The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 48-51

Summary

Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen are in their Bristol shop discussing their prospects. They have clients but very few can pay. The best thing would be for Bob to marry Arabella and use her 1,000 pounds, except that Arabella has no liking for Bob. As they talk of the revenge they would take on another suitor, Ben Allen's aunt enters to announce that Arabella has run off and gotten married. Ben Allen, suspecting his aunt's servant of being an accomplice, violently attacks him. Mr. Pickwick arrives with Sam and the fight is broken up. Then Mr. Pickwick tells the group that Arabella has married Nathaniel Winkle. Suspicions and angry words follow, but things settle down after Sawyer, Allen, and the rest take hearty gulps from a liquor bottle. Ben becomes partially reconciled to his sister's marriage and agrees to go with Mr. Pickwick to see Winkle's father, who lives in Birmingham. Mr. Pickwick and Sam retire to their inn, where they catch the one-eyed bagman from Eatanswill about to tell the tale of the bagman's uncle.

The bagman's uncle, a hard-drinking cloth salesman, had consumed a great deal of liquor at a friend's home in Edinburgh. He was walking to his lodging when he came across a yard full of old, discarded mail coaches. He sat down on an old axletree and dozed off, but he awoke to find the coaches restored and ready to leave. Three other passengers arrive: a gentleman, a ruffian, and a lady imploring help. The ruffian assaults the bagman's uncle and is defeated temporarily. Their coach begins its journey and then stops at a deserted house, where the four passengers alight. In the house, the lady's two abductors try to kill the bagman's uncle, but with her help, both of them are slain. The lady informs the uncle that their lives are still in danger, so they mount the coach and dash off, pursued by the gentleman's henchmen. In the morning, the bagman's uncle finds himself on the deserted coach.

The next morning Mr. Pickwick arrives at Sawyer's shop to get Ben Allen for the trip to Birmingham. Bob Sawyer closes his shop for good and, uninvited, he climbs up on the coach. Mr. Pickwick begins to notice that passersby keep staring at them and learns that Bob Sawyer is performing pranks on top of the coach. Sawyer offers Pickwick and Allen a flask of milk-punch, and before long Mr. Pickwick rather enjoys the pranks. But as the coach draws near Birmingham that evening Mr. Pickwick becomes apprehensive about Sawyer's presence. His fears are justified, for Sawyer continues to clown in the Winkle home while Ben Allen is sleepily drunk, which makes Mr. Pickwick's mission more precarious. Mr. Winkle sternly puts a damper on the antics. After reading a long letter from his son that tells of the marriage, Mr. Winkle curtly tells Mr. Pickwick that he will think the matter over and decide what to do later, adding that he is greatly disappointed in his son's companions. Angry and worried, Mr. Pickwick leaves, taking Sawyer and Allen with him.

The depressed group gets a late start for London the next day and is caught in a continuous, heavy downpour. After traveling some hours they decide to stay the night at an inn in Toweester. Mr. Pickwick gets a note off to Winkle telling of his arrival in London the following day. Sam Weller finds Pott, the windbag editor of the Eatanswill Gazette, who is also staying there. Sam invites him to join Mr. Pickwick, which he does. Pott says he intends to go to a ball given by the opposition party. Mrs. Pott has left him and taken half his property, and Pott is vengefully happy to hear that Winkle has married. Mr. Slurk, the editor of the Eatanswill Independent and Pott's mortal enemy, also stops at that inn on his way to the ball. Bob Sawyer, sensing an opportunity for mischief, leads Pott into Slurk's company, where insults lead to blows. Mr. Pickwick attempts to separate the two men and gets banged up. The battle ends when Sam subdues Pott and has Slurk disarmed. Then everyone goes to bed, and next morning they leave for London.

Analysis

The most prominent character in these chapters, aside from Mr. Pickwick, is Bob Sawyer. His pranks may lead to embarrassments and fighting, but they enliven the narrative considerably. Bob Sawyer is the perennial life of the party here, a boisterous practical joker who seizes any opportunity for fun. His exuberant clowning serves to cast off the shadow of prison, to help restore Mr. Pickwick to the vital, active world of freedom. Episodes involving Bob Sawyer seem to fall at crucial points in the story — prior to the trial, just before Mr. Pickwick is imprisoned and just after he is released. It is as if the unpleasantness of legal action and prison life requires some vigorous, life-enhancing buffoon to set it off and relieve it.

