Dombey Essay

Example of a Literary Analysis essay on Literature about:

charles dickens / Dombey and Son / values / society / comic spirit

Essay Topic:

The interpretation of the message of Charles Dickens’ “Dombey and Son”.

Essay Questions:

Why is “Dombey and Son” considered to be one of the most outstanding works of Charles Dickens?

Why is the book treated as a tragedy?

What are the major values of Mr.Dombey?

Thesis Statement:

The author ridicules the absurdity of some characters, so that the characters sometimes become a borderline between “social norms” and idiocy, which is skillfully covered with hypocrisy. “Dombey and son” is a rebel against the abutments of the society, a rebel against egoism and conceited people.


Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens Essay

Introduction:“Dombey and Son” is one of the most outstanding works of Charles Dickens. Its originality lies in the first place in Dickens’s ability to portray the society in general and lives of separates people within this society. As the novel primary deals analyzing a concrete family belonging to the upper society class the analysis presented by Charles Dickens gets really deep and disheartening. The book becomes a tragic tale with a happy end told in the most unique comic manner. The author ridicules the absurdity of some characters, so that the characters sometimes become a borderline between “social norms” and idiocy, which is skillfully covered with hypocrisy. “Dombey and son” is a rebel against the abutments of the society, a rebel against egoism and conceited people.

Even the title of the novel seems to be confusing as it does and at the same moment does not correspond to the contents of the book. It seems to be the first author’s step in the direction of opening and revealing the comic spirit to the reader. It is easily observable with the very start of the novel, when Mr. Dombey finally gets a son, who is to be nothing but a business tool for his “Dombey and Son” enterprise. The comic spirit starts its life at this very moment when he holds his son and shares his thoughts: “The House will once again...not only in name but in fact Dombey and Son”[Chapter 1]. The spirit starts deriding Mr. Dombey’s values and it main goal is to fight and disclaim them: “ The earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light”[Chapter 1]. Mr. Dombey’s purpose is to realize that all his believes are unimportant and the goal of the comic spirit is to show how ridiculous people look in their “limited” perception of the world and people around them. The “kernel” of the spirit lies in the understanding that not person should place himself above other people and how waning people seem to appear in this “illusory greatness”. A son for Mr. Dombey his continuation and therefore worth of respect but his daughter ”was merely a piece of base coin that couldn’t be invested”.The spirit is used as a tool for achieving balance in the novel. The only was it achieves it is through carrying it to the most incredible level: Mr. Dombey losing his second wife after practically “buying” her, loosing his only alive child Florence and loosing the very essence of his life – his firm “Dombey and Son”. At the second when Mr. Dombey realizes his incredible absurdity – it is the time for his personal changes. The external world and people stop being a part of “Dombey’s world” but it is Dombey who starts being a part of the world. The spirit fights the notion that everything is “an attachment” to the life of a “great” person, because this “greatness” does not exist.

Conclusion: Without this comic spirit the characters of “Dombey and son” would have remained pale and not so deeply revealed. It is this comic spirit that makes the reader realize the absurdity of life principles of Dombey senior and people belonging to his society rank and family. It is this spirit that makes Mr. Dombey realize the same thing. These people live their lives in a way that “is supposed to be” and say things “they are supposed to say”. Their every step is full of pride for being who they are. The comic spirit symbolizes the loss of identity and its resurrection through pain and sufferings. Mr. Dombey needed neither his firm nor his new wife anymore. He needed these things to be taken away from him in order to get rid of the “rotting spirit” he possessed inside of his soul. It was the “comic spirit” that was trying to overcome the “rotting spirit” that possessed Dombey. And as it was a successful victory, probably the participation of the comic spirit in Dickens’s novel is quiet justified and even more than that – necessary. The moment of “mind-brightening” caused by the immense comic feeling of self-absurdity gave birth to another Mr. Dombey. It created a man able to love his daughter and her family. Therefore, the comic spirit made Mr. Dombey face the reality at the end and took him out of his “limited” and “pro-Dombey” perception of this reality. The comic spirit tore the masks of the characters down and became the way to balance and sanity. It is more than just a tool, but the quintessence of Dickens’s “Dombey and Son”.


Dombey and Son

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Dombey and Son

Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation

Dombey and Son was Dickens’s seventh novel, and was written in 1848. Martin Chuzzlewit precedes it, and David Copperfield follows it. Even though most people are not too familiar with Dombey and Son, this novel was well received by its readers, and is considered to be the first novel that reflects Dickens’s artistic maturity (Schlicke, 280).

The novel begins with the Dombey family, which is comprised of Fanny Dombey, her husband Paul Dombey, their little daughter Florence, and their newborn son Paul. Shortly after Paul’s birth, Fanny dies, and Mr. Dombey is forced to hire a nurse to take care of the children. Mr. Dombey sends little Paul to school so that he may be well educated and someday work at Dombey’s firm. Dombey does not view little Paul as a son or a loved one; rather, he views him exclusively as a business partner. While Dombey puts all of his energy into Paul, he neglects to love his daughter. She is of no value to him; therefore, he has no regard for her whatsoever. As a result of Dombey’s cold nature, Florence, and little Paul realize that they only have each other. The love between these two siblings is so great, and the bond they make is tight. Sadly, within the first 300 pages of the novel, little Paul becomes sick and dies. The rest of the story is focused on Mr. Dombey and his daughter. Florence constantly shows her father affection, but he constantly acts cold towards her. Dombey and Son explores relationships between business and private life, parent/child relationships, wealth and poverty, old and new, and male/female relationships.

