Son of Air - Jonas Chuzzlewit
Montague Tigg; Jonas Chuzzlewit;
As Martin Chuzzlewit begins, Martin's nephew Jonas Chuzzlewit - a blustering braggart and coward – is really rather comical. As the book progresses, however, Jonas grows into a nasty personification of evil. Jonas has his octogenarian father Anthony's “winking red eyes”, and would like to have his money, too. To that end, he contrives to poison the old man's drink. Anthony does die suddenly under suspicious circumstances, and we never know if it was Jonas' poison that did it or just Anthony's miserable heart giving out.
Now wealthy, Jonas proceeds to woo Charity Pecksniff, while treating her sister Mercy with scorn and derision. Abruptly, Jonas jilts Cherry and proposes to Merry – demanding of their father 4 times the dowry negotiated for Cherry with the rationale Merry would be that much more difficult for Seth to unload. Showing his true nature, Jonas brutalizes his young wife, breaking her heart and spirit.
Jonas meets something of his double in Montague Tigg. An inveterate scoundrel and hanger-on of the distant Chuzzlewit kin Chevy Slyme, Tigg inveigles Jonus into his sleazy "business", The Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan & Insurance Company. This thriving venture, if the name didn't already give it away, is nothing more than a pyramid scheme, paying off early policyholders' claims with the money secured from more recent investors. Changing his name to Tigg Montague, perhaps as an outward sign of his being two-faced, the unscrupulous Montague uses his ludicrously debonair style to hoodwink impressionable clients generally and Seth Pecksniff specifically. Tigg and/or Montague grows a little too big for his britches, however, when he finds out some dirt on Jonas Chuzzlewit and attempts to blackmail him. Jonas, in turn, murders Montague Tigg.
The dirt Montague discovered about Jonas was his plan to poison his father. Having killed Montague, Jonas starts to unravel, suggesting Anthony Chuzzlewit died of natural causes and Jonas isn't as incorrigible as he or we thought he was. Jonas becomes not only fearful for himself, but of himself. Having murdered his moral doppelganger Tigg, Jonas becomes “his own ghost and phantom... at once the haunting spirit and the haunted man.” When his guilt is revealed and he is arrested, Jonas kills himself with the poison he intended to kill his father with.
This Ponzi scheme of personalities is a motif that blows throughout the Air suit, and this investiture into the nature of identity is one of the key themes in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Both are brought dramatically to light in two nightmares – one had by Tigg just before he's murdered, and the other had by Jonas just before he murders Tigg.
Tigg dreams of a door in his room which hides “an enemy, a shadow, a phantom”. This door also represents “a dreadful secret” which infuriates Tigg, because he both knows and does not know its secret. With the help of a strange man whose head is bloody, Tigg struggles to drive nails into the door – nails which turn first into twiggs and then into worms. The door splinters, crumbles, and refuses to accept the nails Tigg and his twin force into it. Tigg wakes to see Jonas, hovering over his bed.
In Jonas' dream, he is awoken in his own bed by his much-abused clerk, Chuffey. Together, they enter a strange city, with signs in a strange language, where Jonas realizes he has been before. The streets exist on various levels, and are joined by ladders and ropes connected to bells. A large crowd is gathered, and Jonas realizes it is Judgment Day. He becomes self-conscious of the way he's dressed. Every time Jonas looks at Chuffey, he is a different person. From the crowd, a head ascends, “livid and deadly”, and accuses Jonas of causing this dreadful day of reckoning. Jonas and the mystery head clash inconclusively.
As Jonas dreams all this, in a carriage on his way to murder Tigg, Dickens composes a haunting passage around him, turning his solipsism inside-out, as if unravelling the tightly wound rationalizations Jonas and the Suit of Air have been slowly winding -
The fishes slumbered in the cold, bright, glistening streams and rivers, perhaps; and the birds roosted on the branches of the trees; and in their stalls and pastures beasts were quiet; and human creatures slept. But what of that, when the solemn night was watching, when it never winked, when its darkness watched no less than its light! The stately trees, the moon and shining stars, the softly-stirring wind, the over-shadowed lane, the broad, bright countryside, they all kept watch. There was not a blade of growing grass or corn, but watched; and the quieter it was, the more intent and fixed its watch upon him seemed to be.
And yet he slept. Riding on among those sentinels of God, he slept, and did not change the purpose of his journey….
Jonas Chuzzlewit will not change his purpose until, with no alternatives left him, the only change he can manage is death. As Martin Chuzzlewit found in America a hellish Eden, Jonas Chuzzlewit – attempting to carve out his own personal paradise - finds in himself a Hell.
Shorthand : a man who rises to a challenge - a crafty devil - stronger than we thought, but maybe not as strong as he thought - not afraid of killing, but afraid of being killed - heedless of warnings - plunges headlong into headstrong - cruel - unusual - believes little fish simply get eaten by big fish - tends to start things he can't finish.