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Use of Language in Oliver Twist Essay


How does Dickens use language to create a sense of menace and tension in his descriptions of the character Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist?

In this essay I will be analysing the language used to create a sense of menace and tension towards the character of Bill Sikes. I will especially look in depth at specific sections of Oliver Twist, to see how Bill Sikes is portrayed in these scenes.

I will start by giving a brief introduction to what has happened prior to the first scene where Bill Sikes is present. Oliver has just been caught by the police following a false accusation that Oliver had stolen a gentlemans handkerchief. However the charges were dropped once they found Oliver innocent. This particular gentleman was called Mr Brownlow who took Oliver back to his house after Oliver passed out; Mr Brownlow took care of him. At the same time Charley Bates and The Artful Dodger who were the real criminals in the previous events, returned to Fagin. After this Fagin became extremely mad once he found out that they had lost Oliver and threw a pot of beer at Charley. Right at that moment one secretive character walks in and the whole atmosphere changes!

Of course this specific character was Bill Sikes; Bill Sikes is one of the pivotal characters in Oliver Twist, possibly the single most evil villain in the novel. The character of Bill Sikes is portrayed as a villainous, monstrous and demonic person, who is pre-disposed to violence. Dickens portrays Sikes in this way by means of the language he uses and his actions. One of the first statements from Bill Sikes is when he says its as well its the beer, and not the pot, as hit me, or Id have settled somebody. After Sikes has said this, it demonstrates to the audience how Bill Sikes is always in an unfavourable mood; he is animalistic. Sikes has just stepped through the door to Fagins hideout and is already saying that he will settle someone. It gives a very clear image of his brutal character and his loudness gives the reader an impression of his drunkenness and that he is constantly angry.

Dickens describes Bill Sikes by informing the reader in detail of his appearance. Dickens tells the reader that Sikes is wearing a black velveteen coat this symbolises Bill Sikes as a sly character and how he must sneak about the shadows of the London to hide. The colour black describes Bill as an evil character; black represents darkness therefore it relates to the evil mind which Bill Sikes has. The velveteen coat is a symbol that Bill must move about the London suburbs undetected. Also the rich material implies that it has been stolen. Bill Sikes also wears a dirty belcher handkerchief this gives the reader an idea about the sort of unclean, working class area Bill must live in. The working class background might be the reason for his barbaric behaviour. The reader also knows that Bill Sikes has a strong cockney accent from the way Charles Dickens breaks down his dialogue, for example D-me, and Ill-treating the boys, you covetous, avaricious, in-sa-ti-a-ble old fence? The way the words are broken down into parts releases the cockney speech accent. The reader therefore knows that Bill is related to criminals and possibly one himself just from his accent, as cockney accents usually come from people in working class backgrounds. People in working class back grounds are more likely to commit a crime as they are always desperate for money. It also shows how Sikes thinks he is in charge as he calls Fagin an old fence demonstrating his power over Fagin. The first person that the reader is introduced to is Fagin and the way he is described makes the reader think he is the leader of the small gang of outlaws. However with the new arrival of Sikes, the reader can see that everyone is afraid of Sikes.

Following on from how Dickens describes Sikes clothing and the accent he has, Dickens also shows the reader how he interacts with his dog. The monstrosity of Bill Sikes is reinforced when he kicks his loyal dog Bulls Eye without a thought, when this command was accompanied by a kickto the other end of the room. This quote illustrates the wickedness of Bill Sikes as he kicks his dog. The reader can understand the atrocious and unacceptable behaviour of Sikes. Bulls Eye does nothing after this and the reader also knows that he is used to it from the description a white shaggy dog, with his faced scratched and torn in twenty different places skulked in the room. The fact that most dogs would defend themselves after harm is inflicted towards them is demolished when Bulls Eye does nothing but simply retreats to a corner. The piece of information that Bulls Eye has a scratched face tells the reader that the dog is regularly beaten when his owner gets angry. It demonstrates the dreadful actions Sikes seems to think are acceptable in everyday life. It gives the reader an idea about Sikes twisted mind.

