Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lady Dedlock is at Chesney Wold and is very restless. Sir Leicester is laid up with “the family gout,” which he has proudly inherited from his Dedlock ancestors. Meanwhile, in London, Jo languishes in a poverty-stricken slum known as “Tom-all-Alone’s.” There is little connection between this world and the Dedlocks’ world, and the politicians and Lords who try, unsuccessfully, to solve poverty in places like this.
Sir Leicester is proud of his gout because it was a disease associated with lavish lifestyles and with the nobility. With this, Sir Leicester’s preoccupation with his noble lineage is portrayed as rather absurd. Slums were tightly packed clusters of unsafe and unsanitary housing, which sprung up in cities during the Industrial Revolution to deal with overcrowding and to house the poor. Politicians of Sir Leicester’s class cannot solve these types of social problems because they have no experience of them and cannot understand them.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The houses in Tom-all-Alone’s are so dilapidated that they frequently collapse. Jo does not know where the street got its name because Jo knows very little about the world. He cannot read and writing is a mystery to him. Everything seems strange and baffling to Jo. At his crossing, Jo sees a herd of oxen and a Collie dog; Jo is like these creatures. It begins to rain in the afternoon, and Jo seeks shelter in a doorway from the drizzly night.
Slums were very unhygienic and dangerous places to live. Jo is compared with an animal because he has always been treated like one. He has received no help, no social care, and no education.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mr. Tulkinghorn is in his office, underneath the painted Allegory, who points perpetually to the floor. A woman has just passed his house. She is dressed like a servant, but her face is covered, and she has the bearing of a rich woman. She walks quickly to the crossing, where Jo stays, and beckons him to follow her. Once out of sight, the woman asks Jo about Nemo’s inquest and what he knows of the death. She asks him to show her Nemo’s lodgings, the law stationer’s shop, and the place where the body was buried.
The woman’s manner is incongruous with her dress, suggesting that she doesn’t want to be found out. It seems that the woman wants to find out what became of Nemo, though it’s curious that she knows to go to Jo for this.
Themes
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
Jo agrees and the woman tells him to lead her there and to stop in front of each location, without glancing back. She gives him some money, and Jo leads her to Mr. Snagsby’s, then to Krook’s, and then on to the cemetery. The graveyard is blocked off by a locked iron grate and Jo tells the woman that his coffin was placed on top of a pile of others towards the back of the yard. The woman gives Jo another coin, and he notices the glittering rings she wears.
The woman does not wish to be seen with Jo. Nemo has been buried in a pauper’s grave, which was unmarked and in which several coffins would be piled together.
Themes
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
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Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock has several parties to attend that night, and Sir Leicester is left alone with Mrs. Rouncewell. He complains that the rain is very loud on the Ghost’s Walk. Mrs. Rouncewell agrees and tells Rosa that she has never heard it so distinctly before.
That the chapter shifts focus so suddenly suggests that the woman who paid Jo is, in fact, Lady Dedlock, and that she invented the parties so that she had a reason to go out. The rain on the Ghost’s Walk refers to both Lady Dedlock’s connection with her past, as she goes to track down Nemo, and foreshadows the ruin of the Dedlock line because of this connection.
Themes
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon