Justice Outside the Justice System

At the beginning of Chapter 48, there is constant imagery of light flooding into dark spaces.  Sikes experiences this the morning after he murders Nancy.  Dickens says, “The sun – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory” (Chapter 48).  This statement harshly juxtaposes the events of the night before. Life has just been taken, while the next morning’s sun brings thoughts of new life in the next chapter.  Sikes makes the direct link back to Nancy by saying that Nancy would have opened the curtains to let the light in if she was still alive.

This opening passage seems to indicate divine intervention the morning after an evil event occurs. Having such strong natural imagery or descriptions of light often suggest the presence of religion or God.  This connection can also be drawn through words like “glory”. This passage also states, “through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray” (Chapter 48).  This comparison creates a connection between God and Sikes’s dirty apartment.  It creates parallels with Nancy’s attack in the previous chapter as she was on her knees with Rose’s handkerchief asking for God’s mercy before Sikes killed her.  The presence of light in the following chapter provides an example of religious justice.  While mercy cannot be enacted to save Nancy’s life, natural forces, like the sun, seem to torment Sikes in the wake of this event.  Dickens provides this when he says, “[Sikes] tried to shut it out, but it would stream in. If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dull morning, what was it, now in all that brilliant light!” (Chapter 48). The sun continues to stream in, even as he tries to prevent it.  The light also forces Sikes to face the events of the night before as the sight of a murdered Nancy in the light is much harsher than in the darkness.

At this point in the novel, many troublesome characters avoid justice and retribution for their wrongdoings, especially those who have hurt Oliver.  In this chapter, Sikes receives his own justice for what he’s done, separate from the legal system in London.  He’s tormented in his apartment, but, even after he leaves, he can’t find solace in any location in the city.  Sikes seeks to hide in the shadows, which normally provide safety for the other criminals in the novel, but Sikes can’t escape “the glare of the lamps of a stage-coach” or the fire blazing in an apartment (Chapter 48).  It seems fitting that, when the justice system in London fails, natural or religious forces work to torment Sikes instead.  He cannot outrun the sun.  Sikes’s experiences in this chapter provide hope that the other villains in Oliver Twist will receive some form of justice for their actions.

2 thoughts on “Justice Outside the Justice System”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this analysis Grace! I also noticed the frequent juxtaposition between the sun and the darkness of their lives in London. However, your argument that the contrast represents divine justice and intervention is very compelling and original. The descriptions of the sun in this passage and throughout the novel also perhaps demonstrate what lightness and the daytime can conceal, as new sunny days can make it seem like everything must be okay, like Oliver muses when Rose is sick. However, behind this appearance, people in London are starving and suffering. This contrast maddens Sikes, but also may demonstrate how those in power are able to ignore the darkness hiding in London.

  2. Grace, I think you definitely made some insightful observations that I had not picked up on. I had not originally though about how Nancy was about to open the blinds before her death, but Sikes told her not to. The light coming through the curtains seems to have so much more meaning and connection to her death because of this. Reading your observations about the light and it’s connection to God implies for me that Nancy has been redeemed from her sins, and that Sikes’ guilt and demise, indirectly from the light, is ultimately a holy occurrence and punishment.

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