The last time he had seen his slighted child, there had been that in the sad embrace between her and her dying mother which was at once a revelation and a reproach to him. Let him be absorbed as he would in the Son on whom he built such high hopes, he could not forget that closing scene. He could not forget that he had had no part in it. That, at the bottom of its clear depths of tenderness and truth, lay those two figures clasped in each other's arms, while he stood on the bank above them, looking down a mere spectator---not a sharer with them---quite shut out.
This quotation reveals why Mr. Dombey harbors such negative feelings towards Florence, and also sheds light on his character more generally. While Mr. Dombey is capable of great cruelty, much of his behavior stems from his feelings of jealousy, loneliness, and isolation. After witnessing the deep love between Florence and her dying mother, he realizes that he does not share this kind of relationship with anyone. He does not want to be reminded of this absence and therefore pushes away Florence. The quotation is one of the first examples of occasions where Florence's presence stirs up reminders of uncomfortable situations and leads to her being further isolated. The passage helps to establish Mr. Dombey as a complex and ambivalent character, who, while cruel, can also be the subject of sympathy. It is also ironic that, while Mr. Dombey feels jealous and resentful of the love between Florence and her mother, he could very easily receive the same love from her if he would only show her some kindness and affection.
Mr Dombey had truly revealed the secret feelings of his breast. An indescribable distrust of anybody stepping in between himself and his son; a haughty dread of having any rival or partner in the boy's respect and deference; a sharp misgiving, recently acquired, that he was not infallible in his power of bending and binding human wills; as sharp a jealousy of any second check or cross; these were, at that time, the master keys of his soul. In all his life, he had never made a friend. His cold and distant nature had neither sought one, nor found one. And now when that nature concentrated its whole force so strongly on a partial scheme of parental interest and ambition, it seemed as if its icy current, instead of being released by this influence, and running clear and free, had thawed but for an instant to admit its burden and then frozen with it into one unyielding block.
This quotation provides psychological insight into Mr. Dombey's character and his motivations for his behavior. While he does truly love his son, it is a love rooted in jealousy and fear: he is terrified that Paul will prefer someone else, and sees everyone as rivals for his son's affection. Because Mr. Dombey has never had any experience being in a close, affectionate relationship, he does not know how to behave in one, and treats Paul like a business asset or valuable commodity: something to be guarded and protected from competitors. These emotions help to explain the deterioration of Florence's relationship with her father: the closer she and Paul grow, the more fiercely Dombey resents her. This passage also shows Dickens's use of metaphor. Mr. Dombey's personality is compared to an icy river that, with its love for Paul at its center, has become even more hard and unyielding. This reflects the ongoing use of water imagery throughout the novel.
The first shock of a great earthquake had, just at that period, rent the whole neighbourhood to its centre. Traces of its course were visible on every side. Houses were knocked down; streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up; buildings that were undermined and shaking, propped by great beams of wood. ... In short, the yet unfinished and unopened Railroad was in progress; and from the very core of all this dire disorder, trailed smoothly away, upon its mighty course of civilization and improvement.
This passage reveals the novel's attitude towards the construction of the railroad, and, by extension, the modernization and technological progress that the railroad represents. While the railroad might offer benefits in terms of speed and ease and travel, it is represented as a destructive force. It is initially described using the metaphor of an earthquake, and there is a detailed description of the damage it causes, depicting the changes through words with negative connotations. The end of the quotation introduces a note of irony, with the language of "civilization and improvement." This was typically the way the railroad was presented; however, taken in the broader context of the passage, the impression produced is that Dickens did not believe the railroad was a force of positive change. Indeed, change and modernization are presented ambivalently throughout the novel; Sol's shop is threatened because it relies on technology that is becoming outdated, and yet it functions as the moral center of the novel.
"I don't mean that Papa. I mean what's money after all."
Heaven and Earth, how old his face was as he turned it up again towards his father's!
"What is money after all!" said Mr Dombey, backing his chair a little, that he might better gaze in sheer amazement at the presumptuous atom that propounded such an inquiry.
"I mean, Papa, what can I do with it?" returned Paul, folding his arms (they were hardly long enough to fold), and looking at the fire, and up at him, and at the fire, and up at him again.
Mr. Dombey drew his chair back to its former place, and patted him on the head. "You'll know better by and by my man," he said. "Money, Paul, can do anything."
