Bill Sikes is the most terrifying figure in the novel. He is thief and housebreaker for whom there are no limits and no laws except his own self. Although he belongs to Fagin even Fagin is afraid of Him. In fact if Fagin is afraid of anybody, it is Sikes.
Sikes’ outward appearance is fully described in chapter 13 when he first enters, betraying his inner nature. Dirty, unshaven and scowling, he looks like the criminal he is with the kind of legs which always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to complete them. Dickens tries to reinforce this picture of Sikes with a number of adjectives like ‘savage’,‘surly’, ‘bitter’, ‘fierce’, ‘harsh’, ‘furious’ and ‘desperate’. Sikes outward appearance reveals Dickens’s belief that in human beings there is a kind of correspondence between the inner nature and external appearance. Those who are internally ugly also look ugly and those who are inwardly gentle and noble look gentle and noble. Oliver’s innocence is reflected on his face and so is the monstrosity of Sikes.
Right from the beginning, we are given indications that Sikes is almost inhuman.He owns a dog but nowhere does he show any trace of affection towards it. Nancy is sincerely in love with him and she persists in her loyalty towards him in spite of his brutality. But he is equally rough with her. In fact he habitually addresses her with a growl that he was accustomed to use when addressing his dog. It is true that he has some respect for her in chapter 30. He says that Nancy is an honour to her sex and in chapter 19 he expresses his full confidence in her. Nevertheless these feelings of faith and respect are nowhere revealed in his outward manner towards her. Instead, he displays extreme ruthlessness and cruelty when he murders her. He doesn’t listen to any of her entreaties. He defies the pleading look in her eyes and with utter unconcern, he strikes her with a heavy club. With children as well he is equally cruel. Throughout the burglary episode, he is rough and threatening towards Oliver. He tells Oliver to be careful or he would shoot him. At one moment he is almost close to carrying out his threats but is restrained by Toby Crackit.
Sikes is a completely different man after Nancy’s murder. He is so frightened that he starts running from place to place. He is haunted by the ghastly act that he has committed and finds it extremely difficult to forget, in particular,Nancy’s eyes. He feels he is being followed by Nancy’s apparition, the eyes specially, and he does not find any rest anywhere. In the fire incident, he puts all his energy in extinguishing the fire not because he has any sympathies for the fire victims but because he is badly in need of some diversion and human company. His crime has alienated him from humanity and he finds it very difficult to restore the bonds that have once been snapped. The way Charley Bates shouts at him and threatens to give him up is an evidence of his isolation, and howsoever cruel he might have been, he is totally humbled by this feeling. Dickens has given a masterly portrait of Sikes during his wanderings from place to place as well as his ultimate end at Jacob’s Island.In fact, his end is among the most powerful pieces of writing in the novel.Sikes at this moment is not merely a hunted animal but a human being in the
115grip of terrible guilt; he suffers, in fact, from conscience and is thus finally transformed from brute to man.
Sikes is an unconvincing character. It has often been said that Sikes is overdrawn. It is really difficult to believe that there can exist in the world people as brutal as Sikes. Dickens was, quite aware of this objection. So he writes in the preface to the novel “It has been objected to Sikes………tha the is surely overdrawn. But……..of one thing I am certain: that there are such men as Sikes, who, being closely followed through the same space of time and through the same current of circumstances, would not give, by one look or action of a moment, the faintest indication of a better nature” In the case of Sikes, however, there are quite a few indications of a better nature, most notably in the change which comes over him, after the murder of Nancy.Although the overwhelming impression that he is a savage, coarse, vicious creature who can scarcely be called a man. persists