In chapter 16, Nancy refuses to take any further part in the plot against Oliver. When Sikes tries to get her to stop taking Olivers side, he says: Do you know who you are, and what you are? He uses a simple technique of telling her that she should remember who her superiors are and she should respect their actions. It is highly likely that as a woman she has no power or authority over men. Sikes tells Nancy she has no right to interfere with him or Fagin. However Nancy has found a soft spot in her heart for Oliver and also feels guilty about her own role in bringing Oliver to Fagin and Sikes. This quote from Sikes gives you an idea about the role of women during the Victorian period. The role of women was to have children and tend to the house. Therefore Sikes has no respect for Nancy and it is verified when he says well, then, keep quiet this quote proves that Sikes doesnt care about Nancys feelings or thoughts. He simply has her around to carry out basic tasks like cooking and cleaning. It is revealed that it was customary to beat women when they get out of place in the Victorian era when Sikes says or Ill quiet you for a good long time to come and that it is acceptable to ill-treat women. The reader then learns that Nancy is a mental and physical victim of Bill Sikes. The reader also feels sympathy for such women of Victorian times because they must have gone through this type of pain every day. Nancys relationship with Bill leads her to criminal acts and you would expect her to be angry with Bill. Nevertheless Nancy reacts in a different way to Sikes threats as she has a strong relationship with Sikes so she argues with Sikes and Fagin telling them that Oliver has been through so much already. She puts her life on the line in saying Civil words you villain! You deserve em from me. This tells the reader that Nancy is prepared to suffer at the hands of Sikes in order to try and protect Oliver. At this stage Nancy is developing a soft spot towards the poverty-stricken and unfortunate character of Oliver Twist. Nancy has changed as the reader can see that she would ruin her relationship with Sikes and Fagin who she has known all her life to save an unimportant boy who she barely knows.

During chapter 16, Bill Sikes hits Nancy and readers of the novel see how far Sikes will go when he is angry, the housebreaker flung the girl from him to the further end of the room. This quote is evidence that Bill has hit Nancy and it tells the reader how furious Bill can get. Dickens uses the word housebreaker to describe Sikes; the readers first impression of Sikes is that of a housebreaker. As this is Sikes first crime of which Dickens makes us aware. The readers see Sikes perform and carry out a burglary. Dickens gives us more of an insight into the personality of Bill Sikes; Sikes is a cruel hot-tempered thug and he releases his anger on Nancy. The readers perception of Bill doesnt change as the reader will have guessed that Sikes could be capable of hitting Nancy, however it paints a picture for the reader where Sikes is always aggressive and violent. Bill conscious mind might not have wanted to hurt Nancy but he is out of control and he's lets his anger over take him. This makes Bill Sikes more terrifying because whenever Sikes gets angrier (which the reader learns is most of the time) theres a possibility that he will release his anger in gruesome ways.

Once Sikes finds out that Nancy has betrayed him he goes wild flinging the old man from him, he rushed from the room, and darted, wildly and furiously, up the stairs. The reader understands straight away from Sikes reaction that something really bad will happen as a result of his anger. The reader already knows what Sikes is capable of from his past incidents in the novel. Sikes becomes really violent and returns to his own apartment where Nancy is sleeping. When Sikes leaves Fagin with his compressed teeth it illustrates that he was livid and that he was planning a dreadful task. He is looking straight before him therefore he is clearly focused on the task ahead and nothing will stop him from achieving it. He is single-mindedly set upon his attack. When he enters the bedroom where Nancy is sleeping peacefully he commands her to get up! When Sikes enters, Nancy has no idea of what is to become of her, It is you, Bill! said the girl with an expression of pleasure at his return. This innocence portrayed by Nancy proves to be useless towards Bill Sikes. Dickens describes her as the girl making her seem simple and incapable of evil. As Sikes walks in on Nancy while she is sleeping it provides the reader with an image of Nancy which is peaceful and virtuous. It demonstrates how Sikes ends this peaceful trance that Nancy is in. Dickens uses lots of descriptive words to explain the amount of force going on during this terrible act committed by Sikes; like grasping, wrestling and dragged. The descriptive words provide the reader with an improved representation to the proceedings that are taking place during this crucial part of Oliver Twist. Without the use of the highly descriptive adjectives the reader would only have a vague image of the actions that take place in this scene. However as Dickens has included these descriptive words it paints a perfectly clear picture for the reader. The reader can get as much information out of the incident between Sikes and Nancy with the language Dickens uses. The use of the word wrestling implies that its two people and that it is a matter of life or death. The adjective shows the reader how Sikes is trying to immobilises Nancy. The word dragged implies that the fight is very violent and is a rough brawl between the people involved. Also a large amount of force is needed to drag a human being, it shows the reader the amount of power applied. Dickens uses the adjective grasped to demonstrate to the reader that Sikes is seizing Nancy firmly and keeping his grip on her.

