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Oliver Twist

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In this assignment I am going to show how Dickens presents Bill Sikes, one of the major criminals in the novel.

Dickens tries to uncover the criminal underworld and how poverty can later turn into crime when it comes to surviving. Dickens then begins his indictment of the cruelty that children suffer at the hands of society.

The Victorian middle class saw cleanliness as a moral virtue, and the workhouse was supposed to rescue the poor from the immoral condition of filth. However, the workhouse in this novel is a horrible and filthy place- Mrs Mann never ensures that the children practice good hygiene except during an inspection. Personally, I feel that this behaviour was appalling and that Mrs Mann wanted to give the children as little as possible, so that the rest of the money she did receive could go towards her needs.

In Dickens' time, workhouses were established to save the poor from starvation, filth and disease but instead these hardships are brought upon the poor. The workhouse children have to put up with dire conditions that later Mr Bumble criticizes Oliver for not gracefully accepting. Bumble himself, however is fat and well-dressed, as is the entire workhouse board full of fat gentleman who preach the value of a meagre diet for the workhouse residents.

Most middle-class people assume that the lower classes are naturally born criminals and that they are the clean, well-mannered people about town. Oliver is called a 'savage' who is destined for the gallows and after his request for more food, he is apprenticed.

The gentleman of the workhouse board believe that in order to save Oliver from what they believe to be his certain fate as a criminal, they ensure his early death by apprenticing him to a brutal employer where he is ill-treated and bullied by Noah Claypole, a charity-boy.

One workhouse boy, with a 'wild, hungry' look, threatens in jest to eat another boy. The suggestion is that the workhouse forces the boys to become cannibals. The workhouse also brings upon the thought that they encourage slavery: the boys are under fed and clothed as little as possible. They are required to put on a face of graceful acceptance of the miserable conditions that have been forced on them.

Dickens is making a serious social comment on the plight of the poor and particularly of poor children who have little chance to overcome their poverty and become 'respectable' in the eyes of society. He shows the triumph of good over evil through Oliver, despite the poor conditions he has grown up in and the fact that his mother died when he was born. It would seem that although Oliver has grown up in a place of crime and abuse and has mixed with children of criminals, he has stayed a gentleman at end and is a survivor. According to the novel's logic, it is miraculous that Oliver's goodness survives in such an environment, whereas it is virtually inevitable that goodness such as Nancy's is destroyed.

Oliver begins his new life in the criminal underworld with Fagin and his gang of thieves and unlike the boys, he is not only kind-hearted and loving but he maintains these qualities despite suffering hardship and adversity.

One theme of the novel is nature versus nurture. Are people naturally good or evil, or are they made good or evil by their surroundings? In this novel the rich people are mainly good, and the poor people are evil. Oliver is spared from the poor possibility and taken into the good, rich world in the nick of time. I feel that Dickens shows the reality of the different worlds, effectively and that the poor and desperate will do anything to fulfil their desired needs. This is mainly shown through his characters.

Bill Sikes is probably the most notorious criminal in literature and together with Fagin, the 'fence' or receiver of stolen goods; they plot burglaries and later the capture of Oliver Twist. Bill's profession was that of armed robbery- and he was cruel enough to kill anyone, man, woman or child, even eventually his own partner, Nancy.

We are first introduced to Bill after The Artful Dodger and Fagin have a quarrel over Oliver's whereabouts after he has been caught, suspected of stealing from a man by the bookshop. Bill enters, shouting about Fagin throwing a pot and the fact that his dog was cowering outside the door, 'as if you was ashamed of your master!'

Bill is one of Dickens' most menacing characters and a very strong force in the novel when it comes to having control over somebody or harming others. He is not a friendly character and is an archetypal Victorian villain. One might consider that he uses his control to his full advantage and comes across as very misleading. He shows no gratitude and is a well known alcoholic, 'strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor', '....and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke.' In relation to this, Bill must have committed or been involved with many other crimes as 'no experienced agent of police would have hesitated to recognise as Mr. William Sikes.'

In most of the scenes that Bill appears in, he is either in 'The Three Cripples' or at Fagin's where he nearly always consumes a drink of some sort, for he jerked 'his head over his right shoulder; a piece of dumb show which the Jew appeared to understand perfectly' and '...demanded a glass of liquor.' Presumably, this is why he is such a violent and brutal person as he can only express his feelings through anger once he has had a drink.

He is dirty 'with a beard of three days' growth' and seems to be involved in fights, '...of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.' It seems likely that this is because he is always drunk and probably approaches anyone who gets him annoyed or is in his way as he is prone to sudden bursts of extreme behaviour.

The housebreaker has a dark, austere appearance and wears 'a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings.' The 'engaging ruffian' has 'two scowling eyes' and a black heart that cares for no-one and nothing except money and possessions. However, he will look after people if he needs them. For example, he ensures Oliver is fed before taking him out thieving, even though 'Oliver could eat nothing but a small crust of bread which they made him swallow'. Bill obviously didn't want Oliver to be so weak that he couldn't do the job properly.

Nancy is the most complex character because although she is a member of Fagin's



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