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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The death of the orphan, Jo, in Bleak House - and what it signifies

The death of the orphan vagrant, Jo, in Bleak House is sad in a bitter and angry manner - far different from the sentimental death of the young and vulnerable in earlier Dickens novels. With the death of Jo, Dickens show a few good people caring for him and trying to bring him back to health and to life - Dr Woodcourt, Mr. George, Esther of course - but to no avail. The child is deathly ill, though no longer contagious he has infected and others. Brought into a murder investigation against his will, he's afraid, rightly, of authority, and his entire life has consisted of being told to "move along." Most of Dickens characters are types, extremes, and eccentrics - we recognize them, yet they are so distinct as to be one-of-a-kind - the only writer I can think of two balance these two poles of the singular and the universal in almost all of his characters. Jo is an exception: a type only, with almost nothing to distinguish him, which is as Dickens wants it. He's a face in the crowd, or a blur in the crowd - the type almost always ignored, overlooked, or pushed aside - maybe especially in 19th-century London, with its horrible mistreatment of the poor and the ill, but present today as well, even in our wealthy, first-world society. At the death of Jo, without making too much of a point of it, Dickens in a brief aside addresses his readers noting that Jo is one of thousands left to die in poverty and isolation, kids without a chance, the chaff cast aside. The kindly efforts of a few individuals are a completely insufficient response to poverty such as this - especially in a culture w/ so much wealth at the top, held by people who do nothing for the good of their world, did nothing to "earn" their wealth. Obviously today we have better social services for the needy, but isn't the story, on the whole, one and the same?

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