Dickens then goes on to illustrate an image of the brute strength of Sikes, he beat it twice with all the force he could summon, upon the upturned face that almost touched his own. The amount of force applied is easy to make out from the unique style of Dickens writing. Also Dickens uses descriptive language which contains lots of adjectives to help improve the image the reader creates in their mind. The maximum height of Sikes physicality has just been reached in this quote. The use of the words all the force he could summon demonstrates the graphic detail Dickens is giving. Dickens is showing the reader that Sikes is not looking back; Sikes is going through with this and applying all of the strength he has in doing it and that he will not let anything get in his way. This section of the novel is very emotional as the reader knows from earlier on in the story that even though Sikes didnt show it, Nancy and Sikes had a very close relationship. For Sikes to let his anger control him and make him ruin his long lasting relationship with Nancy demonstrates the true extent of his power. It also shows how far he will go when his anger controls him. The fact that Sikes cannot control his feelings and lets evil actions become the result of them makes Sikes a fearsome character. Sikes is both verbally and physically very violent.

After Sikes strikes Nancy, Dickens describes the situation using metaphors when blood that rained down from a deep gash in her forehead. This particular quote adds emphasis to the gruesome image the reader will get from the actions of Bill Sikes. When Nancy is at her weakest and she knows that it is inevitable that she will die, she draws out from her bosom a white handkerchief which represents her surrender to Sikes and that she is finally at peace, after her life time of sins. It gives the reader some reassurance that Nancy tried her best and that her deeds will be remembered. Dickens uses nouns like the man and the robber in place of Bills name as it gives a significance to a person with no identity. While Sikes is attacking Nancy, Dickens lets the reader see that Sikes is almost losing his identity by killing Nancy. The reader thinks of Bill as inhumane. He hasnt been described with his name! Dickens identifies Sikes through his actions rather than his name. This technique of Dickens is brilliant and it takes the perception to another level when Bill is described as the murderer. This reminds the reader of the horrific crime that has just been committed. The reader knows that Bill feels dreadful and shocked at what he has just done; as he is staggering backwards to the wall and shutting out the sight with his hands it gives an idea to the reader that Sikes regrets what he has done and is lost without Nancy. Only now Sikes realises the extent of his power and be starts to feel remorse and guilt. The ending of the chapter is a really effective cliff-hanger which adds more tension for the readers. Dickens style of writing gives the story more depth and his use of short sentences creates lots of tension. Nancy and Sikes are a great contrast of characters in the novel. One tries to help Oliver, while the other only looks to use him for his own gain.

As Nancy is now dead even more dreadful things will take place in the story. This is a great method of Dickens to keep the reader locked into the book. Nancy was the only person to keep Bill in his place and under control. Now that Nancy is gone anything could happen and this draws the reader into the book more. In the end Sikes is caught and justice is served; good prevails.

In conclusion I have found that Sikes is one of the worst of Dickens characters ever created. He is ruthless, corrupt and terrible; everyone in the novel fears him and this is illustrated by Dickens techniques of language and the descriptions he uses. I have looked at all the key sections where Bill Sikes is portrayed as evil and the crucial parts to the story in which he is involved. Throughout the whole novel Sikes uses fear and torment to all those who make contact with him. Dickens has created a great villain in this story and in some ways even the reader fears Sikes even though he is a fictional character. Sikes creates a sense of menace and tension whatever he does.

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