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This chapter is an extract from the novel ‘OLIVER TWIST’ written by the British novelist Charles Dickens (1812- 70). It is the story of an orphan boy named Oliver, who is brought to a children’s home. We see how he is treated harshly and slowly starved at this place.
Oliver Twist– an orphan boy
Mr. Bumble– the beadle of the children’s home
Mr. Limbkins– a fat gentleman who presides over the board that oversees the workshop
Oliver Meets the Board
Mr. Bumble walked with Oliver beside him. Oliver had been in the workhouse for less than fifteen minutes when Mr. Bumble told him that the board had called for him. Oliver had no idea what a live board was, and was surprised and scared.
Mr. Bumble asked Oliver to follow him into a large white room where eight or ten fat gentlemen were sitting round a table. At the top of the table was a particularly fat gentleman with a very round, red face, sitting in an armchair higher than the rest.
Bumble told Oliver to bow to the board. Oliver wiped off his tears and bowed. The gentleman in the high chair asked for his name. Oliver was trembling, frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen.
The beadle tapped his back with his cane, which made him cry. The gentleman in the high chair said he suppose Oliver knew he was an orphan. Oliver asked what that was. The gentleman in the white waistcoat called him a fool.
The first gentleman asked him if he knew he had no parents and was brought up by the parish. Oliver said yes, weeping. The gentleman in the white waistcoat asked him why he was crying. Another gentleman said he hoped Oliver said his prayers every night, and prayed for the people who took care of him and fed him, like a Christian. Oliver said yes.
The gentleman in the high chair said Oliver had come there to be educated, and taught a useful trade. He would begin to pick oakum the next morning at six o’clock. Oliver bowed low, directed by the beadle, and was taken to a large ward. He cried himself to sleep on a rough, hard bed there.
As he lay sleeping, the board had taken an important decision. The members of the board had discovered that the workshop was the regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes where they had breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all year for free. It was all play and no work.
The board members thought that the poor should be given only two alternatives- to starve quickly outside the workhouse, or gradually inside it. So, they decided that the inmates of the workhouse would be issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week.
The Meals at the Workshop
For the first six months after Oliver Twist was moved in, the system was in full operation. So, the number of inmates lessened, and they also became thinner. The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a big copper bowl at one end, out of which the master, dressed in an apron and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtime.
Each boy had only one basinful of gruel, and no more, except on festive occasions, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides. The boys polished the basins with their spoons till they shone. Then they would sit staring at the copper bowl with eager eyes and suck their fingers for any gruel.
Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months. They got so wild with hunger that one tall boy said that unless he had another basin of gruel per day, he might some night eat the weak young boy who slept next to him.
A council was held and it was decided Oliver Twist would go up to the master after dinner and ask for more. The evening arrived and dinner took place. After finishing his gruel, Oliver went to the master and said he wanted some more. The fat, healthy master turned pale, astonished at the rebel. Oliver asked again.
The master hit Oliver’s head with the ladle and called the beadle. Mr. Bumble rushed to the board. Addressing the gentleman in the high chair as Mr. Limbkins, he said that Oliver Twist had asked for more. Everyone was horrified. The gentleman in the white waistcoat said that the boy would be hung. Nobody contradicted.
An excited discussion took place and Oliver was ordered into instant confinement. The next morning a bill was pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take Oliver Twist. Thus, five pounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.
This story shows us how society mistreats poor orphaned kids. The meals that the children are given at the workshop are so insufficient that they all suffer from slow starvation. Yet they aren’t allowed to ask for more, and Oliver is punished when he does.