Study Guide

Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House

By Charles Dickens

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Mr. Smallweed

An angry, paralyzed old man, Smallweed is a money-lender whose only emotion is greed and whose only thought is profit. To that end, he is a blackmailer and an extortionist – first on behalf of Tulkinghorn, then for himself.

Before we dissect the repellent Smallweed, Shmoop wants to throw some terms your way. There are two literary terms that are pretty helpful when talking about Dickens's minor characters: grotesque and monster. A grotesque is a character who generally inspires disgust in the reader (usually because of an extreme kind of physical disfigurement), but whose underlying humanity creates some measure of empathy. We're talking guys like the hunchback of Notre Dame, the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, or Frankenstein's monster. Gross to look at, sure, but so sweet once you get to know them! Oh the other hand, a monster is just as disgusting on the inside as on the outside. Basically, a monster is a grotesque without heart, like Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons or, well, like our good friend Smallweed here.

His body is described as barely human. Not only is he paralyzed, he seems not to have any bones or organs or anything else: he constantly needs to be fluffed and set upright like a pillow. And just in case we start to feel sorry for him, his nasty hatefulness is reflected in everything he does. From cursing and beating up his senile wife, to being a totally unscrupulous loan shark, to trying to extort Mr. George and Sir Dedlock, there is just not a single redeeming quality there. And there you have it, folks – a monster through and through.

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