Dombey and Son

Dombey and Son Imagery

Paul's christening

Perhaps surprisingly for an occasion meant to celebrate the beginning of a new life, the description of Paul's christening relies heavily on imagery of death. Everything in the church, the Dombey mansion, and the weather outside is cold, bleak, and mournful. There is a musty scent and intense cold pervades even the interiors. There is also a hushed, solemn nature that pervades the day. By using imagery that speaks to all of the senses, Dickens heightens the dramatic effect, making it clear what a miserable day this is. By presenting Paul's christening in these terms, Dickens reveals that the Dombey family is rigid, cold, and unwilling to change or progress, even with a new arrival. This imagery also foreshadows that Paul does not have a bright future, and is likely to die young.

The sunbeams in Paul's room

As Paul lies on his deathbed in the Dombey mansion, Dickens introduces visual imagery of golden sunbeams that flicker on the wall like water. This imagery conveys the beauty Paul is able to see in the world around him as he approaches death, since he is not preoccupied and blind to small details in the way that many of the adult characters are. The imagery suggests the heavenly light that Paul might glimpse as he passes into the next life; indeed, he describes seeing his dead mother with a golden light glowing around her. The way the sunbeams seem to ripple and move like water also allows for the continuation of water imagery surrounding Paul and his transition from life into death, even as he is now in a landlocked environment far from the sea.

Dombey's train journey

Dickens gives a vivid description of Dombey's train journey to Leamington after the death of his son. The raw power and violent force of the train as it travels through the countryside seems to Dombey to mirror the forcefulness of Death as a power that has wrenched his child away. This imagery gives psychological insight into Dombey's emotions and reveals the depths of his suffering, possibly creating some sympathy. It also furthers the consistently negative representation of railroads and rail travel in the novel, figuring them as violent assaults on homes and landscapes, and as technological innovations that wield a dangerous amount of power.

Carker's flight

When Carker realizes both that Edith does not love him and that Dombey is pursuing him in hopes of revenge, he frantically tries to flee back to England. The description of the flight uses vivid imagery to evoke a sense of paranoia and the idea of a delusional or feverish dream vision. Carker finds it difficult to maintain his grip on reality and loses track of time and place. This imagery reveals his fear and panic. It also provides a sense of justice: after inciting fear and anxiety in others, Carker now experiences it himself. He feels like he is being watched, just as he has watched others. The imagery also creates a sense of suspense and foreboding for readers, as it becomes clear that Carker will not escape. His death when the train strikes him serves as the climax to this dark imagery.