Dombey and Son

Dombey and Son Irony

The Misdelivered Letters (Dramatic Irony)

While Uncle Sol is away trying to learn what has happened to Walter, Captain Cuttle hopes anxiously to receive letters assuring him of his friend's safety. When Walter returns home, he is also puzzled that his uncle would go years without sending letters home. It is only when Sol does return to England that the mystery is solved and the irony revealed. Cuttle has long lived in fear of his cranky landlady, Mrs. MacStinger, and when he goes to live at the Wooden Midshipman, he sneaks away without telling anyone he is leaving. He then goes to great pains to conceal his new address. However, Sol, unaware that Cuttle has moved, keeps sending the letters to his old address and the concealment is what prevents him from ever receiving them. While largely comic, this irony does show how even a fairly simple error can lead to a total breakdown in communication, reflecting the theme of how isolation and a lack of communication damages relationships throughout.

Reversal of Fortune for Walter and Mr. Dombey (Situational Irony)

At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Dombey is in a position of great power, and exercises that power over Walter a number of times. When Walter asks for a loan to save his uncle's shop, Dombey agrees only after humiliating him by drawing attention to the disparity in their wealth. He shows his power most assertively by dispatching Walter to the West Indies after Walter annoys him by reminding him of Florence. By the end of the novel, however, their fortunes have reversed in that Walter has profited and become very financially comfortable, while Dombey has lost everything and must rely on the generosity of his daughter and son-in-law. Ironically, it is because of Walter's voyage, which was intended to prevent any future success of the part of Walter, that Walter was able to profit and provide a stable home for Florence. This irony reveals how Dombey's impression that he controls his own fate and the fates of others is actually an illusion, and how within the world of the novel, integrity and kindness will ultimately triumph over greed and pride.

Florence and Walter's vow to be brother and sister (Situational Irony)

Before Walter sets off on his voyage to the West Indies, when Florence is reeling with grief from the death of her brother, she comes to bid him good-bye and asks if they can regard each other as brother and sister. Walter readily agrees, and feels duty-bound to this vow when he returns years later. As a result, he tries to hide his romantic feelings for Florence, leading her to misunderstand and think he is angry with her. Although this confusion is cleared up, leading the two to realize that they are in love and make plans to marry, the vow is ironic in that, while it is meant to ensure closeness between the two, it comes close to damaging their relationship. The irony of the vow reveals that the nature of relationships is not static but rather can change over time, and it is important to be open to such changes. Both romantic relationships such as the eventual marriage between Toots and Susan, and family relationships like that between Florence and her father thrive when parties reassess how their feelings towards each other may have changed.

Dombey's trust and intimacy with Carker

For much of the novel, Carker is not only Dombey's most trusted business associate, but also a close confidante. Especially as problems arise in Dombey's marriage, Dombey is very open with Carker about his problems and shows complete willingness to have Carker be privy to very intimate details of his relationship with Edith. Dombey partially finds this approach a useful way to humiliate and chasten his wife, and is partially seduced by Carker's flattery and appearance of always being on his side. Ironically, however, the trust Dombey places in Carker gives Carker the access he needs to orchestrate his betrayal. Because he knows so much about the marriage, and is actively encouraged to spend time alone with Edith, Carker is able to execute what he believes is a seduction. His large degree of control over business matters at the firm also allow him to amass his own fortune while damaging the business overall. This irony reveals Dombey as a poor judge of character: he shuts out characters that are worthy of his love, such as Florence, and fosters intimacy with individuals who do not have his best interests at heart instead.