David remembers back to the time of his wife's death after Dora had been ill for some time. In fact, David cannot remember when she was not sick. David noticed that Jip, Dora's dog, had become quite old and pathetically feeble, just like his mistress. Dora tells David to write a letter to Agnes asking her to come, and David does so. One night shortly after Agnes' arrival, Dora tells David that she was too young to marry and that perhaps it might have been better if she and David had "loved each other as a boy and girl, and forgotten it." She sends David downstairs and bids farewell by saying, "It is much better as it is."
David sits in his chair beside the fireplace while Jip lies on the floor beside him. David's thoughts wander to what Dora has said, and he cannot help thinking that perhaps Dora was correct in her remark. At that moment, Jip comes to him and whines to go upstairs. David tells the dog: "Not to-night, Jip . . . it may be never again." Thereupon, Jip lies down and "with a plaintive cry is dead." At this exact moment, Agnes comes downstairs, "full of pity and . . . grief." David knows that Dora, too, is dead.
David is very distressed over Dora's death, and Agnes suggests that he go abroad in order to forget his unhappiness. She makes all the arrangements, but David must wait until after "the final pulverization of Heep" and until the emigrants leave.
The emigration of the Micawber family is to be financed by Miss Trotwood, who has regained her money. Traddles explains that he went over the Wickfield accounts and found that the business was not short of funds and that Miss Betsey's money would be returned, except for two thousand pounds that she had withdrawn some years before. Miss Betsey informs David that she didn't tell him about this nest egg because she wanted to see if he could get along without her financial help. Miss Betsey also agrees to pay Mr. Micawber's IOU's as they are now due, and Mr. Micawber can repay her after he makes good in Australia. Agnes decides to open a school so she can take care of her father now that his business has been liquidated. Traddles reports that Uriah embezzled the money because of his hatred for David, and that now Heep and his mother have gone to London, but that "if he could do us, or any of us, any injury or annoyance, no doubt he would."
Miss Trotwood is distressed by something all this time, but David doesn't know what it is. Finally, his aunt asks him to go for a ride in the morning, and she will tell him the reason. They drive to a London hospital where a hearse is waiting with the body of her missing husband. He died a few days before, and Miss Betsey notes that "Six-and-thirty years ago, this day, my dear . . . I was married. God forgive us all."
Dickens has often been taken to task by the critics for the very overdone scene which is the key focus of Chapter 53; neither the death of David's mother nor that of Barkis contains as much pathos, but it must be said in Dickens' defense that Dora shows more maturity and practicality than she has ever shown before.
Her analysis of their inept marriage is accurate, and she exhibits a deep understanding of David's inclinations by inviting Agnes to be with her at the end.
In Chapter 54, Dickens begins to tie up the threads of his far-flung plots. Heep is disgraced and removed to London; the Micawbers and Mr. Peggotty are removed even further, to Australia; and Miss Betsey's fortune is saved and her husband buried. The minor characters are being dispensed with so that David's life will again become the focus of the reader's attention.