Bleak House

Bleak House Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss how the weather in many situations in the novel reflect Dickens' idea of society. How does the fog, for example, show what Dickens thinks of mid-19th-century law courts? What do the storms, rain, snow, fog, and cold contribute to various scenarios within the book? Why does Dickens use whether to express subjective or moral states?

  2. 2

    Is Esther an emotionally neglected child? Is she complex? Is she believable? Is she the creation of a misogynistic author? Either criticize or defend Esther's character -- that is to say, the manner in which she is presented to us. Furthermore, is she a suitable narrator for Bleak House?

  3. 3

    Discuss the murder mystery within Bleak House. Does this plot serve a greater purpose than to create tension (and sell newspapers)? What elements of mystery pervade other plots of the book?

  4. 4

    Some critics of of Bleak House think that that most of the characters are signs and symbols for other ones. Krook is considered by some writers to be an underclass symbol for the Lord Chancellor, in their shared obsession with documents. The various suitors in Chancery are all like each other. Esther's doll is a parallel to the brickmaker's baby. Show some other parallels between characters which, on the surface, may not seem to be alike.

  5. 5

    In what ways are Esther's two serious suitors, Dr. Woodcourt and John Jarndyce, good for her? Do they appeal to different aspects of Esther or to the same general decency? Why does each love Esther?

  6. 6

    What is the function of the character of Mr. Boythorn? Is his railing against Sir Leceister just comic relief, or is it satire? Do you agree with his views, or are you more sympathetic to Sir Leceister? What other functions, within the plot, does Mr. Boythorn fulfill? Could the story have gone on the same without him, or is he necessary?

  7. 7

    Did you understand the significance of the property of Tom-all-Alone's? Is Tom-all-Alone's an allegory for property in Chancery, or is it an allegory for the whole of England? What is Dickens trying to say by describing this place, and what is its function within the narrative?

  8. 8

    Why do you think Dickens made Grandfather Smallweed so viciously opportunistic and almost illogically greedy? Was it simply to heighten the dramatic tension of the possession of Krook's shop, or was it to illustrate the kind of grasping business attitude that a capitalist society creates?

  9. 9

    Discuss why Honoria Barbary would hide having an illegitimate child, and marry a man she didn't love. What were the social constraints of her time that would have lead a woman to do such things? Do you consider Lady Dedlock a vain, shallow woman, who did something heartless and selfish, or do you see any redeeming qualities in her? Were the rigid social mores of the time an excuse for her actions, or is she an entirely unredeemable character? Does the loss of Captain Hawdon, and her love for him, redeem her at all?

  10. 10

    Show examples of Mrs. Snagsby's maniacal suspicion of her husband. What purpose do these episodes serve? Is Dickens merely adding them for a black comic effect, or is he commenting on the likelihood, or supposed likelihood, of adultery in Victorian marriage? Discuss the other marriages in the book, and how they are like or unlike marriages today.

  11. 11

    What do you make of Mr. Tulkinghorn? Is he only a Dickensian representative of the evils of the system, or does he have greater depth than that? Do you see any humanity in him? Does his persecution of Lady Dedlock follow from morality, selfishness or sadism? Analyze Tulkinghorn's own words, especially when he speaks to Lady Dedlock, for clues as to his motivations.

  12. 12

    Dickens is fond of noting and criticizing personal and public hypocrisy. Discuss hypocrisy in its many manifestations, from the deceptive life of Lady Dedlock to the superficial love of Guppy to other examples. What hypocrisy can you find in Esther's behavior, or in Ada's behavior regarding her marriage to Richard? Explain the types of hypocrisy you see in the novel, and how they function within it.