Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 4

At times he [Sikes] turned with desperate determination, resolved to beat this phantom off, though it should look him dead; but the hair rose on his head and his blood stood still, for it had turned with him and was behind him then. He had kept it before him that morning, but it was behind now—always. He leaned his back against a bank, and felt that it stood above him, visibly out against the cold night sky. He threw himself upon the road—on his back upon the road. At his head it stood, silent, erect, and still—a living grave-stone, with its epitaph in blood. Let no man talk of murderers escaping justice, and hint that Providence must sleep. There were twenty score of violent deaths in one long minute of that agony of fear.

After murdering Nancy, Sikes flees London, only to find that his conscience will not let him escape. This passage, from Chapter 48, embodies an idea that has fascinated many great authors—the idea that a guilty conscience is its own punishment, worse than any that the law can assign. The entire account of Sikes’s flight is also among the most psychologically sophisticated passages in the novel. Up until this point, Sikes has been a pure villain. In his guilt, however, he becomes more realistically human. We probably cannot sympathize with Sikes, but, in this chapter, we do see the world through his wretched eyes. Moreover, Dickens’s vivid descriptions allow us to experience Sikes’s sensation of being hunted, by both external and more horrifying internal pursuers.