"Members One of Another": Heteroglossic Utterances as Critiques of Injustice in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House
College of Arts and Sciences
Master of Arts in English (MA)
Karen Swallow Prior
Heteroglossia, Charles Dickens, Bleak House, Mikhail Bakhtin, Injustice, Dialogism
Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles
Baker, Cale, ""Members One of Another": Heteroglossic Utterances as Critiques of Injustice in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House" (2020). Masters Theses. 612.
Charles Dickens often dealt with societal injustice within his work, and he often used the different languages—the language of the poor, the rich, the religious, the political—of various social strata to expose the disparity between the high and the low social classes. Within Bleak House, Dickens inserts different voices common to Victorian London through his third-person narrator to highlight the upper class oppression of the poor. To see Dickens’s insertion of these different voices, I use Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on heteroglossia and dialogism as a framework for understanding how Dickens inserts these different voices to specifically expose injustice. Additionally, I look to Bakhtin’s earlier work as a philosopher in Toward a Philosophy of the Act to provide an ethical framework for Dickens’s exposure of how Victorian London had grown complacent with the injustices in their society. The analysis of language in Bleak House—specifically dealing with the third person narrators’ utterances regarding the settings within London, Lady Dedlock, and Jo—shows how Dickens’s organization of heteroglossia exposes and critiques injustice, revealing to his readers what Bakhtin would call a loveless indifference. The heteroglossic utterances both surrounding these characters and the utterances spoken by these characters reveal the unjust isolation of the upper and lower classes. Alongside the heteroglossic utterances of the third-person narrator, Esther also serves to critique injustice. Through Esther’s dialogic function beside the third-person narrator, she exemplifies an attentive narrator that loves the classes that have previously been isolated from each other, showing the responsible, loving attention that Dickens achieves through his own work.