Bleak House

Bleak House

by

Charles Dickens

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Miss Flite’s Birds Symbol Analysis

Miss Flite’s Birds Symbol Icon

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

The Bleak House quotes below all refer to the symbol of Miss Flite’s Birds. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Wordsworth edition of Bleak House published in 1993.
Chapter 5 Quotes

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.’

Related Characters: Esther Summerson (speaker), Miss Flite (speaker), Ada Clare, Richard Carstone, Caddy Jellyby
Related Symbols: Miss Flite’s Birds
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
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Miss Flite’s Birds Symbol Timeline in Bleak House

The timeline below shows where the symbol Miss Flite’s Birds appears in Bleak House. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
...at the courthouse. In her window, she keeps several cages, each of which contains a bird, and, she explains, she will release these birds when there is a judgement in her... (full context)
Chapter 14
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
Miss Flite is about to tell them the names of her birds, when she hears Krook outside the door. Mr. Jarndyce opens the door and finds Krook... (full context)
Chapter 35
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness Theme Icon
Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny Theme Icon
...and Miss Flite says that, when her judgement is finally delivered, she will free her birds. She changes the subject and tells Esther about Mr. Woodcourt. The boat that he had... (full context)
Chapter 60
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
...Miss Flite leans towards her and tells her confidentially that she has added two new birds to her aviary. She has called them “The Wards in Jarndyce” after Richard and Ada,... (full context)
Chapter 65
Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage Theme Icon
Law vs. Justice Theme Icon
Passion, Obsession, and Madness Theme Icon
...as he dies. When Miss Flite arrives, she tells them that she has set her birds free. (full context)