Although Dickens is very much concerned with injustice and reparations to victims, Little Dorrit is at its core a deeply conservative novel – one that does not seek to overthrow the current system but to instead restore it to some bygone ideal. One of the main tenets of this conservatism is the emphasis on personal duty as the main motivator for action. Characters who are able to put aside their own desires and instead follow the dictates of duty tend to be rewarded, while those who cannot see past their own concerns eventually get the short end of the stick.
Questions About Duty
- Are duty and responsibility more important to female or male characters in the novel? To young ones or old ones? How can you tell?
- Many characters excel when saddled with increasing duty – think of Amy, Arthur, or Flora Finching. Are there others who do poorly whenever a new responsibility is given to them? Can we predict who will fall into which category? What determines how a character will cope with adverse circumstances or added weight?
- Mrs. Clennam hides her rage, bitterness, and hatred behind a mask of duty. Little Dorrit uses duty to remain blind to her father's faults. Who else uses duty as a kind of mask? Is this a useful strategy? Why or why not?
- Will Amy ever tell Arthur the truth about his parents? Why or why not?
Chew on This
In a world as oppressive as this one, characters who manage to completely evade responsibility and duty, like Miss Wade and Gowan, are actually impressive and somewhat worthy of admiration.
Invoking duty is the best way to induce a guilt trip and compliance in the novel, and so it's one of the many techniques used by the strong to subdue the weak.