Study Guide

Bleak House Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Charles Dickens

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

The Ghost Walk

If walkways could talk, this one would tell a story about a really angry Dedlock who cursed the family with...the sound of footsteps whenever something is going wrong. Um, yeah, that's not really all that scary a curse. But still, the curse comes true at last, and the walkway under the windows of Chesney Wold constantly sounds like someone is walking on it from the moment Lady Dedlock figures out that Esther is her child. A scary premonition of her death? Raindrops? You be the judge.

Miss Flite's Birds

How creeptastic is it that Miss Flite has a bunch of caged birds in her room that are only going to be released when Jarndyce and Jarndyce is over? Pretty creeptastic. Plus, when we find out that the birds are named Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach, and then when we learn that she added two more birds called the Wards in Jarndyce...well, that's the time to start slowly and carefully backing away. The bird names are a nice mix of pure nuttiness (we're guessing Spinach doesn't really have a deep meaning behind it) and insightfulness. In one way or another, many of those names really do represent something that's being kept imprisoned by the never-ending Jarndyce lawsuit. It's kind of a reverse Pandora's box: when Miss Flite finally releases the birds, it's a freedom and a release that's been long overdue.

The East Wind

The only clue we get that Jarndyce might actually be onto the horror that is Skimpole is when he complains about the wind being in the east. The general sense is that the east wind is somehow evil. (Fun brain snack: the east wind brings nothing but badness in The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, and the Old Testament.) But for Jarndyce, references to the east wind tend to happen whenever he sees some kind of social ill that needs to be corrected. The orphaned Neckett kids? East wind. The Jellybys? East wind. And so on.

The Painting in Tulkinghorn's Office

Whenever you have a painting described at length in a novel, you know it's got to mean something. So when we find out that Tulkinghorn has a giant painting on the ceiling of his office of a guy pointing his finger down in an angry way – well, that sounds symbolic to us. Symbolic of what exactly? It's not clear in the novel. On the most basic level, the finger ends up pointing to the spot where Tulkinghorn will die. On a more metaphorical level, it might be a finger of accusation. (Tulkinghorn is one evil dude, so that's a safe guess.) Or maybe it's meant to be an indictment of the system that Tulkinghorn is a part of. But Shmoop's money is on the idea that this is an indirect representation of the third-person narrator.

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