The Pickwick Papers By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 55-56

Summary

Tony Weller finds the will his wife made out, in which she gives 200 pounds to Sam and the rest to Tony. Sam tells his father that the will must be probated before they can come into their inheritance. So the two men go to see Solomon Pell, taking a group of coachmen along to umpire. The legal formalities take about a week, and the skinny Pell begins to put on weight from this new income. When the will has passed through probate, Pell takes the men over to a stockbroker to invest Sam's 200 pounds. The broker, a gaudy fellow named Wilkins Flasher, Esq., is fond of making bets on every topic of conversation. He receives Sam's portion of the legacy, and Solomon Pell takes a large fee, which leaves Tony Weller with over 1,100 pounds. Mr. Weller decides to see Mr. Pickwick with the money.

After being ushered into Mr. Pickwick's room, Tony finds himself speechless. At length he manages to say that he intends Mr. Pickwick to have the money, places it in Mr. Pickwick's hands, and tries to escape, but Sam restrains him. Mr. Pickwick is reluctant to accept the money but decides he can use it to set Sam up in business, which would enable Sam to marry. However, Sam steadfastly refuses to leave Mr. Pickwick's service, saying that Mary will have to wait. Tony is very pleased by his son's loyalty to Mr. Pickwick.

Meanwhile an old gentleman enters, looking for Arahella's room. He enters, intimates that he represents Winkle's father and charges Arabella with imprudence in marrying Nathaniel. She does not deny it, but tearfully defends herself, and the old man relents a bit. Then young Winkle enters, sees his father and defends both his wife and his decision. His father then shows himself to be very delighted with the match. Mr. Pickwick comes in and is gratified to see Mr. Winkle's change of heart.

Sam, on learning of Joe the Fat Boy's crush on Mary, gives him a ceremonious kick.

Analysis

These chapters show Tony Weller's innocence and goodwill, among other things. The only world in which he is at home is that of coaching. Widows and the law are two realities that threaten him, just as they threatened Mr. Pickwick. The former are rejected out of hand; the latter requires Sam's help. Having found his wife's will, his first impulse is to burn it up, assuming that he can take over his legacy immediately. So Sam has to take the matter in hand and guide his father through the mazes of legal and financial procedure. And having obtained the estate in cash, Tony rushes over to Mr. Pickwick's hotel and tries to hand the money over to Mr. Pickwick's care as quickly as possible. He has no conception of how to use it. Money is a burden to him because he wants to remain irresponsible and free of worry. His coachman's life is ideally suited to his character: when things become oppressive, he has only to get up on a coach and ride off.

The irresponsible use of money is also revealed in Wilkins Flasher, the stockbroker, who in a minute or two makes three substantial bets on topics that arise in the course of conversation. It is as if he can only communicate with someone by making bets, which is like an impersonal challenge. One shudders to think how Sam's money is going to be invested. As a character, Wilkins Flasher, Esq., is created through his speech: he is the quintessential speculator.

It is surprising how much of the action in these closing chapters revolves around money. We are concerned about Arabella's ability to placate old Mr. Winkle because he has the power to deprive his son of an income or a livelihood. And Mr. Pickwick has been considering setting both Winkle and Sam up in business with his own money.

Character determines the way one uses money, and in this section we see four different attitudes toward its use. Tony wants to get rid of it, because money draws widows. Wilkins Flasher uses it to speculate, to make it a way of relating to others. Mr. Winkle's tendency is to use it as a weapon to enforce compliance. And Mr. Pickwick wants to bestow it on worthy young men who have no way of establishing themselves. Mr. Pickwick again reveals his moral superiority in this. But as it turns out, none of his friends need or want help. Even Jingle has sworn to pay Mr. Pickwick back. However, the reader can easily picture Wilkins Flasher committing suicide as a bankrupt, especially after he bet on the suicide of a bankrupt.

Here we see some of the ways in which superfluous money can be used, from a high moral level to a low moral level. And after the poverty of Fleet Prison, all this ready money reminds us that the world of this novel is fundamentally an affluent one.

Though Sam must act like a father to Tony as he guides him through probate, Sam reaffirms his sonship to Mr. Pickwick when he postpones his marriage in order to continue serving the old man. An important sacrifice takes place here. Mr. Pickwick offers to set Sam up in business even though he knows he will be very lonely without Sam, but he wants to do this so that Sam can marry. Sam responds to this generosity by postponing his marriage. Each man recognizes his obligation to the other even when it is not in his own best interest. This mutual loyalty and Sam's sacrifice parallel what occurred in the Fleet, when Sam had himself jailed for debt to serve his master. Once again we are reminded of how deep their relationship goes.

In this first novel Dickens discovered a technique that he would use in novel after novel and develop to a high pitch of virtuosity — the device of using characters to explore many aspects of a central situation so that the characters bear a thematic relationship to one another. We have seen how the middle-aged women are comic predators. But the most important use of this technique has to do with father-son ties.

Pick wick Papers has three basic types of fathers: the genial, benevolent ones (Mr. Pickwick and Tony Weller); the ones with rough exteriors and soft hearts (Mr. Wardle and Mr. Winkle); and the savage fathers of the interpolated tales. This last group is excluded from the comic world of the narrative proper, and quite rightly. In the other types there is a subdivision. There is the responsible, benevolent fatherly type in Mr. Pickwick, who tries to aid and advise the young men in his protection. Then there is the irresponsible, benevolent father in Tony Weller, who let Sam run the streets from an early age without guidance. Of fathers who have a rough manner and a tender heart, Mr. Wardle is the responsible one. He cares about his sister and daughters and wants to see that they make good marriages. Mr. Winkle, on the other hand, has given his son little guidance, leaving his education to boarding schools and to Mr. Pickwick. Dickens, in effect, has presented a rather thorough picture of the various kinds of fathers that can inhabit a comic world. But his real achievement lies in the way he gives them life: they may be types, but each enjoys a special energy and will of his own.

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