In a world in which credit and reputation are essential but highly subjective, social status is always shifting and incredibly volatile. The effect this has on those who crave to be at the top of the hierarchy is paranoia, callous disregard for others, and a willingness to abandon friends when their status suddenly plummets. It's rare to see social climbing portrayed in a positive light in Victorian fiction, but in Little Dorrit the quest to rise is presented even more harshly than usual.
The only characters whose reputation precedes them are the ones who are malicious or evil. Positive characters, on the other hand, have to reassert themselves and their intentions every time they encounter a new person.
Respect cannot be earned in the novel. Some characters are able to put aside their own self-importance to see the value in others, and others cannot. Those who cannot are unable to feel respect for anyone around them regardless of the circumstances.