Study Guide

Little Dorrit Family

By Charles Dickens

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Bonds between family members form the core relationships in Little Dorrit. Strong bonds are not necessarily positive, as shown by the dynasty that controls the government, and weak bonds are frequently signs of healthy independence and maturity, as we can see when the unhealthiest families finally break apart and give their members room to breathe and grow. But nevertheless, where and whom characters come from are strongly correlated to personality, decision-making, and almost all future actions. Family history accounts for both psychological and economic continuity in this novel, presenting a complete and rational emotional world.

Questions About Family

  1. Why does Pet Meagles have a dead twin sister? What does this plot element add to the way we understand her and her relationship with her parents? The character only appears in a painting and doesn't add anything to the plot – what would be different if this familial detail were omitted? Why a twin and not a younger or older sibling?
  2. Imagine switching a character into one of the other families. Who would do well with different parents? With different children? Who wouldn't?
  3. Explore the relationships between fathers and daughters. Can you draw any conclusions? How do these differ from the way mothers and sons relate to each other? What about parents and children of the same gender? Are the relationships different in families in which both parents are still alive?
  4. Which personality traits can you trace through the generations?

Chew on This

The novel is insistent on presenting readers with the dark side of familial love and devotion. Although the novel ends with a marriage, it's deeply significant that Amy and Arthur are not described as having children, which would be the more traditional ending.

According to the novel, those who undergo deep privation or repression in childhood actually end up functioning better as adults than those who live a charmed life as children.

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