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Themes

Little Dorrit definitely subscribes to the biblical warning that a love of money is the root of all evil. At the same time, there is a very hard line drawn between those who have money, and thus a somewhat slippery foothold in the hierarchy, and those who have a combination of money and social status – a much more stable position to be in. Almost no character can resist the siren song of making a quick buck, and this vulnerability is what fuels the massive Merdle operation that eventually collapses. The only kind of wealth creation the novel can get behind is the slow and steady progress made by the actual manufacture of goods.

Questions About Wealth

  1. What do you make of Mrs. Merdle's constant references to what life would be like if she and her set had been born as members of a distant tribe? How do these asides compare with the way she and the other members of the elite talk about the British poor?
  2. How is information about Merdle's millions and Dorrit's debts made into a brag-worthy commodity? Why?
  3. Dorrit and the other prisoners are shown openly handling and discussing money, while Mrs. General can't bring herself to talk about it. (She tells Dorrit to ask her previous employer for her going rate.) How do other characters relate to money? What does it say about them?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Following the biblical injunction that a love of money is the root of all evil, the novel rejects any kind of wealth other than money made the old-fashioned way, through the manufacture of tangible products. Modern capitalism – based on speculation and a credit economy – is rejected out of hand, but Dickens does not have a viable alternative to propose in its place.

The characters who most care about and feel class differences are the ones who suffer least from these differences.

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