The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-21

Summary

Having arrived in London, Mr. Pickwick goes to Dodson and Fogg's office. While waiting, he and Sam overhear the clerks' talk about Fogg and his underhanded practices. On obtaining an interview with the two lawyers, Mr. Pickwick learns to his indignation that the damages are set at 1,500 pounds, and he obtains a copy of the writ against him. Then he and Sam step into a tavern for a drink, and Sam recognizes his father, who joins them. Sam's father tells Mr. Pickwick that he recognized Jingle and Job Trotter on the Ipswich coach, and Mr. Pickwick resolves to pursue them.

Next, Mr. Pickwick and Sam go to Mr. Perker's office to turn over the copy of the writ. No one is there but a charwoman, who tells them that Mr. Perker's clerk is at a nearby tavern. So they go there, hand the clerk the writ, which he promises to take care of, and Mr. Pickwick joins the clerk at his table. The clerk, Peter Lowten, introduces Pickwick to his friends, who are seedy, unkempt law clerks. And Mr. Pickwick settles down to hear some stories about Cray's Inn, which are told by a half-crazed man named Jack Bamber.

Bamber begins by telling of dead bodies and ghosts in the chambers of the Inns of Court. And then with a hideous leer he launches into the tale of a perverse client. Imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea, a man called Heyling watches his wife and child wither and die. He swears to be avenged on the two men who placed him in prison: his father and father-in-law. His father dies, which releases Heyling and makes him rich. One day Heyling finds his brother-in-law drowning while his father-in-law pleads for help, and Heyling lets the man drown. Later Heyling buys up his father-in-law's debts and begins to persecute him legally. Reduced to destitution, the old man flees, but Heyling tracks him down. As the old man sits in his rented room, Heyling enters and tells him of his own vow to destroy him, and the old man dies.

After the story Mr. Pickwick pays the bill and leaves.

Analysis

Among other things, these two chapters deal with the law, with how contorted justice can become when the law is used to serve mercenary or evil ends. Dodson and Fogg, of course, are wholly unprincipled. After serving Mr. Pickwick with one misbegotten suit, they try to make him slander or assault them so they can start other suits against him. Moreover, their moral corruption extends to their clerks, who heartily approve of chicanery. Mr. Pickwick finds himself confronted by a new kind of knavery, which is completely distinct from Jingle's flamboyant schemes. Dodson and Fogg are determined and ruthless, and they have the machinery of the law behind them. Jingle has nothing behind him but his own quick wit.

Bamber's tale shows how Heyling uses the law to hound a man to his death, after the man had sent him to debtors' prison with the same hardness. Thus law can become the instrument of paranoid cruelty. Dickens shows the law at its shabbiest in the talk and stories of the law clerks, and he clearly has little respect for it. Personal experience may have helped shaped this view, for Dickens was a law clerk for a while in his teens.

It is no coincidence that Sam's father, Tony Weller, is introduced just after Mr. Pickwick has been handed a breach-of-promise writ. Tony is caught up in a miserable marriage to a widow, and Mr. Pickwick is learning how mercenary a thwarted widow can be. Both men are innocents when it comes to women and are apt to be imposed upon.

The relationship between Tony and Sam is closer to an easy companionship than to a normal father-son relation. Tony exercises no parental authority over Sam, who was put out on the street at an early age to learn the ways of the world on his own. Although Sam has not seen his father in two years, they are on friendly terms. In Bamber's tale, the theme of fathers and sons appears as a negative of Sam's filial love for Tony and Mr. Pickwick. Heyling vows to destroy his father and father-in-law, and there is no quarter given on either side.

Tony Weller's information that Jingle and Job Trotter are at Ipswich provides the destination of the next adventure. So far Jingle's itinerary coincides closely with Mr. Pickwick's. Jingle is almost a reverse image of Mr. Pickwick, a shadow self who turns up in the same places and who has acquired a servant simultaneously with Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick, in fact, is a bit obsessed with Jingle, for he was the one who taught him about the reality and power of deception, and who tripped him up in his own gallantry at Bury St. Edmunds.

Dickens is beginning to weave two separate but related plot lines together: Jingle's schemes to marry money and Mrs. Bardell's plan to get money out of Mr. Pickwick, both of which are underhanded. Mr. Pickwick is fighting his battle against dishonesty on two fronts: he hates to see others cheated and he hates to be cheated himself.

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By the end of the novel, Dickens proposes a viable solution to some of the social problems he addresses, like debtor's prison.


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