The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 38-39

Summary

At Bristol, Winkle looks for directions and goes into a physician's shop, where he finds Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen. Sawyer tells Winkle the tricks he uses to get business, although he has no wares and few patients. Over brandy Ben Allen tells Winkle that Arabella is in the area, where she has been hidden to protect her from an unknown suitor. Ben wants his sister to marry Bob Sawyer. The news disturbs Winkle, who loves Arabella.

Winkle goes back to the hotel, where he meets Dowler, who is afraid that Winkle has followed him to Bristol to get even. Winkle, too, is frightened, but when he realizes what has happened he gets up his courage and magnanimously forgives Dowler. In bed that night, Winkle is awakened by Sam Weller, who angrily accuses Winkle of adding to Mr. Pickwick's anxieties. Winkle is humbled but asks permission to stay until he can see Arabella. The next morning Sam sends word to Mr. Pickwick of the situation, having locked Winkle up for the night.

Mr. Pickwick arrives in Bristol to find out if Winkle's intentions toward Arabella are honorable. Winkle fervently declares they are, so Mr. Pickwick sends Sam to locate Arabella. After hours of fruitless searching, Sam accidentally finds his sweetheart Mary. Much kissing ensues, and Mary tells Sam that Arabella lives next door. Sam sees Arabella and tells her of Winkle's passionate love for her. After some hesitation she tells Sam that Winkle can see her the following night. With Mr. Pickwick to chaperon and Sam to guide him, Winkle has an interview with Arabella, in which he learns that she loves him. Mr. Pickwick carries a powerful lantern, and the beam attracts the notice of a scientific gentleman, who writes a paper on the "atmospheric" phenomenon.

Analysis

These two chapters advance Winkle's romance with Arabella Allen and finish the business with Dowler. Dowler, of course, was a humbug from the start, and here his posturing is exposed. Winkle may be timorous and impulsive, too, but we sympathize with him because he never pretended to be brave. The duel with Slammer at Rochester cured him of any impulse to feign courage when he had nothing to gain.

As a suitor for Arabella's hand Winkle is by far the most presentable candidate. He may not have many virtues, but he is free of vices. Bob Sawyer, however, is disreputable, dissipated, unkempt, vulgar, boisterous, and irresponsible. One of Bob's reasons for wanting to marry Arabella is to get his hands on her money. Moreover, it is hard to imagine a fellow as independent as Sawyer scrambling over a garden wall to propose, as Winkle does.

Nevertheless, the reader enjoys Bob Sawyer as he can never enjoy Winkle. For all his boyish faults, there is something admirable about Sawyer. His appeal lies in his good humor and carefree attitude in circumstances that would make anyone else crumble. His devices for getting patients when he has nothing to sell them are wonderfully quixotic. His friend, Ben Allen, on the other hand, is a dunce with no redeeming features. In his dissolution, he cannot hold his liquor without getting maudlin and pugnacious.

Sam Weller's loyalty to Mr. Pickwick is amply demonstrated in his reproachful treatment of Winkle. Sam realizes how much a man of principle his master is; and Winkle's flight to Bristol is an unworthy act to Sam, a desertion of Mr. Pickwick. Sam also points up another trait of Mr. Pickwick's, his youthfulness, on the expedition to see Arabella. Ordinarily strong principles and a boyish heart do not go together in an old man, but Dickens' achievement in creating Mr. Pickwick is to make us believe in him fully — and to make us love him.

The "scientific gentleman" is a measure of how much progress Dickens has made in characterizing Mr. Pickwick. At the beginning of this novel Dickens made his hero the butt of a joke very similar to this one: the inscription at Cobham in Chapter 11. To do this now would wreck our belief in Mr. Pickwick as a character. He has become much more human and sympathetic, a figure of comedy rather than farce. So Dickens creates the "scientific gentleman" as an object of farce. The gentleman, who has been waiting to make some unique discovery, finds it in Mr. Pickwick's lantern flashes. Like a good scientist, he investigates the hypothesis of his servant, who thinks it is burglars, and gets knocked on the head by Sam. In no way deterred, he writes a paper on the light flashes that makes him famous. Like Mr. Pickwick, this character exemplifies the resilience of human nature, but on a much lower level.

Many coincidences crop up in this section. Winkle asks for directions in Bristol and finds Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen. Dowler also flees to Bristol. Sam finds his sweetheart Mary in Bristol, living next door to Arabella Allen no less, hundreds of miles from where we last saw either girl. Dickens simply uses coincidence here to tie up loose plot ends before Mr. Pickwick goes to prison.

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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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