Bleak House Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Bleak House.
This section contains 748 words
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Law and society

Dickens expresses his protest against the law that delivers little justice while being arrogant and full of folly. Chancery is the most unjust system there is and even the name suggests that the result has more to do with an accidental chance rather than the steady pursuit of justice. It is surrounded in fog, dragged by fog, and at the very center of the fog. Its judgments are clouded with ignorance and pretense.

Those that engage in it most deeply become ruined by the system, despite the fact that the system is considered great by lawyers. Dickens shows that the system is able to finance itself, leaving those that come for justice penniless. It is against any reason to put trust in something that turns out to be only a matter of chance.

Richard Carstone is one of the most affected characters. His life ends up in tragedy even though he is not involved directly with the law suit. Both Mr. Gridley and even Sir Leicester Dedlock gain little by law suits that make their lives unhappy, full of anxiety, and even death.

Mr. John Jarndyce, who tries to pretend that his law suit does not exist, manages to lead a relatively happy life that is greatly improved through his generosity and care for others.

Only your own efforts seem to be able to produce effects while relying on any form of assistance from law may lead to demise rather than delivery.

Tragedy

The main theme is the tragedy of Richard Carstone, showing all the negative sides of engaging in legal battles.

Tragedy pervades human lives in Bleak House. Those that decide about other's lives remain unhappy as is the case with Mr. Tulkinghorn, who lives a lonely and secluded life while connected with other lives through keeping their secrets. The power that he holds over them is what makes such pursuit exciting. His admiration for power is reflected in his admiration of a Roman that is depicted on his ceiling.

Lives are ruined by Chancery through incompetence and destructiveness. The court structure is unstable while the entire system is in disarray. Those who live on the streets as well as those who exert law over the rest of the society live lives of misery—evident in their treating it as a game or being unable make any choices due to poverty. Those that hold the papers, such as Mr. Krook, in the end resolve cases although they die.

Nemo, who becomes "no one," also has to die for he has lost purpose in life. His personal tragedy starts with an unsuccessful relationship and the inability to keep his family. His loneliness has to be his end.

In a similar way death is inevitable for Mrs Dedlock, who is too cold to realize that she has lost what is most important in her life, her daughter. It is her denial of contact with her daughter that is alienating her and leading her towards doomed choices.

Symbolism

Dickens engages symbolism in conveying various issues. The Chancery Court employs waste, delay and incidence rather than method. Its foggy atmosphere symbolizes confusion about everything that involves cases.

Rain that pervades various places, including Lady Dedlock's home, conveys sorrow and lack of hope. It is difficult to escape mud that is part of corruption.

The misery of Bleak House involves its name, the symbol of the unhappiness that is connected with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit. The name Dedlock suggests the inescapable nature of death implying that death is imminent in the Dedlock family. Such insinuation is also evident through the ghostly walk that pervades the house.

In the same way the name Nemo means "no one" in Latin. Captain Hawdon's nickname reflects the reality of his existence deprived of friends, family, and even humane accommodation. As he sinks he becomes nobody.

Other symbols that are incorporated in the book are the cage of birds held by Miss Flite. They represent cases that are unresolved. Those that are trapped in such cages become oppressed by the system and their lives succumb to a dreary existence. Upon the result, such a cage can be opened and birds released. Consequently she opens the cage when the trial comes to an end.

Other symbols, such as the case Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce contains the same names, as if the case was conducted against the very person that initiates it. It can also mean that such cases become directed at society itself.

This section contains 748 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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