Mr. Dombey is a miserable man: miserable to know, miserable in his person. He takes a good thing, a family business, and worships it. He is proud and, in his pride, overlooks the best gift God has given him: his daughter.
Christians are all feminists, if by feminism one means the equal and full humanity of women and men before Providence. If you doubt the necessity of feminism, you could either read your favorite news site, or you might read Dombey and Son. Of course, like any good idea there are corrupted forms of feminism, but we must never forget that even in Christian lands there are men who devalue women as humans.
Mr. Dombey is one such man, and his pride before God destroys him. He says to the Almighty, “Not the child you gave me, but the child I demand.” Like Henry VIII, his paternal arrogance turns him into a monster.
Fortunately, that is not the entire story: there is hope for healing from any sin. Here are five questions that the book provoked in my last week:
It is a truism in movies that love is more powerful than money, but few believe it enough to live as if it is true. How does Dombey and Son demonstrate the power of love against the commercial spirit? How can I live out the lesson?
Classical education, one form of it anyway, comes in for a deserved thrashing in the book, as does “force feeding” education on the very young. Why does Mr. Dombey end up harming his son in trying to help him? What is Dickens’ view of good education that avoids making “Grinders” and “Feeders?”
Americans like redemption and we allow for a very fast recovery from the sort of crime that the younger Carker committed . . . at least in principle. Is Carker’s repentance and restitution too severe? Or are we too easy on other’s sins in order to avoid getting justice for our own?
Carker Senior is loathsome and a great hypocrite. His greatest crime is his use of people, men and women, as means to his own ends. How does he justify his evil to himself? What causes his destruction? Compare Carker to Anna Karenina: what common characteristic brings them to a common end?
Walter finds family for himself with two eccentrics. How do such hopeless but lovable men survive the nineteenth century? Dickens is gentle to authentic “types,” even immature ones like Toots. In some people, folly or eccentricity becomes lovable, while in others it just becomes vice. What makes the difference? Does a Facebook culture allow for eccentricity?
Alice and Edith cannot outgrow the horrific parenting they received, but Florence becomes saintly through it. What makes the difference? Dickens had a hard childhood. What is he saying about people who grow up abused?
Dombey and Son is a hard book to read, but the ending is satisfying. People choose and the outcomes of their choices happen as they do in real life. Evil corrupts a man to the point that he cannot take the actions that will save him until it is too late. Virtue allows for a measure of happiness even in ugly times.
The novel mainly reminded me that looking for the person I want in the people around me, using the standards of my culture and my heart, will end up making me miserable and bad.
God help me to love the family He has given me.