10 of Air - Bill Sikes
Bullseye [dog]; Bill Sikes.
Very little good can be said for Bill Sikes. He is a career criminal and one of the cruellest characters Dickens ever wrote. He shares some DNA with the horrible Daniel Quilp, but is more realistic, lacking the dwarf's fairy-tale trollishness. Sikes is a barbaric brute; a bulldog of a man whose own pet bulldog is afraid of him. With no redeeming qualities, his death at the finale of Oliver Twist comes as something of a relief.
Sikes lives in the rookery area of London. He is the muscle of Fagin's pick-pocket gang and pimp to his girlfriend Nancy. When Fagin implies that Nancy has sold him out to the authorities, Sikes violently murders Nancy in one of the most gruesome and graphic scenes Dickens ever wrote. Late in his career, Dickens edited this scene to its essentials and acted out the parts of Bill and Nancy for his Public readings. It was an incredible dramatic success, but it quite literally cost Dickens his health and quite possibly contributed to his own demise.
Sikes is as stupid as he is brutal. In something of a brain-fever after killing Nancy, Sikes is hounded through the streets of London, his dog Bull's Eyes at his heels. Ascending to the rooftops, Sikes suffers the fate Oliver Twist has been named and cursed with throughout the book – he hangs himself. His dog Bull's Eye, in loyalty and stupidity, jumps after his master, smashing his brains out on the street below. Sikes' hanging in turn implies Fagin's sentencing to death by hanging, just as the jeering mob which watches Sikes die implies the hordes of Victorians – respectable and otherwise – who turned out to view public hangings.
Dickens gives us nothing in his depiction of Bill Sikes to understand him as anything other than an ugly incarnation of evil. Yet, the essential idea underlying Oliver Twist is that such monsters – pick-pockets, prostitutes, pimps – are made not by the devil but by society's economic inequalities. Rather than react self-righteously with fear and loathing long after the damage is done, we need to see the least amongst us as brethren and prevent the cycle of violence from mindlessly repeating before its only possible solution is summary execution and death.
Shorthand : Terrible man - terrible dog - thank god they're dead, even though suffering continues - a fine end - those who live by the sword, die by the sword - the worst may be past - out of sikes, out of mind.