“Though his face was towards me, I thought, for some time, the writing being between us, that he could not see me; but looking that way more attentively, it made me uncomfortable to observe that, every now and then, his sleepless eyes would come below the writing, like two red suns, and stealthily stare at me for I dare say a whole minute at a time, during which his pen went, or pretended to go, as cleverly as ever. I made several attempts to get out of their way—such as standing on a chair to look at a map on the other side of the room, and poring over the columns of a Kentish newspaper—but they always attracted me back again; and whenever I looked towards those two red suns, I was sure to find them, either just rising or just setting.”

This quotation encompasses David’s first real interaction with Uriah. He is deeply unsettled by Uriah’s presence and cannot shake the feeling that Uriah is watching him. The passage makes several references to Uriah’s “sleepless eyes,” which track David’s every move like a predator that is stalking its prey. The strength and persistence of Uriah’s gaze generates an unnerving tone, helping to establish Uriah as one of the text’s key villains. The descriptions of Uriah’s eyes are also significant because they imply that Uriah’s villainy is always lying just below the surface as he waits for the opportune moment to strike.

“Uriah… has made himself indispensable to papa. He is subtle and watchful. He has mastered papa’s weaknesses, fostered them, and taken advantage of them, until—to say all that I mean in a word, Trotwood,—until papa is afraid of him.”

A fearful Agnes expresses her concerns about Uriah to David after she meets him in London. Agnes is worried for her father because Uriah has managed to gain control of his business. Agnes acknowledges that Uriah was able to seize control because he masterfully exploited Mr. Wickfield’s weaknesses after subtly observing them for some time. This is a crucial moment in the text because it proves that David was correct about Uriah’s calculating nature.

“But how little you think of the rightful umbleness of a person in my station, Master Copperfield! Father and me was both brought up at a foundation school for boys; and mother, she was likewise brought up at a public, sort of charitable, establishment. They taught us all a deal of umbleness—not much else that I know of, from morning to night. We was to be umble to this person, and umble to that; and to pull off our caps here, and to make bows there; and always to know our place, and abase ourselves before our betters. And we had such a lot of betters! Father got the monitor-medal by being umble. So did I. Father got made a sexton by being umble. He had the character, among the gentlefolks, of being such a well-behaved man, that they were determined to bring him in. ‘Be umble, Uriah,’ says father to me, ‘and you’ll get on. It was what was always being dinned into you and me at school; it’s what goes down best. Be umble,’ says father, ‘and you’ll do!’ And really it ain’t done bad!” 

Here, Uriah gives David, and therefore the reader, some information about his past, thereby explaining much of his behavior. It becomes apparent that Uriah is obsessed with his “umbleness” because his parents raised him to be a sycophant—a person who acts obsequiously toward people with a higher rank in order to gain an advantage or improve their station. Clearly, Uriah took this school of thought to heart because he is constantly making self-deprecating comments to wealthier people in the hopes that they will take pity on him. David is able to see through his calculated debasement but many, such as Mr. Wickfield, are not.

“Though I had long known that his servility was false, and all his pretences knavish and hollow, I had had no adequate conception of the extent of his hypocrisy, until I now saw him with his mask off. The suddenness with which he dropped it, when he perceived that it was useless to him; the malice, insolence, and hatred, he revealed; the leer with which he exulted, even at this moment, in the evil he had done—all this time being desperate too, and at his wits’ end for the means of getting the better of us—though perfectly consistent with the experience I had of him, at first took even me by surprise, who had known him so long, and disliked him so heartily.”

David makes the above observation about Uriah after he and Traddles help Mr. Micawber to expose Uriah for blackmailing Mr. Wickfield. Even though David has long distrusted Uriah and long suspected that he was taking advantage of Mr. Wickfield, he is still momentarily stunned to see the real Uriah behind the simpering “umble” mask that he always wears. David’s brief shock is proof that Uriah is a masterful manipulator because he managed to conceal the extent of his evil nature until that moment.