Miss Flite’s caged birds symbolize the stifling effect that Chancery lawsuits have on the characters throughout the novel, as such lawsuits lead people to suspend other goals and ambitions because they wait to see if they have inherited a fortune. Miss Flite is one such example of this. She is a mad old woman who lives above Krook’s shop and visits the court every day as she waits for a verdict on an ancient lawsuit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce. She promises to free her caged birds when the case is resolved, but some of the birds have already died, forcing her to wonder if she, too, will die before the lawsuit wraps up. Of course, her life is practically already over, as everything she thinks and does centers around the court.
Richard also goes mad while he waits for a verdict in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The novel’s characters, like the birds, are trapped in a suspended state and can only be free once the case is resolved, which is unlikely, or when they give up hope on the case, as Mr. Jarndyce has done. Rather than pursue a career and earn his fortune, Richard waits in vain to learn how much he has inherited. His hopes are dashed when the lawsuit is finally resolved, and it transpires that all the inheritance has been used up in legal fees. This also points back to Miss Flite’s birds because Krook points out that, when they are released, they will be killed by wild birds, just as Richard dies when he is released from suspense in Chancery. The bird’s names are also symbolic; Miss Flite names them things like “hope,” “joy,” and “peace,” which suggests that Chancery lawsuits cage these feelings and make them impossible to reach. This again is apparent through Richard, who has no peace while Jarndyce and Jarndyce is unresolved. Miss Flite eventually names two birds the “wards in Jarndyce” in honor of Richard and Ada, whose married life is destroyed by the court case.
Miss Flite’s Birds Quotes in Bleak House
She partly drew aside the curtain of the long low garret-window, and called our attention to a number of bird-cages hanging there: some containing several birds. There were larks, linnets, and goldfinches—I should think at least twenty. ‘I began to keep the little creatures,’ she said, ‘with an object that the wards will readily comprehend. With the intention of restoring them to liberty. When my judgment should be given. Ye-es! They die in prison, though. Their lives, poor silly things, are so short in comparison with Chancery proceedings, that, one by one, the whole collection has died over and over again.’