Mother of Earth - Amy Dorrit

Character:

Amy Dorrit

Book:

Little Dorrit

      Amy Dorrit is the culmination and epitome of a certain kind of Dickens female character, seen previously in Little Nell, Florence Dombey, and Esther Summerson. These young women are not nor never were children, rather they are little mothers. They are the paragon of Victorian womanhood, the keynote of which is selflessness. Amy Dorrit takes selflessness to a new level – a level which is laudable, masochistic, or horrendous, depending on your perspective.

 

 Amy is the youngest member of the Dorrit family, born into the Marshalsea prison system. She is the one working to maintain the family's well-being, meagre as that is. Malnourished herself, she goes without food to feed her father. A father who, for his own paltry advantage, stoops to the attempted sacrifice of his daughter's honour. Besides her feckless family and childish father, Amy has also taken under her wing a 28-year-old disabled woman named Maggie who has the mentality of a 10-year-old. Maggie quite rightly calls Amy “little mother” and, perhaps of note, Maggie's condition was caused by the same disease which took the life of Little Nell and Mary Hogarth.

 

 When her father inherits a small fortune and the family enter high society, Amy Dorrit refuses to alter her attire from her days at the Marshalsea. This act is symbolic of Amy's steadfast refusal to alter her values despite changes in the way society values her. Her values and worth are born deep inside her, and are far broader and more high-minded than the superficial material values and worth the world ascribes her. This is the essence of the Mother of Earth card – Little Dorrit loved bridges, and here the resolutely upright young woman is herself the bridge between the shame and servitude of poverty and the excesses and oppression of affluence. She is the maternal aspect of the material world. When the fortunes of the financial scales are reversed, Amy Dorrit mothers Arthur Clennam in the Marshalsea as earnestly and graciously as she did her own father.

 

 The dark side of Amy Dorrit's character is what it says about Charles Dickens and Victorian society as a whole, who placed on so esteemed a pedestal such an impossible to live up to mother-child ideal. The shadow of this virginal martyr is the denial of woman as a human being, the entrenched idea that even normal human sexuality is shameful and unclean, and the unchecked misuse and abuse of women as prostitutes and chattel. It will be remembered that although Amy is 22, she is unnaturally small, easily passing - in both Arthur Clennam and the author's estimation – for 11. This denial of childhood and the adult woman, sexualized in a nubile female pubescent which Amy Dorrit and her predecessors represent, is a truly unnerving aspect of the inhumanely repressed Victorian era and Dickens' own psyche. Fortunately, as an apex, or climax as it were, Amy Dorrit also acts as a bridge to different kinds of female characters seen in Dickens subsequent work. Although she reappears in Lucy Manette, Biddy, and Lizzie Hexam, her role as primary archetype is reduced, making way for Estella, Bella Wilfer, and Helena Landless.

 

 Little Dorrit of the Earth Mother card may also stand for the novel Little Dorrit, the theme of which has been said to be one of prison – the Prison of the World. If the world were indeed simply a prison, the prisons we make within it, such as the Marshalsea, would have no meaning. The theme, then, of Little Dorrit, is that a prison can be made anywhere – in the Marshalsea, in China, in Clennam House, in affluent society, in a person's passions and thoughts – just as a prison can be made of anything, at any time, by anyone – a bible, a broken pocket watch, a business, a bureaucracy, a Bleeding Heart Yard. Amy Dorrit, with her motherly qualities of sincerity, love, and loyalty, is the link that frees the author and reader from the chains of these prisons.

 

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Shorthand : down to earth - sensible - sensitive - wise - compassionate - adorable - giving - forgiving - understands the true value of things - not unduly intelligent - loyal - perhaps narrow of outlook - a life circumscribed by the material - able to rise above almost any matter - when one door opens another closes - suspicious of what she does not understand - sometimes a little arch - able to bridge people's differences.