by Charles Dickens
Little Dorrit Morality and Ethics Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
"I [Arthur Clennam] am the son, Mr. Meagles, of a hard father and mother. I am the only child of parents who weighed, measured, and priced everything; for whom what could not be weighed, measured, and priced, had no existence. Strict people as the phrase is, professors of a stern religion, their very religion was a gloomy sacrifice of tastes and sympathies that were never their own, offered up as a part of a bargain for the security of their possessions. Austere faces, inexorable discipline, penance in this world and terror in the next--nothing graceful or gentle anywhere, and the void in my cowed heart everywhere--this was my childhood, if I may so misuse the word as to apply it to such a beginning of life." (1.2.59)
The fundamentalist Calvinist doctrine that Mrs. Clennam pretends to cling to is undone here, as Arthur states that the only thing that really mattered to either of his parents was "the security of their possessions." Compare this childhood to the deprivations (and terror) suffered by the Gradgrind children in Hard Times – it's the same idea of wringing all the warmth out of kids' lives. Yeah, that'll teach 'em.
'Reparation!' said [Mrs. Clennam]. 'Yes, truly! It is easy for [Arthur] to talk of reparation, fresh from journeying and junketing in foreign lands, and living a life of vanity and pleasure. But let him look at me, in prison, and in bonds here. I endure without murmuring, because it is appointed that I shall so make reparation for my sins. Reparation! Is there none in this room? Has there been none here this fifteen years?'
Thus was she always balancing her bargains with the Majesty of heaven, posting up the entries to her credit, strictly keeping her set-off, and claiming her due. She was only remarkable in this, for the force and emphasis with which she did it. Thousands upon thousands do it, according to their varying manner, every day. (1.5.58-59)
Mrs. Clennam is convinced that her self-imposed penance counts as reparation for the sin of holding back Amy's money. Why doesn't this work for us? What's wrong with formal self-punishment in this context? What's the difference between punishing the offender and making amends to the victim?
'Hold there, you and your philanthropy,' cried the smiling landlady, nodding her head more than ever. 'Listen then. I am a woman, I. I know nothing of philosophical philanthropy. But I know what I have seen, and what I have looked in the face in this world here, where I find myself. And I tell you this, my friend, that there are people (men and women both, unfortunately) who have no good in them--none. That there are people whom it is necessary to detest without compromise. That there are people who must be dealt with as enemies of the human race. That there are people who have no human heart, and who must be crushed like savage beasts and cleared out of the way. They are but few, I hope; but I have seen (in this world here where I find myself, and even at the little Break of Day) that there are such people. And I do not doubt that this man--whatever they call him, I forget his name--is one of them.' (1.11.28)
Yikes, strong words, lady! Certainly the death penalty was not as controversial back then, but we're racking our brains trying to remember a more black-and-white gung-ho defense of it.