This conversation between Dombey and his young son reveals the importance placed on money in the novel, and also gives a depiction of Paul's character. Even though Paul is a very small child, he is precociously interested in the world around him, and in the larger meaning of things. He is able to understand a lesson that Mr. Dombey does not learn until the very end of the novel: that money's value comes from the context of how it is used, and cannot buy everything. This moment presents a reversal of roles, in that Mr. Dombey, while much older and more experienced, is shown here to actually be more naïve, believing that money can protect him from suffering and unhappiness, and ensure a position of wealth and stability. As the novel unfolds, his wealth does not protect him from tragedies like the death of his son; in fact, it sometimes creates unhappiness in his life by making it difficult for him to know whom he can actually trust. Dickens was often interested in using children to articulate moral or philosophical truths of which adult characters had lost sight, and this passage provides one example of this technique.
So! From high to low, at home or abroad, from Florence in his great house to the coarse churl who was feeding the fire then smoking before them, every one set up some claim or other to a share in his dead boy, and was a bidder against him! Could he ever forget how that woman had wept over his pillow and called him her own child! or how he, waking from his sleep, had asked for her, and raised himself in his bed and brightened when she came in!
To think of this presumptuous raker among coals and ashes going on before there, with his sign of mourning! To think that he dared to enter, even by a common show like that, into the trial and disappointment of a proud gentleman's secret heart! to think that this lost child, who was to have divided with him his riches, and his projects, and his power, and allied with whom he was to have shut out all the world as with a double door of gold, should have let in such a herd to insult him with their knowledge of his defeated hopes, and their boasts of claiming community of feeling with himself, so far removed: if not of having crept into the place wherein he would have lorded it, alone!
This passage is located after Paul's death when a grief-stricken Mr. Dombey realizes that Mr. Toodle is also mourning his son. Rather than being touched by this show of solidarity, Dombey is angry and agitated. He viewed Paul as a sort of possession that he did not want to share with others, and is very jealous about him. In Dombey's warped mind, a moment where he could connect with other individuals by sharing their common grief and affection for Paul becomes an opportunity to be further removed from them. The passage also includes imagery that shows Dombey's constant obsession with wealth and status. When he thinks about the exclusive relationship he had hoped to cultivate between himself and Paul, he imagines them shut in by "golden doors." The gold color reflects traditions of wealth and money, while the doors echo the imagery of the Dombey mansion, usually presented as forbidding and exclusive.
The passive desolation of disuse was everywhere silently manifest about it. Within doors, curtains, drooping heavily, lost their old folds and shapes and hung like cumbrous palls. Hecatombs of furniture, still piled and covered up, shrunk like imprisoned and forgotten men, and changed insensibly. Mirrors were dim as with the breath of years. Patterns of carpet faded and became perplexed and faint, like the memory of those years' trifling incidents. Keys rusted in the locks of doors. Damp started on the walls, and as the stains came out, the pictures seemed to go in and secrete themselves. Mildew and mould began to lurk in closets. Fungus trees grew in corners of the cellars. Dust accumulated, nobody knew whence or how; spiders, moths and grubs were heard of every day. ... There were other staircases and passages where no one went for weeks together; there were two closed rooms associated with dead members of the family, and with whisphered recollections of them; and to all the house but Florence , there was a gentle figure moving through the solitude and gloom, that gave to every lifeless thing a touch of present human interest and wonder.
For Florence lived alone in the deserted house, and day succeeded day, and still she lived alone, and the cold walls looked down upon her with a vacant stare, as if they had a Gorgon-like mind to stare her youth and beauty into stone.
This description of the Dombey mansion describes the state of the household after Paul's death, during which time Florence lives there alone while her father is at Leamington. Despite the wealth, the house falls into decay due to neglect and disuse, vividly described through the sensual imagery of rotting and wasting. This imagery reflects two metaphorical purposes. First, it reveals the lack of hope for the Dombey firm, and for the family legacy more generally. Now that Paul is dead, there is no opportunity for the family name to be carried on, and the Dombey name is on the road to dying out. More specifically, the metaphors of rotting and wasting suggest the fate that might befall Florence. Her beauty and youth are being wasted in conditions of isolation and neglect, and without anyone there to take an interest in her future, she risks having life pass her by.
"There is no slave in a market: there is no horse in a fair: so shown and offered and examined and paraded, Mother, as I have been, for ten shameful years," cried Edith, with a burning brow, and the same bitter emphasis on the one word. "Is it not so? Have I been made the bye-word of all kinds of men? Have fools, have profligates, have boys, have dotards, dangled after me, and one by one rejected me, and fallen off, because you were too plain with all your cunning: yes, and too true, with all those false pretences: until we have almost come to be notorious? The license of look and touch," she said, with flashing eyes, "have I submitted to it, in half the places of resort upon the map of England. Have I been hawked and vended here and there, until the last grain of self-respect is dead within me, and I loathe myself?"
