In many respects, Bleak House addresses the quest for identity among many characters, some of whom are torn between two distinct personalities at different points in their lives. The character of Esther Summerson spends much of the novel trying to find out who she is. This quest is especially relevant for her because she has been raised thinking that she is an orphan. While there are many reasons she was raised that way, the key factor is her illegitimacy. Her mother, Honoria, was involved with Captain Hawdon and bore his child; however, she later married Lord Dedlock and is determined to hide her past. Her former and current involvements convey the duality in her, as her passionate nature is at odds with her concern for status and propriety. Hawdon even more clearly embodies dual personalities, as he actually assumes a different name—Nemo—and apparently disconnects completely with his former life.
Raised by John Jardyce, Esther has numerous nicknames and tries to suit her personality to the desires of those around her. This tendency extends to her relationship with Jardyce, whose feelings change from paternal to romantic. Esther undergoes a drastic change as an adult when she suffers a serious illness, which leaves her physically transformed and—in the eyes of many—no longer beautiful. Esther’s quest for identity is fulfilled both by learning of her parentage and by realizing what true love is through the tender care of Allan Woodcourt.