Devils and angels
The novel has a clear-cut moral structure, whereby the good
characters are clearly distinguishable from the bad characters and on the
whole, good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.
This dividing line between good and evil is reflected in the
imagery used to describe certain characters. Uriah Heep's physical appearance
and nature are described in demonic imagery. He writhes like a snake, the
Biblical symbol of the devil, and in Chapter XLIX, Mr. Micawber refers to him
as a "serpent." He has red hair and eyes, the latter being characteristic of
portrayals of the devil. He is seen as barely human: in Ch LII, Mr. Micawber
calls Uriah a "monster in the garb of a man."
Like the devil, Uriah gains power over people; it could be
said that he possesses them. In Chapter XXVI, when Uriah and Agnes are
traveling on same coach, she is shown inside, whereas he is on the roof,
serpent-like and devilish. He is described as "her evil genius writhing on the
roof, as if he had her in his clutches and triumphed." In line with Uriah's
parasitic behavior, there is the suggestion that he is a kind of vampire when,
in Chapter XXV, David feels the impulse to seize a red-hot poker from fire and
run Uriah through with it; it will be remembered that the time-honored way of
killing a vampire was to drive a stake through its heart.
The imagery of evil surrounding Uriah extends to his mother.
In Chapter XXXIX, Mrs Heep fixes the "evil eye" on David and Agnes; David
imgaines that her knitting is a net to entrap them.
Littimer too has his share of demonic imagery, as befits a
character whose outward appearance is deceptively "respectable" but whose soul
is corrupt. In Chapter LI, Mr. Peggotty refers to Littimer as a "spotted snake."
Reinforcing Dickens's strong distinction between good and
evil characters are references to good and bad angels. In Chapter XXV, Agnes
warns David that Steerforth is his "bad angel," whereas David thinks of Agnes
as his "good angel" In Chapter LI, Mr. Peggotty calls the woman who rescues
Little Em'ly after she escapes from Littimer an "angel."In Chapter LII, Uriah watching Agnes is likened to "an ugly and
rebellious genie watching a good spirit." David repeatedly associates Agnes
with a stained glass window in a church, (for example, in Chapter LIV)
suggesting sainthood or divinity.
Images of predatory animals are used to convey cruelty,
destructiveness, opportunism, and exploitation of other people. In Chapter
XXVI, Uriah is described as being "like a great vulture: gorging himself on
every syllable that I said to Agnes, or Agnes said to me." In similar vein, in
Chapter XXXIX, Uriah and his mother are "like two great bats hanging over the
whole house." In Chapter XLVIII, David gives up trying to improve Dora's mind,
fearing that if he continues, he will "degenerate into the spider again, and be
for ever lying in wait." There is an implicit reference to Mr. Murdstone, who
acted in just such a predatory and cruel way with David's mother.
Mr Dick's kite
Mr. Dick loves to fly his kite. The kite's element is air,
and its flight symbolizes Mr. Dick's detachment from worldly matters and
mundane society. It also suggests the instinctively spiritual and angelic
aspects of his nature.
Rosa Dartle's scar
Rosa's scar is an outward symbol of a deep inner wound that
she keeps concealed. The scar (and, it is suggested symbolically, the inner
wound) was inflicted by Steerforth in a moment of exasperation. Rosa loves
Steerforth, but is unable to express her love freely, whether because of his
indifference or her fear of rejection, or both. She has become bitter and
twisted, obscuring her true meaning in sarcastic and elliptical speech.
However, the scar becomes livid in moments of high emotion, which always
involve Steerforth. Thus the scar is the most honest aspect of Rosa, in that it
says what she cannot.
The sea in this novel both gives life (Mr. Peggotty and Ham
are fishermen) and takes it away (the people in Mr. Peggotty's household have
been widowed or orphaned by the sea). It represents a force of nature that is
beyond the control of man and beyond superficial and egotistical qualities like
vanity. In swallowing Steerforth, it both shows up the trivial nature of
Steerforth's character, and acts as a force of fate in destroying the
Mr. Peggotty is the character who is most in tune with the
sea, in that he respects its power, and he is also in tune with the rhythms of
life and death. He knows that Mr. Barkis will die with the ebbing tide, and is
proven correct. This shows that Mr. Peggotty is a person of simple,
uncomplicated virtues, in contrast with the sophisticated wiles of people like
Steerforth and Uriah.