Edith gives this speech to her mother shortly before she agrees to marry Dombey. She is very self-aware about what the marriage means and knows that they do not love each other. The quotation reveals the theme of various kinds of prostitution in the novel. While Edith occupies a high social position, she makes it clear that she is still essentially required to sell herself, and that she finds it degrading and humiliating to do so. She compares herself to both a slave and an animal: things that are not treated like human beings, and are not given the same rights as human beings. Edith blames her mother for having taught her to be manipulative and seductive in her interactions with men, and for encouraging her to believe that her mission in life is to marry a wealthy man. This emphasis on trading her beauty and sexual allure for financial profit implicitly aligns her with a kind of prostitution. This explains why Edith expresses so much self-loathing and disgust with herself.
If she had been less handsome, and less stately in her cold composure, she might not have had the power of impressing him with the sense of disadvantage that penetrated through his utmost pride. But she had the power, and he felt it keenly. He glanced round the room: saw how the splendid means of personal adornment, and the luxuries of dress, were scattered here and there, and disregarded; not in mere caprice and carelessness (or so he thought), but in a steadfast, haughty disregard of costly things: and felt it more and more. Chaplets of flowers, plumes of feathers, jewels, laces, silks and satins; look where he would, he saw riches, despised, poured out, and made no account. The very diamonds--a marriage gift--that rose and fell impatiently upon her bosom, seemed to pant to break the chain that clasped them round her neck, and roll down on the floor where she might tread upon them.
This quotation is located during a confrontation between Edith and Dombey when he expresses his dissatisfaction with her behavior and tries to rebuke her. It represents a moment where Dombey begins to realize that he does not hold as much power over her as he had previously believed. Dombey had initially believed that his wealth and his ability to give Edith costly luxuries would encourage her to obey him. However, as this quotation reveals, Edith does not value the jewelry and expensive clothes he gives her. If anything, she resents these objects, since they symbolize his possession of her and her decision to enter into a marriage with a financial motive. The mention of the diamonds foreshadows the moment when Edith will tear them off, symbolically indicating her destruction of her marriage.
She did not sink down at his feet; she did not shut out the sight of him with her trembling hands; she did not weep; she did not utter one word of reproach. But she looked at him, and a cry of desolation issued from her heart. For as she looked, she saw him murdering that fond idea to which she had held in spite of him. She saw his cruelty, neglect, and hatred dominant above it, and stamping it down. She saw she had no father upon earth, and ran out, orphaned, from his house.
This quotation represents the novel's climax, when Florence finally despairs of ever being able to establish a loving relationship with her father, and can no longer bear to live with him. It takes place after Edith's elopement, when Florence tries to comfort her father and he hits her, and accuses her of having conspired against him. The quotation reveals Florence's dignity, but also her anguish. Her emotions are described with the metaphor of Dombey committing murder: throughout her life, she has clung to the hope that he is a kind person deep down, and will someday show affection towards her. His negative character traits are personified as committing this act of violence, implying that the pain Florence feels at this moment is nearly physical. Florence's devastation is so complete that she experiences what she would feel if her father had died, and when this relationship is severed, she is left bereft of any family at all.
Every night, within the knowledge of no human creature, he came forth, and wandered through the despoiled house like a ghost. Many a morning when the day broke, his altered face, drooping behind the closed blind in his window, imperfectly transparent to the light as yet, pondered on the loss of his two children. It was one child no more. He re-united them in his thoughts, and they were never asunder. Oh, that he could have united them in his past love, and in death, and that one had not been so much worse than dead!
This quotation comes from the time after Dombey has lost his fortune and been abandoned by most of his friends, spending his days in isolation in the decaying mansion. His grief and loss humbles him, and he finally realizes how loving and devoted Florence has been, even in the face of his mistreatment of her. He continues to mourn for Paul, but he comes to understand that his own selfishness and bitterness has also cost him his relationship with his daughter. Dombey's recognition of his own mistakes, his guilt, and his regret can only occur once he has lost everything he previously believed was important. Now, with nothing left, he comes to understand what was truly valuable in his life. While this moment seems to mark the depths of despair, this sadness is actually purifying and redemptive for Dombey, preparing him to embrace a new relationship with Florence.
Dombey and Son Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Dombey and Son is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
M. Dombey can deliver remarks with both elegance and eloquence. However, these outward qualities cannot hide what he worries about which is that someone will come between him and his sons and thus disrupt their relationships.