Bleak House's search for the legal identity of several characters is vitally important in a society where birth and social rank mean so much that the unidentified are in a way non-persons. But this quest also points to the work's greater preoccupation with the slow reveal of key aspects of identity of a more figurative kind. Protagonists, and even secondary characters, carefully unfold the various strands of their personality. Plot twists are not simply action but provide a sounding wall against which characters are shown to themselves, sometimes for the first time.
Questions of identity revolve surprisingly heavily around legal formalities: for instance, whether Jo counts a person who can fulfill his civic duty at the inquest, whether Miss Barbary can accurately be called Esther's aunt or not, and whether Gridley can be recognized to exist as a speaker inside the courtroom. This legal framework undermines the novel's strong criticism of the Chancery Court system.
Esther only truly earns her own identity after her face is disfigured and she no longer looks like her mother. Until then, she is merely a part of Lady Dedlock's story, but afterwards she becomes an independent and separate character.