Bleak House: Chapter 46

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Summary of Chapter XLVI: Stop Him!

 

Allan Woodcourt is walking in the slum of Tom-all-Alone’s at dawn. He sees a woman sitting on a doorstep (Jenny, the brickmaker’s wife from St. Albans) with a bruised head. He knows how to talk to the poor, and treats her injury, asking her questions. He is startled when she mentions she is from St. Albans. Just then, Woodcourt sees the boy Jo and thinks he remembers him. Jenny runs after Jo, saying “Stop him!” Woodcourt thinks the boy has stolen money, so he chases him down.

 

Jo and Jenny fill in Woodcourt about how Esther took in Jo to nurse him and then got sick herself. Jo protests he didn’t mean to do it. He had come back to the slum to hide out until dark and then planned to go to Mr. Snagsby for a handout. He is still very ill. Jo is afraid of being pursued by someone (the detective, Bucket) who had taken him away, put him in a hospital until he was well, and then told him to leave London.

 

Woodcourt takes him with him to find a shelter but Jo insists, “I’m a-moving on to the berryin ground” (p. 481).

 

Commentary on Chapter XLVI

 

This and the next chapter treat of the death of Jo in Dickens’s artful and sentimental style designed to underscore the shameful poverty in London. Woodcourt is comfortable with the poor, and is a contrast to the inept Mrs. Jellyby, Mrs. Pardiggle, and Chadband.  He avoids “patronage or condescension, or childishness” (p. 476). He treats the woman as a human being, understanding she is abused by her husband, but not preaching about it.

 

Woodcourt hears confirmed the story of Esther’s unselfishness in helping Jo and finds out how he disappeared. Inspector Bucket took him to keep him quiet and was able to get him into a hospital. He had been charged by Tulkinghorn to keep an eye on Jo, to keep him out of the way, because he didn’t want him spreading any more stories about Lady Dedlock and Nemo. Jo is afraid of Bucket finding him again.

 

Jo is in “shapeless clothes hanging in shreds” (p. 478). He has been hassled by Mrs. Snagsby, Chadband, Bucket, Tulkinghorn, and now he is looking for a quiet place to die.

 

 

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