Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Paul Dombey, a London merchant, referred to as Mr. Dombey throughout the novel. Twenty successful years in the firm of Dombey and Son have brought wealth to the stern and pompous Mr. Dombey. Ten years of marriage finally bring a son and happiness (despite his wife’s death) to the unemotional, dignified, glossy businessman, for the son will occupy his rightful place in the firm. Jealous and possessive, Mr. Dombey resents his son’s affection for Florence, the older Dombey daughter. Later he sends Walter Gay, a young clerk attentive to the daughter, on an extended trip to the West Indies, and he loses his second wife because he approaches personal relationships as if they were business transactions in his office. Through reversals in both personal and business affairs, Mr. Dombey senses that his shortcomings lie in what he has always considered his strength: a belief in his indomitability. This realization results in a modicum of happiness for him as he accepts his daughter’s love after spurning her all her life.
Paul Dombey, his son and heir, who is the essence of Dombey’s life. Before the child was born, Mr. Dombey had yearned for a son; during Paul’s life, he is jealous of his attentions to others, over-solicitous for his health, and unrealistic in treating the child as his longed-for business partner. After Paul’s death at the age of six, Mr. Dombey in his disillusionment considers the death a personal injustice to himself. Paul, a weak, precocious child, is uncommonly preoccupied with death, an interest that seems, in the Dickensian manner, to portend his early demise.
Florence Dombey, six years older than Paul. Until she is grown, Florence bears the brunt of her father’s unreasonable animosity. Courageous and compassionate, she withstands her father’s affronts and ill-temper. Of strong faith, she does not despair at failures or rebuffs. Devoted and appreciative of love, she is a good wife to Walter Gay. Ultimately, Florence’s altruism comes full circle when she has a son, Paul, who aids in her father’s realization of his daughter’s longstanding love.
Walter Gay, her childhood friend and later her husband. The model of good upbringing and training, he is instrumental in her safety and well-being. The last instance of his protectorship is as her husband and father of their children, when the Gays return to London to save Dombey from self-destruction and to give him renewed interest in life when he sees his grandchildren in the light in which he should have viewed his own daughter and son.
Mrs. Fanny Dombey
Mrs. Fanny Dombey, Mr. Dombey’s first wife, the mother of Florence and Paul.
Mrs. Edith Granger
Mrs. Edith Granger, Dombey’s second wife and his female counterpart in stubbornness and pride. Thwarted in her role as wife, she strikes back by pretending to elope with James Carker, Dombey’s head clerk. Her wounded pride continues through the years; she finally declares her innocence of an affair with Carker, but she refuses to see Dombey to ask his forgiveness.
James Carker, Dombey’s trusted head clerk and manager, whose villainy brings about his employer’s professional and personal ruin. Deserted by Mrs. Dombey in the hour of their elopement, he is killed by a train while trying to avoid a meeting with Dombey.
Solomon Gills, a maker of nautical instruments and Walter Gay’s uncle. With his loyal friend and partner, Captain Cuttle, he produces instruments that make his name a byword in safe navigation.
(The entire section is 1534 words.)
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