By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by John Richmond
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 became a source of information for societal reform. Dickens describes many of the negative consequences of the industrial revolution; particularly, child labor abuse and deterioration of family values.
“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 parental’ errors of 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 a dénouement that concludes “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. 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 only 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 new wife abandons him. 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 spirals into a pit of despair and self loathing.
The beauty of Dickens’ writing is character development. His skill is exhibited 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 merchant apprentice. The apprentice lives with a guardian. After being apprenticed to a faraway port and a ship wreck at sea, the apprentice becomes Dombey’s daughter’s 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 suggests forgiveness in Dombey’s future.
The relationship between father and daughter begins to heal. Paul 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.
More importantly, “Dombey and Son” is a delightful and entertaining story.