Summary and Analysis Chapter 6


Esther, Ada, and Richard arrive at Bleak House and meet the benevolent, self-effacing Mr. Jarndyce. Esther recognizes him as the kindly gentleman who shared a stagecoach with her six years ago. The young people find the old-fashioned house much to their liking.


They meet Mr. Skimpole, a gracious but irresponsible dilettante whom John Jarndyce has taken under his protection. Under arrest for a small debt, Skimpole appeals to Richard and Esther; they combine their pocket money to save him from imprisonment. Learning of this incident, Mr. Jarndyce warns the young people never to advance any money whatever for Skimpole's debts. Esther looks forward cheerfully to her new role as housekeeper.


Having presented the dreary, inhumane, and maddening world of Chancery and the equally intolerable world of the Jellybys, Dickens needs to put such disorder fully into perspective. He does so — again using sharp contrast: Bleak House and its owner symbolize the lively contentedness, hope, and creativity that prevail when human affairs are rightly ordered. Through the figure of Mr. Jarndyce, Dickens reinforces the optimistic message already implied in the portrayal of Esther: It is possible for goodness to triumph completely within the individual, and when it does, the individual will naturally seek to rescue and comfort those who are victimized by the operations of false values. To be effective — to make a difference in the world — human goodness requires a sense of responsibility and an active will. Mr. Skimpole, though effusively warm and vaguely good-natured, does not have these qualities; Mr. Jarndyce does. Harold Skimpole's irresponsibility is so extreme that it is dangerous; thus Chapter 6 is humorous, but it is also morally instructive.