Uriah Heep: Character Analysis in David Copperfield

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Introduction: The Darkest Villain

      Heep is the darkest villain that ever lived on this earth. He is consumed with envy, hatred and malice. He is a hypocrite pretending to be humble while all the time plotting to ruin others and lower their position. Roguery and villainy have become a second nature to him. He excites terror in us. He is the viper that is low and bites in the dark.

Uriah Heep's Grotesque Appearance

      Uriah Heep is a clerk to Mr. Wickfield and the villain of the novel. He is a youth of fifteen but looks much older. His hair is cropped as close as the closest stubble. He has hardly any eyebrows, and no eye-lashes. As Johnson remarks in his book Charles Dickens - His Tragedy and Triumph, "The subtle naive who has gradually entangled Mr. Wickfeld, Miss Betsey's man of business, in his web and who intends to make Mr. Wickfield's daughter Agnes 'his Agnes', is the Murdstone threat grown ten times more cunning and grimly unscrupulous. His hypocritical assumption of 'umbleness' his damp bony hands, his fawning hatred of those he has deceived, his calculated dependence upon their very loyalties and affections, his ingenuity in spinning his web, make him despicable and dangerous to a degree transcending the Murdstone's, who could tyrannize only weak women and helpless children. Uriah Heep can worm his way into the confidence of experienced men of affairs, get an upper hand of their weaknesses, and reduce them to "Subservience." The characterization of Uriah Heep is a good example of Dickens's mastery of the grotesque. Considerable use is made of physical peculiarities to suggest the animal-like characteristic of Uriah's mind.

A Hypocrite

      Uriah Heep is the very incarnation of hypocrisy. He pretends humility He always says that they are humble people, i.e., he and his mother. He uses word ’umble’ occasionally. But all his humility is a mere pretext i.e. a cover for cunning and 'deceitfulness. In fact, he is not humble at all. He is highly ambitious. He wants wealth. He wants rank and position. He requires power and influence. As W. Eastwood remarks, "Uriah Heep's leading characteristic is hypocrisy, his inordinate ambition, ravening egoism and rancor against society being cloaked under a constantly reiterate profession of 'umbleness'. Dickens shows himself aware of conditions in the institutions of his day which tended directly to produce this type of mentality. But that alone would not have been sufficient to produce a monster of Heep's caliber, which can be fully accounted for only by assuming an innate wickedness and malignity of mind."

His Deceitful Methods

      In conversation, he would rub his hands between his knees and writhe his body like a snake. He is vengeful in his revealing the gossip about Mrs. Strong to Dr. Strong and in his ruining Aunt Betsey so that he might injure David whom he hated because of Agnes's love for David. He is scheming and succeeds in manipulating Mr. Wickelfid and in that way is responsible for the unhappiness of the Wickfield, Micawber, and Trotwood families. In his 'umbleness' and later in jail in his professions he is hypocritical. This hypocrisy is deliberate and rehearsed. It springs from hatred and greed.

Hatred for Mankind

      Uriah Heep was a heartless villain. He used the garb of humility to conceal his real self. In fact, he had a temperament for prostituting the law for his selfish ends. He has no sense of gratitude. If he had not this trait, he would not have tried to deceive his employer, Mr. Wickfield. Uriah Heep tries to involve Mr. Wickfield in the dubious transaction in regard to Miss Trotwood's property. He also forged certain documents to serve his ends. Uriah Heep seems to have developed a character of a misanthrope. On account of this quality, we find in him that he causes unhappiness in the life of Miss Betsey Trotwood, David, Agnes, Mr. Wickfield and others.

      Uriah Heep was a stone-hearted creature. When he was exposed by Mr. Micawber, he tried to snatch the documents from him. He remained unmoved and unshaken. Because he was a heartless villain with abundance of vulgar courage, he continued to bluff Mr. Micawber and the party who had come to expose him till the very end. It was his misfortune that Tommy Traddles proved more intelligent than he and made him face certain facts that brought him down on his knees.

His Unscrupulous Ambition and Criminal Ruthlessness

      If hypocrisy is the method of his mind, unscrupulous ambition and criminal ruthlessness are the characteristics of his nature, as exemplified in his treatment of Mr. Wickfield. To say that he bit the hand that fed him is to put it mildly. Fraud and forgery are only two of the methods he adopts, not merely to ruin Wickfield financially but indeed to undermine his sanity. His disgusting desire to marry Agnes is merely a part of his ambition, loathsome not merely because of his personal characteristics but because it goes hand in hand with his determination to wreck her father. His malicious informing of Doctor Strong about Annie is a form of motiveless malignity against human happiness itself, for he positively delights in it, though it is no affair of him. Apart from this episode, he seems possessed of some wicked, cunning and cleverness which enable him almost to succeed in his designs. Heep's infamy is undoubted. He says one thing and means another. He takes employment and shelter in the house of Wickfield but he does every tiling to destroy him, to take over his business and to force his daughter into his bed. He is cloying, jerking and writhing. He is dishonest, cruel and above all, greedy. He is a 'monster' in the garb of a man". The only person for whom he seems capable of entertaining affection in his mother; and she is the only person who would show any affection for him. And even between these two the bond is as that between two conspirators as that between mother and son.

An Account of his Family

      Uriah Heep belongs to a very poor family. He himself narrates the condition of his family: "Father and I were 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 good deal of humbleness-not much else that I know of, from morning to night. We were to be humble to this person, and humble 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!"

His Motiveless Malignity

      Uriah Heep was successful in his conspiracy. He became prosperous. Due to his prosperity, he was insolent and arrogant. Outwardly he appears to be a moralist. He disturbs Dr. Strong's domestic peace because he refers to Mrs. Strong's affairs with her cousin Jack Maldon. This exposure does not serve any purpose. It is practically motiveless malignity. He suffers from an inferiority complex. In this manner, he puts respectable people in trouble. He is morally blind. He continues his nefarious and dishonest activities. In the end his own villainy recoils upon his head. He is caught in his own trap. He pays the penalty he deserves. He is convicted for fraud, forgery and conspiracy in a bank case. He is sentenced to transportation for life. Uriah Heep's career indicates that he is the most detestable character to Dickens. The novelist does not observe anything good in his career. Uriah Heep has been depicted as a wild and beastly person. Dickens has frequently used animal imagery to expose his conspiracy and other ugly movements. He has been compared to repulsive animals e.g. fox, frog, snake and baboon. Dickens has no soft comer for persons like Uriah Heep. Whereas he is a champion of the oppressed masses, he has no sympathy and respect for villains although they belong to oppressed families. Dickens is sympathetic to poor people but he has hatred for the criminals. Uriah Heep is the meanest person who has committed all sorts of crimes in order to promote his self-interest.


      Uriah Heep is the reverse of Mr. Micawber. Whereas Micawber is helpful and sympathetic, Uriah Heep is selfish, greedy and, hypocritical. He causes misery to others without any purpose. But God's ways are sure and certain. Heep's own villainy at last recoils upon his head. The work of retribution begins. He is entangled with his nemesis. Mr. Micawber's ability, at last, reveals his true colors. Thus an interminable cheat, a liar Heep, the immortal hypocrite is caught in his own web and pays the penalty he so justly deserved. He is convicted of fraud, forgery and conspiracy in a bank case and sentenced for transportation for life.

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