illustration of two young men standing in 19th century garb and looking at one another

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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What did David feel about Uriah Heep in David Copperfield?  

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Uriah Heep in David Copperfield is one of the least appealing characters that Charles Dickens created. Although he does not, on the outside, seem evil, Uriah’s obsequious personality hides his malicious intent and illegal activities. David initially meets Uriah when he and his aunt go to Mr. Wickfield’s to arrange for him to begin his studies (chapter 15). All his initial curious or negative impressions do not improve with time.

He first describes his face as looking “cadaverous,” then realizes his pallor is consistent with his red-heads’ complexion; his eyelids are so small that David wonders that he can even close them enough to sleep. Although Uriah is fifteen, he looks older. His frame is so bony that he looks skeletal, and his black clothes are “decent.” David’s reservations come upon him so quickly that he reads meaning into Uriah’s smallest gesture: as he holds their pony while they go inside, David

caught a glimpse . . . of Uriah Heep breathing into the pony’s nostrils, and immediately covering them with his hand, as if he were putting some spell upon him.

When David next sees Uriah inside working at his desk, he gets the impression that Uriah is staring at him rather than looking at his work. Uriah’s “sleepless eyes . . . [look] like two red suns,” and no matter where in the room David goes, he always finds them on him, "either just rising or just setting."

Later in the day, as the office is closing down, David speaks with the clerk and holds out his hand to shake. Uriah’s hand feels “clammy” and “ghostly.” After they shake and Uriah leaves, David rubs his own hands as if to rub off the cold sensation of Uriah’s hand. Nevertheless, even in his bedroom later, he continues to feel both the hand and the eyes on him.

David’s negative impressions of Uriah do not abate, and the physical descriptions of his red eyes contrasted with his pale skin and clammy hands are continually used to accentuate the otherworldly sensation. The next day when they meet again, Uriah describes himself as “umble,” even claiming “I am the umblest person going.” During their conversation, additional impressions are added of his resemblance to a snake.

He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly; and which diverted my attention from the compliment he had paid my relation, to the snaky twistings of his throat and body.

By the end of that second meeting, David’s apprehension has grown so strong that he even has bad dreams about Uriah, seeing him as a pirate who kidnaps him and little Em’ly and intends to drown them in the Spanish Main.

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