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The Purloined Handkerchief. By Ian Palmer Nick Rowe Ethan Long. John O. Jordan. The Handkerchief Motif. In the 1820’s and 1830’s handkerchiefs: Determined social status Common among all people Were considered to be an article of luxury Can be seen as a 19 th Century Rolex.

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the purloined handkerchief

The Purloined Handkerchief


Ian Palmer

Nick Rowe

Ethan Long

John O. Jordan

the handkerchief motif
The Handkerchief Motif
  • In the 1820’s and 1830’s handkerchiefs:
    • Determined social status
    • Common among all people
    • Were considered to be an article of luxury
      • Can be seen as a 19th Century Rolex
the purloined letter
The Purloined Letter
  • Jordan offers that Dickens was attempting to parallel the Purloin Letter by Edgar Allen Poe.
    • Oliver’s missing father is marked in the novel by both letters and written documents that were kept secret by Monks such as:
      • The will
      • The letter
      • And the unnamed proofs
the handkerchief class system
The Handkerchief Class System
  • Lower class handkerchiefs were:
    • Cotton
    • Worn around the neck
      • They were weary of the gallows.
    • Used for shielding the sun and for wiping sweat
    • Stole handkerchiefs from the wealthy
class system cont
Class System (cont.)
  • Middle class handkerchiefs were:
    • Cotton
    • Worn in trouser pockets (we concluded in modern day they could be worn around the head also)
    • Usually solid colored
class system cont again
Class System (cont. again)
  • Upper class handkerchiefs were:
    • Silk
    • Worn in lapel pockets
    • Patterned
    • Stitched with the owner’s name
bumble s kercheifs
Bumble’s ‘Kercheifs
  • Mr. Bumble had one handkerchief in his hat and one in his pocket.
    • This can be seen as an attempt to gain a higher social status.
  • He removed the ‘kerchief from his hat to wipe his brow.
    • Symbolizes poverty
  • He removed the other ‘kerchief from his pocket when having tea.
    • Symbolizes wealth
dickens key points
Dickens’ Key Points
  • “Clothes are a powerful way of marking social distinction in a class society…”
  • “Power itself is often vested in clothing or social roles rather than the person.”
  • “Dress codes function not just as a differential system of classification, but as a means of social control; whereby institutions like the workhouse identify and regulate members of the lower class.”
handkerchiefs and hangings
Handkerchiefs and Hangings
  • Neckerchiefs were worn by thieves and criminals.
    • They served as a form of protection for a sensitive area.
    • They also served as a reminder of the “figurative noose” that was around their necks.
examples of criminal use
Examples of Criminal Use
  • On several instances Sikes attacked people’s throats.
  • Sikes attempts to drown his dog by tying a handkerchief around its neck.
  • The man in the white waistcoat says Oliver was predestined to be hanged.
    • As a result Oliver wants to hang himself with a handkerchief; however was too poor to afford one.
  • Fagin is seen with a bare throat.
    • Because of his great vulnerability to the present danger.
      • He also ties up his “booty” or jewels with a handkerchief.
other connections
Other Connections
  • The search was marked by woven materials.
  • A “patchwork coverlet” was put over a dead woman’s body.
  • There is an “old blanket” that covers the dead body of the old lady when Mr. Sowerberry goes to retrieve the body.
  • At the Brownlow’s home Oliver sees Miss Bedwin appear through the curtains.
other other connections
Other Other Connections
  • Dickens describes a “dusky curtain” that hangs over Brownlow’s memory that prevents him from recognizing Oliver from the portrait of his mother.
    • The portrait itself is painted on canvas.
  • Sikes throws a rug over Nancy’s body after he murders her.
  • Nancy’s handkerchief is white.
    • Suggests purity despite the terrible conditions she lives in
  • Her handkerchief was given to her by Rose.
    • Signifies the sisterly bond between their different social classes.
      • They were still equal in their devotion to Oliver.
    • Suggests that it has story value
      • It was traded for information about Oliver.
more nancy
More Nancy
  • Nancy’s handkerchief contained religious significance.
    • She holds it in front of her face before Sikes kills her.
      • “She lifts it towards Heaven and breathes on prayer of mercy to her Maker.”
  • Jordan suggests that Oliver is a purloin handkerchief throughout the text, simply waiting to be claimed.
  • He is a blank handkerchief however. Others like Fagin try to inscribe on him.
  • Fagin starts him by picking the marks out of handkerchiefs.
    • This signifies Oliver’s abandonment of himself and his heritage.
  • Jordan, John O. “The Purloin Handkerchief” Oliver Twist. Ed. Fred Kaplan. New York: Norton, 1993. 580-93.