By Chet Yarbrough
Dombey and Son
By Charles Dickens
Narrated by John Richmond
(1812-1870, English Author and soical critic.)
Tolstoy said that Dickens’ literature was a source of motivation for him to sit down and write. Dickens’ wrote many works picturing life during the industrial revolution that motivated more than writers to write. Dickens describes many of the negative consequences of the industrial revolution; particularly, child labor abuse and family-value deterioration. Dickens became a source of information for societal reform.
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910, Russian writer, considered by some to be one of the greatest authors of all time.)
“Dombey and Son” is a lesser known work of Dickens that pleases the senses and gladdens the heart. For anyone who has children, “Dombey and Son” teaches parenthood and touches on errors of parental commission and omission.
The consequence of hubris and greed in “Dombey and Son” are well told in this story of father/husband arrogance, and business manager misdeed. Like a Shakespearean play, Dickens writes about the difficulty of life with dénouements that conclude with “Alls Well That Ends Well”.
In the mid 1800s, the patriarch in “Dombey and Son”, Paul Dombey marries. The industrial revolution is in full swing. A daughter is born to a father who pines for a son. His wish is granted but at a cost.
Fate chooses to provide a son but the boy loses his mother in child birth; the boy is sickly and destined to live a short life that never fulfills the desire of his father for a son to inherit the family business.
Paul Dombey grieves for his son. He alienates and ignores his daughter, and marries again for appearance and convenience. Paul Dombey lacks empathy or understanding of others or himself.
Dombey’s loss of a son and his hubris get in the way of human compassion or love for others. His life spirals out of control.
Dombey is abandoned by his new wife. He accuses his daughter of aiding the abandonment. Dombey strikes his daughter and she runs away. Through the connivance of his business manager, Dombey’s business is bankrupted. Dombey gyres into a pit of despair and self loathing.
The beauty of Dickens’ writing is in character development. His skill exhibits in multiple story lines that weave together to change the course of a story by juxtaposing pitiable despair with great joy. When his daughter flees she begins a new life, presaged by an earlier encounter with a former Dombey’ apprentice and his guardian. The apprentice, after exile and ship wreck, becomes her husband.
The daughter, though neglected by her father, loves him deeply. She attempts to reconcile Paul Dombey with his second wife. Because of his second wife’s childhood miseries, reconciliation is not possible but Dickens foreshadows forgiveness in Dombey’s future.
The relationship between father and daughter begins to heal. Dombey begins to understand himself; i.e. he recognizes his failure as a father and husband and begins to rebuild his life through his grandchildren.
Dickens’ stories are over simplifications and exaggerations of parental psychological abuse but the fracture of family values caused by industrialization is fairly depicted in his writing and well documented by sociologists and historians.
Dickens “Dombey and Son” presages today’s transition from industrialization to technological revolution. Today is a time of great social disruption. It is similar to the disruption of industrialization when work became more mechanized and productive; when family life became less important, and a faster pace of life changed society.
The world’s adjustment to technology multiplies the benefits and pitfalls of industrialization. Technology may allow for a resurgence of family values by reducing the amount of time parents are away from home.
Life’s distractions are multiplied by technology. Screen time becomes more important than face time.
The pace of life accelerates with technology; just as it did with industrialization. Just as in the industrial revolution, it is up to parents to decide what is best for themselves and their children.
Dickens’ stories remain as relevant today as they were in the 19th century.