Little Dorrit

William Dorrit's Self-Deception

This essay will focus on the collapse of William Dorrit (Bk 2, ch 19) and examine William’s imprisonment to self-deception in this passage as a consequence of his moral debts to society and Amy, what effects this has on his character in the novel as a whole, and if his collapse and death can be seen as an escape from, or a submission to, the “paralysing stagnation” (Daleski, 1970) of his imprisonment.

Self-deception is not unique to William, and Showalter (1979, pp. 23) implies that it could even be a means of survival in the Marshalsea, that the “inhabitants sustain a precarious identity by systematically denying the reality of their situation.” Just as the prisoners refer to themselves as collegians, Dorrit too makes pretences above his station; his welcoming speech asserts that he is “not a beggar” (Dickens 1996, pp. 614) and he survives on euphemistically termed ‘testimonials, ‘subscriptions’ and ‘tributes’ which he creatively fails to acknowledge, for example by taking them in concealed packages or via handshake. Self-deception, then, could be argued to be what keeps William alive and well for so long; it is into the safe haven of self-deception and Marshalsea grandeur that William retreats in his final days. When Amy first...

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