Bleak House | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Bleak House | Symbols


Krook's Shop

Krook's shop symbolizes corruption and ineffectiveness; it contains information of value, but the information isn't accessible. Krook is a hoarder, and, although illiterate, he hoards mostly old legal documents and other papers. Buried in his stash are two important papers—a document related to the Jarndyce case and a bundle of letters related to Lady Dedlock's secret past. In his neighborhood Krook's nickname is the Chancellor because so much paper and stuff goes into his shop never to be seen again. The piles of papers around Krook's shop are reminiscent of the stacks of papers carried in and out of court every time the Jarndyce case is scheduled to be heard in court. It's also a rag and bone shop, which reminds readers that Chancery reduces to poverty and skeletons those who have died while waiting for their cases to be settled. The shop resembles the Chancery, too, because the secrets it contains have the power to destroy lives and fortunes.

Miss Flite's Birds

Miss Flite has a collection of songbirds she keeps in cages by a window in her room that symbolize captivity. They are another symbol of Chancery. She has named them after the victims, effects, and features of Chancery, such as Hope (a victim), Madness (an effect), and Wigs (a feature). She intends to release the birds when the Jarndyce case finally ends, but she doesn't expect this to happen in her lifetime. Many of the birds have already died in captivity and been replaced—just as the original Jarndyce heirs have died (or killed themselves) while being held captive by Chancery and been replaced by their heirs. While held captive by Chancery, life is at a standstill.

Ghost's Walk

The Ghost's Walk symbolizes Lady Dedlock's downfall and the end of the Dedlock line. The Dedlocks' stately home at Chesney Wold has a long history, including the ghost of an earlier Lady Dedlock who cursed the family, saying, "I will walk here, though I am in my grave. I will walk here until the pride of this house is humbled. And when calamity or when disgrace is coming to it, let the Dedlocks listen for my step!" (Chapter 7). The current Lady Dedlock has often heard the ghost's step as have others, and it grows louder as the discovery of her secret and her own death draws nearer. Her fate is linked to Sir Leicester's, and, although he partially recovers from his stroke, he is much weaker and closer to death. When he dies, his estate will pass to a cousin, but there seem to be few young cousins. Because the Dedlocks themselves represent the aristocracy, the ghostly footsteps on the Ghost's Walk might even be seen as foretelling the collapse of the aristocracy as it was known in Victorian times.


Much of the weather mentioned in Bleak House is dismal, symbolizing misfortune and misery: the fog exuding from Chancery, the drizzle muddying the London streets, and the east wind. The dank, grey, rainy weather at Chesney Wold represents Lady Dedlock's sad, lonely, bored life there. Wintry temperatures and snow are often associated with disease, such as Esther's smallpox.

On the other hand, though, when things are going well, the wind shifts and the sun shines. For instance when Jarndyce shows Esther Bleak House cottage, which he has bought and decorated as a wedding present for her and Allan Woodcourt, it's "a most beautiful summer morning," and there's a "sweet west wind" (Chapter 64).

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