Summary and Analysis
While loading the coach to Ipswich, Mr. Weller tells Sam about the unsavory evangelist with whom his wife had taken up. Mr. Pickwick arrives and gets into conversation with a prissy, conceited man named Peter Magnus, who is also going to Ipswich. When the journey is over, Pickwick and Magnus register at a large inn, and Magnus tells Mr. Pickwick that he came to propose to a woman at that inn. That night Mr. Pickwick loses his way while trying to find his room. By mistake he enters the bedroom of a middle-aged woman, undresses, discovers his mistake, throws the lady into a panic, and makes a fumbling exit. He decides to wait in the hallway, where Sam finds him and leads him back to his room. Sam suspects that he has been after the ladies.
The next morning Tony Weller tells Sam that it is a disgrace to the family honor to have been tricked by Job Trotter, and Sam reminds his father of the disgrace of letting an evangelist impose on him. A bit later Sam meets Job Trotter emerging from someone's yard. Job tries to evade him but does not succeed. Sam can extract no information about Jingle from him, but Job tells him that he himself is interested in marrying a cook for her savings. They part, and Sam tells Mr. Pickwick about a plan he has in mind.
Mr. Pickwick has breakfast with Peter Magnus, who is very agitated. Magnus gets Mr. Pickwick's advice on proposing and rushes off. Then Tupman, Snodgrass, and Winkle arrive. Magnus returns to tell Mr. Pickwick that the lady has accepted him, and he invites him to meet his fiancée. She is, of course, the same lady Mr. Pickwick had frightened the night before. Embarrassment follows, which throws Magnus into a rage. He threatens to duel with Mr. Pickwick, who seems ready to accept. The lady, Miss Witherfield, is terrified and reports Mr. Pickwick and Tupman to the local justice, Mr. Nupkins, who has an exaggerated sense of authority. Mr. Nupkins sends his officers to arrest the two men. After a good deal of consternation, Mr. Pickwick and Tupman agree to go peacefully. Sam, on learning of his master's arrest, gets into a fight with the officers, who manage to subdue him. The Pickwickians are led away to the justice's, followed by a crowd of onlookers.
Mr. Nupkins conducts the trial in a belligerent, high-handed manner. He fines Snodgrass and Winkle and requires a large bail from Mr. Pickwick and Tupman. Mr. Pickwick is furious, but after a private talk with Sam, he asks Nupkins for a quiet conference, in which Nupkins learns that his daughter's fashionable suitor is really the impostor Jingle. Realizing that this information could cause great social embarrassment for him and his family, Nupkins tells Mr. Pickwick that he can stay and confront Jingle. On learning the news, Mrs. Nupkins and her daughter berate Mr. Nupkins for their own poor judgment, but they decide it would be best to send Jingle and his servant off quietly. Sam, meanwhile, has dinner with the servants and strikes up a romance with the pretty housemaid, Mary. When Job Trotter turns up, the servants are ready for him, and the cook on whom he had designs rushes at him to tear his hair out. Jingle remains just as self-possessed as ever upon being exposed. But when he and Job leave the house they are dumped into the bushes by the butler. Having accomplished their purpose, Mr. Pickwick and Sam return to London.
These chapters show the circuitous way in which Jingle and Job Trotter receive their punishment at the hands of Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller. Dickens seems to alternate episodes in which the Pickwickians enjoy a vacationing life with episodes where Mr. Pickwick has some specific purpose. This alternation between relaxation and effortful purpose simulates the actual rhythms of life. Plot itself depends on a goal to be reached. A common mistake in looking at Pickwick Papers is to take too narrow a view of plot. While Mr. Pickwick may have fits and starts of activity, his adventures are not the plot of the novel. The real plot of the novel lies in Dickens' mental activity, in the way he conceives of Mr. Pickwick's development. Pickwick Papers is a comedy of education, after all.
Although Mr. Pickwick is sexually innocent, everyone seems to suspect him of having liaisons with women. The crowd at Eatanswill accused him of it in a bantering way. His closest companions are doubtful of his relationship with Mrs. Bardell. A casual acquaintance, Peter Magnus, not only insinuates it but asks Mr. Pickwick's advice on proposing and flies into a jealous rage later. Even Sam Weller is suspicious when he finds Mr. Pickwick in his nightclothes in the hallway of the inn late at night. At Mr. Pickwick's age, this might be flattering. A charming bit of irony occurs when Mr. Pickwick gives Magnus his recipe for proposing, since he is involved in a breach-of-promise suit.
While Mr. Pickwick is the soul of kindness, he is not soft. Where his principles are concerned he has a lot of courage. When he speaks up to Nupkins as he does, he is fully aware of the possible consequences. Injustice is one thing that he cannot abide.
A prominent feature of these chapters is the way in which servants imitate their masters. Job Trotter plans a mercenary marriage with the Nupkins' cook, just as Jingle plans one with their daughter. The police officer, Grummer, borrows Nupkins' inflated authority and his pretense at learning. And while Sam Weller exposes Job Trotter to the Nupkins' servants, Mr. Pickwick is exposing Jingle to the Nupkins. In a very tangible sense, each master determines the character and bearing of his underling, and the moral quality of the master shows up in the servant.
The master-servant relationship is a variation of the father-son theme. In both cases the principle is the same: persons with less power mimic those with greater power, partly to reduce emotional friction and partly to borrow the power. Here Dickens begins to define Sam's relationship to Mr. Pickwick and Tony Weller more fully. Mr. Pickwick tells Magnus that he allows Sam many liberties (including the right to talk back) because Sam is an "original." He takes a personal pride in Sam. Sam proves his value in this episode when his information leads to Jingle's exposure and to the cancellation of fines and bail. Mr. Pickwick and Sam now share a mutual victory that wipes out their mutual humiliation.
Sam and his father, Tony, are more or less on an equal footing. If Tony can mention Sam's loss of face in being hoodwinked by Job Trotter, Sam can point out Tony's tarnished honor in allowing an evangelist to sponge on him. Nonetheless, the reader can detect a good deal of affection between the two men. Though two years had passed since Sam had seen his father, they are beginning to grow closer now. In fact, in Chapter 27 Sam makes a special trip to see his father in Dorking.
Dickens depicts Sam's relationship to Mr. Pickwick and Tony Weller with warmth and vitality, but Sam's romance with Mary fails to come alive at all. Dickens often seems unable to show a courtship without becoming distastefully cute or maudlin. It may be a wholesome act for Sam to give Mary kisses behind the door on the pretext of looking for a hat, but the way Dickens gloats over it is tiresome. One usually has a distinct sense of uneasiness when Dickens turns to romance. Either through social propriety or deep personal inhibitions, he was frequently unable to give life to a courtship. And while Dickens may have believed in love, he rarely succeeded in portraying it.