- ‘The bowls never wanted washing‘ is a quotation from Oliver Twist (Chapter 2).
- Oliver Twist, subtitled The Parish Boy’s Progress, is the second novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a monthly serial in Bentley’s Miscellany, from February 1837 to April 1839. The story revolves around the life of an orphan boy and his harsh early years.
In this paragraph, Charles Dickens is describing the meagre ‘starvation‘ rations that the boys were given in the workhouse. The bowls do not need washing because the boys are so hungry they are scrapped clean with spoons looking for any last traces of gruel.
The paragraph leads up to arguably the most memorable incident from Oliver Twist, in which Oliver goes up to the master after finishing his evening supper meal, still hungry, and asks ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’
Oliver Twist Chapter 2.
Following the death of his mother (Chapter 1) and with no family to care for him, the orphaned baby Oliver falls under the care of parish authorities. He is initially brought up ‘by hand’ (spoon or bottle-fed as a young infant), before being ‘farmed’ out to a branch workhouse with around 20-30 pauper boys, where he is mistreated and underfed. The workhouse is a grim and oppressive place, and the chapter depicts the harsh conditions that the children there are subjected to. The chapter introduces characters responsible for overseeing the workhouse including the parish beadle, Mr. Bumble; the master, Mr. Limbkins, and the greedy matron, Mrs. Mann. After being slowly starved, the boys decide to ask the master for more food, and Oliver is chosen to perform the daunting task. After dinner, Oliver rises from the table and standing in front of the master asks ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ He instantly incurs the wrath of the workhouse officials and is put into solitary confinement. The next day a reward is offered for anyone that would lie, to have Oliver as an apprentice, thereby taking him off the hands of the parish.
Taken from the following passage in Chapter 2 (Treats of Oliver Twist’s Growth, Education, and Board) of Oliver Twist:
The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn’t been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.
‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’
The protagonist of the novel named after him, Oliver Twist is an orphan child, born at a workhouse where his mother died giving birth. With no father, the orphan Oliver is cruelly raised in both the care of the parish authorities and as an apprentice to an undertaker. Oliver runs away to a new life in London, where he is recruited into a gang of thieves run by Fagin and the brutal Bill Sikes. Despite this troubled upbringing, Oliver maintains a pious innocence, and his good nature brings him to the attention of wealthy benefactors.
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