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Symbolism In Bleak House

Symbolism in Bleak House

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As one of Charles Dickens's most complex stories, Bleak House contains in its pages many different characters and subplots. Because of this complexity, the story has numerous symbols, some of which tie into the story as a whole while others remain part of the various subplots. The primary plot has to do with a court case in the Court of Chancery, entitled Jamdyce and Jamdyce. This court case has taken up years of people's lives and countless sums of money; one symbol is directly representative of this court case. Miss Flite, an elderly woman that is obsessed with the court's proceedings, has been following this particular case for years. Her various birds, kept in cages throughout the course of the story, come to represent the various people involved in the case. The birds in Bleak House are given names such as:

  • Hope
  • Joy
  • Ruin
  • Despair

The birds symbolize the traits of people who have been embroiled in this case; as they die off, new ones are put in the cages, further symbolizing the people involved. Miss Flite promises to let the birds go free when a judgment is made, but it soon becomes apparent to the reader that such a day is unlikely to ever come.

A second symbol in the story is the east wind, referred to commonly by Mr. Jamdyce. Little bothers this man, and when something does, he casually refers to it by saying that the east wind is blowing. One does not typically see Mr. Jamdyce refer to anything in this nature until he encounters Esther, a young woman he is the guardian of. Gradually, however, Mr. Jamdyce comes to understand and appreciate Esther, commenting to her at one point that there can be no east wind when he is in her company. To the average reader, this may seem as though he has developed feelings for the woman; in actuality, it is more likely that Dickens is demonstrating the changeability of the wind and its impact on people. A symbol of unknown elements that cannot be changed by man, the wind sets people on new courses whether they like it or not, much as Esther did with him. Though these are just two of the many symbols in the story, they demonstrate the complexities and extensive characterization provided by Dickens in Bleak House.

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As one of Charles Dickens’s most complex stories, Bleak House contains in its pages many different characters and subplots.

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