Themes of Bleak House
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is a master of exposing critical issues and to preserve his expertise, he has represented a number of social issues in the novel “Bleak House”. The major themes of the novel are;
The search for identity
Mysteries of the Bleak House center on the question of identity. Who is Esther Summerson? Who is her mother? Who is Nemo, whose name means “no one”? Who is Mr. George? But the subject goes beyond the true identity of the characters’ own conception. Mr. George imagines himself to be an irresponsible rover but he can always be trusted and open his doors to anyone in need. Richard cannot determine which profession he wants to enter and jumps from one to another. Thus, Dickens has not only focused on the identity of human beings but the identity of the profession.
The search for love
Almost every character in the novel “Black House” looks for love, a quest that proves to be equally rewarding and difficult. Esther quietly searches for love, even though she seems too busy caring for others, but she thinks a lot about her own romantic situation. She refrains from concentrating on her romantic feelings in her descriptions, although she often expresses her feelings simply by pondering over the subject. When she first meets Mr. Woodcourt, she does not mention it openly and starkly, which is the complete opposite of treating everyone who crosses her path. Only when her search for love is over, she marries Mr. Woodcourt. Other characters continue their searches more openly, for example, Ada and Richard.
The importance and danger of passion
Emotion in the novel “Bleak House” is both important and dangerous, sometimes healthy and satisfying, sometimes harmful and destructive. Many characters recognize the importance of emotion for a fulfilling life. For example, Mr. Jarndyce and Esther worry when Richard doesn’t find a career. They both hope that Richard will settle himself for fulfilling his passionate love by marrying Ada after settlement. Esther acknowledges the importance of emotion in love, which is why she cries as soon as she decides to accept Mr. Jarndyce’s offer that she loves him, but in an emotionally romantic way, she dreams of loving someone. Even Mr. Jarndyce understands the importance of emotion. Although he knows that he and Esther can have a happy life together at the Bleak House, he knows that their love is built on affection rather than emotion. Although emotion is an important element to fulfill life, it can be devastating when taken to an unhealthy level. Mrs. Jellyby, who is bound by her “mission” to help Africa, is innocently neglected about her family and has pushed herself so far away. This kind of passion for philanthropy is dangerous and Jarndyce’s conscious knowledge of passion is very much significant.
Law vs Justice
The novel “Bleak House” is like many of Dickens’s writings on various social issues. This is a satirical story about Dickens’ view of the British judiciary. Perhaps the most prominent theme of the Bleak House is the injustice of the Chancery Court system. For several years, the major characters of the novel have tried to resolve a civil court case called “Jarndyce”. The case has become a big deal because it involves an inheritance and it has gone on for several years and has become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. In the novel, the case ends but when the court and legal costs have eaten up the entire inheritance. But before solving the case, decades pass, there are several suicides, and still, other lives are ruined. So, justice is a must for the betterment of life, but not the law.
Haunting and guilt
There are many examples of haunting in the Bleak House and the line between past and present is vague and uncertain throughout the novel. The characters are influenced by their past and strong emotions like crime and shame that relate to this personal history. In the resolution of many plots in the Bleak House, Dickens suggests that a person’s past behavior affects their future and shows that greed and selfishness are their punishment even though virtue and goodness bring a reward for them.
Many characters in the novel are haunted by their pasts. The most obvious example of haunting in the Bleak House is the legend of “The Ghost’s Walk” in the country house of Dedlock called Chesney Wold. “Ghosts Walk” is both a literal terrace attached to the house and a reference to the ghost story attached to the family. The sound of rain in “Ghosts Walk” represents a ghostly move – the unhappy wife of a Dedlock ancestor who vowed to enjoy the mansion until the Dodlock line is destroyed. The legend also indirectly refers to the guilt of Lady Dedlock for her illegitimate child, whom she gave birth to before her marriage to Sir Leicester and she believes that she died at birth. The influence of the past on Lady Dedlock is evident through her sensitive reactions when she learns that Esther is her daughter. So, psychologically it is transparent that a human being must suffer from guilt due to his or her bitter past, and it becomes very unbearable when something is done concealing the past, including marriage-like sensitive issues.