Dombey and Son was serialized in nineteen monthly parts that ran from October 1846 through April 1848 in London's The Graphic magazine. It was illustrated by Hablot Browne, and was published in one volume on April 12, 1848 by Bradbury and Evans (Page, Companion, 149).

Dickens wrote Dombey and Son while residing in Switzerland and Paris. Supposedly, he was having trouble with Dombey during the first few stages, so he decided to relocate to Paris for some inspiration.

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Dickens first spoke to his first biographer and best friend John Forster about the creation of Dombey and Son. Dickens told him, “It [Dombey and Son] was to do with Pride what its predecessor [Martin Chuzzlewit] has done with Selfishness” (Schlicke, 280).

Dickens also told Forster that a character in Dombey and Son was modeled after somebody he had relations with in his own life. On November 4, 1846, he tells Forster, “I hope you like Mrs. Pipchin’s establishment. It is from the life and I was there” (Johnson, 605). Mrs. Pipchin was an old woman who taught little Paul Dombey. She was modeled after Elizabeth Roylance, a woman who Dickens lodged with while his parents were doing time in Marshalsea Prison for debt (Page, Chronology, 27).

The construction of the railroad in England during the 1840s is also exemplified in Dombey and Son. During the 1840s, England was rapidly changing from a predominately rural to a predominately urban society. In 1846 (which was the year Dickens began Dombey), the building of 4,538 miles of railroad line was authorized by Parliament (Schlike, 280). Dickens describes the railroad and its influence throughout Dombey and Son. Dickens writes, “The first shock of the railway had, just at that period rent the whole neighborhood to its centre” (Dombey, Ch 6).

Dickens was known for being a man who had a million projects going on at one time. Several factors impinged on his process of constructing Dombey. First, he was writing a version of the New Testament for his children at the time. Secondly, he almost abandoned his Christmas book for 1846 entitled, The Battle of Life, because it was extremely difficult for him to concentrate on two books at a time. Dombey was finally finished on March 24, 1848. Dickens even threw a small party to celebrate his completion of the novel on April 11, 1848. Among those invited was Thackeray, but it is not certain whether or not he attended (Schlike, 287).

After a disappointed reception of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son was a triumph. The first number released was a huge success, and 25,000 copies of it were sold out within a few hours. Because of this, printers put in over ninety hours of overtime in order to keep up with the public’s demand for it (Page, Companion, 147).

Possibly no two Victorian novelists had a rivalry quite as intense as the one that existed between Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair serial publications were being released alongside those of Dombey and Son. In contrast to Dickens’s novel selling roughly 25,000 copies per issue, Thackeray’s only sold a measly 5,000 copies per publication. Also, Thackeray only profited about sixty pounds per issue, while Dickens made over 400 pounds per issue. In all, Dickens’ total profits exceeded 9,000 pounds (Page, Companion, 146). Without a doubt, the success of Dombey and Son gave Dickens an economic security that he had never known before.

Most critics and readers applauded Dickens for his creation of Dombey and Son. Most were shocked that little Paul Dombey was killed off within the first 300 pages because the title of the novel is Dombey and Son. However, Dickens intended this; the title was a trick to help conceal Paul’s death. The title is an ironical allusion to the true subject of the book, which is Dombey and Daughter (Johnson, 608).

Thackeray commented that the death of little Paul was “unsurpassed...stupendous- there’s no writing against this- one has no chance” (Page, Companion, 148). Lord Jeffrey wrote along the same lines as Thackeray, but had mixed feelings about how the novel could go on without little Paul. He exclaimed, “Oh my dear Dickens! What a no. 5 you have given us...but after reading the climax in the fifth number, what are you to do with the fifteen that are to follow?” (Page, Companion, 148). Another commentator declared that Paul’s death “flung a whole nation into mourning.” In 1859, David Mason, a well known critic added, “It is scarcely an exaggeration to say the death of little Dombey caused a national mourning” (Page, Chronology, 28).

Kathleen Tillotson, a modern day critic, commented that Dombey is the first of Dickens's novels, “In which a pervasive uneasiness about contemporary society takes the place of an intermittent concern with specific social wrongs” (Schlicke, 286). In essence, Dickens was not so much occupied with the Poor Laws (as he was in Oliver Twist), or with the boarding schools; rather, he was concerned about the change occurring in England’s society due to the construction of the railroad.

On the other hand, some of the critics complained about Dickens’s writing, finding the symbolism of the river and the sea overdone. Others thought that little Paul was unconvincingly precocious. However, most were satisfied and pleased with this novel (Johnson, 604).

Surely every one of Dickens’s novels contributed to Dickens’s popularity as a writer. Some of his works greatly influenced the Victorian era, while others were not quite essential to the development of the period. F.R. Leavis designated Dombey as follows: “It marks a decisive moment in Dicken’s career presenting a major theme; it was his [Dickens] first essay in the elaborately plotted Victorian novel” (Page, Companion, 149). Presently, critics including Nina Auerbach and Helene Moglen are focusing on the book’s sexual politics, analyzing the polarities between male and female spheres. Commenting on Dombey, Dickens said, “I have a strong belief that if any books are read years hence, Dombey will be remembered as one of the best of them” (Schlicke, 286). Well, Dickens, I do not know of many people who have read this novel, but I can assure you that it has been remembered and researched to this very day.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. England: Penguin Books, 1985.

Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens, His Tragedy and Triumph Volume 2. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952.

Page, Norman. A Dickens Chronology. Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1988.

Page, Norman. A Dickens Companion. New York: Schocken Books, 1984.

Schlike, Paul. Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999

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