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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
This chapter brings relief to the mounting tension in the story. The scene now shifts to the workhouse where Oliver was born. As the chilled winds blow outside, Mrs. Corney, the matron of the workhouse, sits warming herself near the fire. Luxuriously, she stirs her tea with a silver spoon as she contemplates on the worldly ignorance of the paupers and her lonely state. At that moment, she is disturbed in her thoughts by a knock on the door. Mr. Bumble enters the room much to her surprise. Soon they are involved in a conversation on the nature of paupers and their ingratitude. The matron concurs with the views of the beadle. Over tea, they talk frivolously and chide one another. Mr. Bumble reveals the softer side of his nature through his talk with the matron. Getting into a romantic mood, he tries to become intimate with Mrs. Corney.
At this juncture, the matron is called to attend to a pauper who is on her deathbed. Reluctantly Mrs. Corney leaves Mr. Bumble to meet old Sally.
In the meantime Mr. Bumble busies himself by exploring the matron's room and making an assessment of her possessions.
Dickens gives a taste of his humor in this chapter. The way Mr. Bumble woos Mrs. Corney is comical. The elderly matron acts coquettish to win the heart of the beadle and the officer of the Church makes a calculated move to possess her property.
The scene is symbolic too. As the chill wind blows outside, the couple is comfortably seated in front of the fire. The harsh life of the paupers is ignored by the mercenary members of the Church. When Mrs. Corney is called out to attend to dying Sally, she curses the paupers for disturbing her peace.
The opening paragraph describes the haggard appearance of the old matron as she walks through passages and climbs stairs to reach the dingy room of the dying woman. As she enters the room, the parish apothecary's apprentice briefs her about the condition of old Sally. Mrs. Corney settles down on the corner of the patient's bed. When she sees no sign of Old Sally waking up, she goes up to the nurses and asks them how long she would have to wait. Getting no positive reply from them, she prepares to leave the room. At that particular moment the patient wakes up and calls the matron to her side. Then she reveals her secret.
Long ago, she had nursed a pretty young woman on the same bed before she gave birth to a baby boy. After her death, old Sally had stolen a gold chain with the locket from her instead of keeping it safe as instructed. The boy grew up to resemble his mother and was named Oliver. With this revelation, she breathes her last. As the nurses arrive to declare her dead, the matron walks away carelessly.
This chapter is crucial to the plot as it reveals the secret of Oliver's birth. Old Sally's words of confession establishes Oliver's identity. However, her death before her complete revelation causes anxiety and builds suspense in the story.
The casual approach shown by the attendants and the staff of the workhouse towards the dying woman is repulsive. While old Sally dies, the attendants warm themselves near the fire and enjoy a glass of wine.
Old Sally's confession that she robbed a gold chain from a dead woman shows the level to which people can stoop in order to acquire a little wealth. Dickens's cynicism comes to the fore here as also in the previous scene when Mr. Bumble is shown making an assessment of Mrs. Corney's wealth in her absence.