs. Sowerberry and Charlotte. However, Mr. Sowerberry displays a liking for Oliver and decides to train him as a mute for children's funerals. He takes the boy with him to attend a pauper's funeral. Oliver encounters death for the first time and understands the sordid nature of an undertaker's job. He doesn't like his situation but feels helpless to get out of it.
This chapter highlights the innocence of Oliver. Noah's wickedness only enhances Oliver's goodness.
Dickens throws light on our make-believe world where pretense and hypocrisy become its integral parts. Oliver is trained to be a mute to play the part of a child in grief to march alongside the coffin. The boy accompanies Mr. Sowerberry to the house of a dead woman to take the measurements for her coffin. The mother of the deceased laments the death of her dear daughter before asking Mr. Sowerberry for a cloak to be worn at the time of the funeral and a loaf of bread, a cake, and wine to be consumed before the burial. To keep up appearances Mr. Bumble thrashes a few boys to create an atmosphere of gloom before the burial. After the burial service, "The grave- digger shoveled in the earth; Stamped it loosely down with his feet; shouldered his spade; and walked off, followed by the boys, who murmured very loud complaints at the fun being over so soon."
Dickens also points out at the contradictions prevailing in the world by painting a picture where a few experience sorrow and mourn while others make merry.
Oliver attends numerous funerals with Mr. Sowerberry before getting formally apprenticed to the trade. Death makes him understand life better. He observes the double-facetted personality of men and women. Once, when Oliver accompanies his master to take an order for the burial of a rich old man, he is amused to look at the cheerful and contented faces of the old man's nephews and nieces who, on an earlier occasion, when the deceased had been seriously ill, had expressed inconsolable grief. Oliver shows his admiration towards such people who are able to overcome grief with resignation and fortitude.
At home, Oliver bears the insults and taunts of Noah with resignation. Noah, gripped with jealousy for Mr. Sowerberry's preference to Oliver over him, tortures the boy to soothe his injured ego. One day he hits Oliver and speaks ill of his deceased mother. The boy defends his mother and stops Noah from insulting her. However, when the charity boy adds insult upon injury, Oliver gets provoked. All his pent up emotions get released and he beats up Noah with all his strength. A hue and cry is raised by the injured boy, Charlotte, and Mrs. Sowerberry. They blame Oliver for creating trouble and punish him by locking him up. Noah runs across to call Mr. Bumble to the scene of action.
Dickens through his master stroke of irony depicts out world of appearance and reality. Oliver, as an apprentice to Mr. Sowerberry, notes with interest the capacity of people to change their moods in a matter of seconds. He observes grief- stricken people in the graveyard making merry at home a short while later. Ignorant of the ways of the world the boy mistakes hypocrisy for resignation in people and tries to emulate their example. Instead of getting tainted by the world around him, he tries to rise above it.
Oliver also displays an instinct for survival and the capacity to fight back when he is falsely accused and insulted by Noah. He punishes the other boy by hitting him hard and throwing him down.