One important feature of these chapters is violent activity and fighting. After being pent-up, so to speak, in the dreariness of prison, the narrative now shows an explosion of animal spirits. When Mr. Pickwick and Sam walk into Sawyer's shop, Ben Allen is trying to strangle his aunt's servant. In the bagman's tale about his uncle, the fighting is lethal. Then Pott and Slurk attack each other with a satchel and a poker, thrashing Mr. Pickwick in the process. And while Sam tries to stop the fight, Sawyer and Allen are dancing around the combatants, looking for wounds they can doctor.

Another feature of these chapters is the sensation of movement, since much of the action takes place in coaches. The bagman's uncle rides his ghost coach, and Mr. Pickwick and his companions ride from Bristol to Birmingham to Towcester. Travel itself is shown to be a pleasure, especially after the stagnation of prison. One of the delights of this novel is the vivid way it portrays the coaching days of England. Dickens himself loved to make journeys, and his joy in them is quite evident in this section. We get a sense of the comfort and pleasure to be had in wayside inns and hotels, the enjoyment a storyteller like the bagman could give, and how riding whetted one's appetite and thirst. We realize how important good companions were in traveling. All of these revelations suddenly come into focus after Mr. Pickwick has undergone the confinement of prison. The reader, too, feels liberated once the action is back on the coach roads.

A third emphasis in this portion falls on good food and copious drinking, which contrasts with the poor prison food and wine and ale. A sense of plenty is restored to the novel. Mr. Pickwick seems determined to make up for lost time, and Dickens indulges him to the full.

Three characters from Eatanswill turn up in this section: the bagman, Mr. Pott, and Mr. Slurk. Almost a year has passed since Pott and the bagman made their last appearance, and they seem like old acquaintances. Like the traditional traveling salesman, the bagman seems to specialize in stories about traveling salesmen. His tale about his uncle bears an indirect relationship to Winkle. Just as the uncle rescued the lovely woman from two villains, so Winkle rescued Arabella from the clutches of Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer. The dream adventure expresses the wish of many inconsequential men to lead a dashing life and win a beautiful woman. Winkle seems to live an adventurous life in spite of himself, and he has won an attractive young lady. Once again, the interpolated tale mirrors the action of the novel.

The fight between Pott and Slurk puts a comic end to the political satire in the novel. Even though Pott's wife has left him, Pott promised to thrash Slurk to uphold her honor after Slurk printed the poem suggesting that Winkle had cuckolded Pott. Pott was too much in love with his own voice to keep a wife happy. And here his editorial rhetoric has grown even flowery. Slurk is Pott's mirror-image, the double he wants to destroy. Each man seems bent on annihilating the other, a drive that is ultimately self-destructive. The situation is a comic version of Poe's story "William Wilson."

The plot of these chapters concerns Mr. Pickwick's mission to reconcile the relatives to Winkle's marriage. If he succeeds with Ben Allen, he is far from successful with Winkle's father. Mr. Winkle, Sr., apparently holds a different idea of parental responsibility than the childless Pickwick. While Mr. Pickwick goes to great lengths to assist young Winkle, Winkle's own father thinks the way to raise a son is to keep him in boarding schools and then send him out in the world with an unknown, elderly chaperon. Mr. Winkle seems like a brusque, stern, businesslike man, but as a father he is irresponsible. His remoteness from his son explains why young Winkle wrote him a letter and sent Mr. Pickwick to break the news. A further point is that it is important for Winkle to get his father's approval, since Mr. Winkle controls his son financially. Mr. Pickwick, on the other hand, exercises his fatherly authority over Winkle through affection. The interview between the two men would not have been satisfactory even if Sawyer and Allen had not been along, because there was little basis for a common understanding. Mr. Winkle seems interested in Arabella's dowry, while Mr. Pickwick is interested in the couple's happiness.

These chapters take place at the end of July 1831, and show us three consecutive days of a five-day trip. The time scheme is quite clear, which reflects the specific purpose of the trip. Mr. Pickwick has a special aim and wastes no time in seeing that he fulfills it. In general, throughout the novel the adventures which involve some purpose on Mr. Pickwick's part have a tighter sense of time than those which do not.

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