Study Guide

Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist

By Charles Dickens

Bill Sikes

Is there anything at all likeable about Sikes? Seriously, what does Nancy see in this guy? Sikes is brave and strong, for sure, and he’s a straight shooter. He doesn’t like it when Fagin talks around the point or tries to cover things up. He’s no liar, whatever else he might be. And maybe he's super-hawt?

But he’s also stubborn, distrustful, and has what you might call some anger management issues. Oh, Nancy. We know bad boys are sexy, but did you have to go for one that is so completely terrible?

And where did ol' Dickens get the idea for such a character? Well, there was actually a historical criminal named James Sikes a.k.a. "Hell and Fury," (a.k.a. what an awesome nickname) who lived (and was hanged) in the 1720's—a period of criminal history that Dickens was particularly interested in.

William Makepeace Thackeray—another Victorian novelist who was very critical of Oliver Twist and all "Newgate novels" from the start—said that readers (and especially young male readers) couldn’t help but "to have for Bill Sikes a kind of pity and admiration," that couldn’t be good for their morals. Dickens defended himself by saying that he had depicted criminals in their true colors, and that there was nothing sympathetic about Sikes that would be dangerous to readers’ morals.

What do you think: is this true? Does Dickens ever draw on the reader’s sympathy for Sikes?