Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse is on a wharf; the entire building is overrun with rats and "discoloured with the dirt and smoke of a hundred years." David's job, along with three or four other boys his age, is to wash bottles and paste on new labels. David is introduced to Mr. Micawber, with whom he is to live, and then he is put to work. At eight o'clock, Mr. Micawber returns to take David to his lodgings, where the young lad is introduced to Mrs. Micawber and her small children.
David learns that the family has been forced to take in a lodger because of Mr. Micawber's debts, and later David notices that creditors appear at the house at all hours of the day. However, Mr. Micawber, with his implicit faith that "something will turn up," seems unperturbed by their demands for money.
David offers to help the family with the loan of his wages, but instead, Mrs. Micawber asks him to pawn household goods for them so that the family can buy food. This suffices for awhile, but at last Mr. Micawber is arrested and taken to debtors' prison, where his family soon joins him; here David observes that "they live more comfortably . . . than they had lived for a long while . . ." (English jails at that time allowed family members to live with the imprisoned debtor.)
David rents a small room near the prison and continues his solitary existence. The work at Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse is degrading, and the other boys employed there are a lowly group of urchins.
Mr. Micawber holds a dinner party at the prison in celebration of his impending release, and Mrs. Micawber vows to David that she "will never desert Mr. Micawber" no matter how difficult things become. Upon his release, the Micawbers decide to move to Plymouth, where Mr. Micawber can "exert his talents in the country." This influences David to end his "weary days at Murdstone and Grinby's" and run away to Miss Betsey Trotwood, his only relation and a person who he thinks might be sympathetic to his plight.
David writes Peggotty for Miss Betsey's address and the loan of a half-guinea for travelling expenses. When this arrives, he hires a young man with a cart to transport his trunk to the coach office, but the stranger steals his half-guinea and rides off with the trunk. David is alone in London without luggage or funds.
Dickens' own childhood forms a good deal of the background of Chapter 11, and Mr. Micawber is a brilliant caricature of Dickens' father. The degradation that David feels at Murdstone and Grinby's is an exact account of the author's feelings about his early life. At the age of nine, Dickens' father, along with the rest of his family, was sent to debtors' prison and Charles became an apprentice in a blacking factory, pasting labels on bottles. His parents appeared to show little concern for Charles' situation, especially the boy's education. Although the Micawbers are treated humorously in the novel, Dickens never forgave his own parents and always thought that his upbringing was no better than an orphan's.
Chapter 12 develops the characters of the Micawbers, who were introduced in the previous chapter as David's landlords. The mutual good feeling between David and the family suggests that their relationship will ripen into deep friendship.
In addition, David's escape from drudgery leads him into deeper troubles as he sets out for Miss Betsey's. This is an example of Dickens' protest against the exposure of children to hardships, a protest that is found in so much of his writing.