Bleak House

Bleak House


Charles Dickens

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Themes and Colors
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
Identity and Appearance Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Bleak House, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Social Mobility, Class, and Lineage

The 19th century was a period in which the strict class systems of the previous centuries began to break down. Increased social mobility meant that middle- and lower-class men could, for the first time, improve their circumstances and become wealthy by finding work in the new jobs and industries that became available during the Industrial Revolution. This presented a challenge to the upper classes, who had inherited and maintained their wealth across several generations and…

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Law vs. Justice

Many of the characters in Bleak House are involved in a notorious lawsuit known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which has been in dispute in the court of Chancery for several generations. The court of Chancery was a British legal institution which dealt primarily with disputes over inheritance, and throughout Bleak House, Dickens criticizes the Chancery court process as an archaic and unnecessarily convoluted system that does not help its clients. Instead, it allows predatory…

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Passion, Obsession, and Madness

Dickens clearly sees the value of following one’s passion, as his characters who do not feel a calling in life are somewhat lost and forlorn throughout the book. However, there is a distinction made between a calling—a cause or profession one feels naturally drawn to, which one follows to a moderate and balanced degree—and an obsession. Bleak House is peppered with characters who are driven to distraction by their various obsessions, which consume their lives…

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Philanthropy, Social Responsibility, and Kindness

The 19th century was a period in which philanthropy (charitable contributions to social causes) was considered extremely important and fashionable. Many people in both the middle and upper classes felt that society had a responsibility to take care of the poor and to end the squalor and destitution that was rife among the lower classes. This attitude also extended beyond British borders as well, and many Victorians felt that it was Britain’s responsibility to manage…

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Haunting, Guilt, and Destiny

The are many examples of hauntings in Bleak House, and the line between the past and the present is blurry and uncertain throughout. Characters are also influenced by their past and by powerful emotions such as guilt and shame, which are associated with these private histories. In the resolution of Bleak House’s many plots, Dickens suggests that a person’s past behavior influences their future and demonstrates that greed and selfishness have their punishments…

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Identity and Appearance

Appearances can be deceiving in Bleak House, and the identity that a person presents to the world does not necessarily represent their inner life or their real personality. Many of the novel’s characters use this to their advantage, while others are at odds with their appearance and long for their true self to show through their physical or public exteriors. Dickens uses these contrasts between interiors and exteriors to demonstrate that appearances should not…

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