Summary and Analysis Chapters 52-54



Back in London, Sam's sweetheart, Mary, who has become the Winkles' maid, tells Sam that there is a letter for him. After kissing and flirting with Mary, Sam reads that his stepmother has died and that Tony wants him to visit. Sam takes a leave of absence from Mr. Pickwick and goes to Dorking, where he finds his father in a melancholy state because of his wife's death. Sam learns that the Dorking spinsters and widows are already trying to catch Tony. Before her death Susan Weller repented of her attachment to the wrong kind of religion. She also left Sam 200 pounds to be invested in funds, and she left Tony the bulk of her estate. While Sam is visiting, the Reverend Stiggins enters to find out if Mrs. Weller bequeathed anything to him. As he helps himself to the rum, Tony Weller jumps up and starts kicking him violently into the street.

Mr. Pickwick tells Arabella of his unsuccessful encounter with Mr. Winkle. He comforts her by telling her that Mr. Winkle may change his mind in time, and that even if he doesn't, Winkle will be helped by Mr. Pickwick.

Mr. Pickwick then goes to Mr. Perker's office to take care of a number of things. He has arranged for Jingle's and Job Trotter's releases from prison and has gotten them positions in the West Indies. Jingle seems rather confused and abashed, but both men are appreciative. After they leave, Mr. Pickwick talks to Perker of the possibility of Mr. Winkle's relenting, and Mr. Perker tells him to leave that to Arabella, who could charm anyone. Finally, Dodson and Fogg arrive to be paid. They are self-assured and oily, obviously pleased at receiving the money. As they leave, Mr. Pickwick calls them "a well-matched pair of mean, rascally, pettifogging robbers," shouting the words after them. Mr. Perker breaks out laughing; and Pickwick, relieved by the outburst, becomes placidly benevolent again. Then there is a furious knocking at the door.

It is Joe the Fat Boy, who announces Mr. Wardle. Wardle enters the office delighted to see his two friends. He says he has brought Emily to see Arabella and that Emily is considering an elopement with Snodgrass. When he first heard of it, he made a great fuss, but he is evidently more or less reconciled to their match despite his irascible manner. The men agree to have dinner together that evening, and Mr. Wardle sends Joe the Fat Boy back to the hotel to report these arrangements. Joe surprises Emily with Snodgrass and has to be bribed to keep quiet. Joe also becomes infatuated with Sam's sweetheart, Mary. Later that day Snodgrass retreats to the bedroom when he hears Wardle enter. The Wardles, Winkle and his wife, Ben Allen, and Mr. Pickwick assemble for dinner. Snodgrass sends the stupid Joe for help, but the fat boy succeeds only in arousing everyone's suspicion. Finally, Snodgrass makes an appearance — to Mr. Wardle's angry amazement and Mr. Pickwick's astonishment. However, Snodgrass declares his undying love and devotion to Emily, and when Wardle shows his gratification the gathering becomes happy and spirited.


These chapters complete certain plot strands and prepare us for the end of the book. Susan Weller dies, providing Sam and Tony with a modest legacy. Reverend Stiggins gets his comic punishment from Tony Weller. Jingle and Job Trotter are packed off to the West Indies for moral rehabilitation. We are given the hope that Arabella may win over Winkle's father. Dodson and Fogg are paid 133 pounds and sent off with Mr. Pickwick's denunciation ringing in their ears. Lastly Mr. Wardle reappears, and Snodgrass' romance with Emily is approaching its destined conclusion at the altar. The many plots that Dickens has been juggling in the air are beginning to come to rest. Dickens deals out justice according to the time-honored method of the comic author. There are kicks or insults for the incorrigibly selfish. There is hope for the penitent rascals, who are sent away to begin a new life. There is freedom for the victimized husband. There is marriage for the worthy young lovers. And there is universal love and respect for the benevolent old hero.

Behind the happy ending there is an implicit belief in Providence, in a supernatural power that guides the affairs of men just as the author guides the destiny of his characters. The novel is a testing ground of morality in which the strongest eventually win out. From the way Dickens is beginning to end this novel we can see that there is a hierarchy of values, with Mr. Pickwick at the top and Dodson and Fogg at the bottom. The whole course of Mr. Pickwick's education has led to the affirmation of Christian charity and goodwill among men. These values, exemplified in Mr. Pickwick, are the strongest in the novel and place Mr. Pickwick at the center of the human community, where he radiates in all directions. Dodson and Fogg, who represent conniving selfishness, are banished to the fringes of the human community by Mr. Pickwick's excoriation, where they are promptly forgotten.

We have seen that Dickens cannot portray a serious romance with authority or conviction. The reason becomes plain in this section. It is not just the coy or maudlin tone that Dickens affects. Dickens basically has no sense of the nuances of courtship, of the delicate progressions and regressions that occur between couples. Sam's romance with Mary, for example, has remained on the same level from the first. It consists of flirtatious gestures, rudimentary conversation, and a lot of kissing. Further, Snodgrass and Emily are emblematic lovers: we see almost nothing of the way they court. Dickens' lovers merely repeat the same gestures and tokens over and over, and love seems like a mechanical process that leads to the altar. In actuality courtship brings out a person's creativity, and love can serve to reveal a person's essential nature. But in Pickwick Papers love reveals nothing about a character. It is simply a convenient fictional device.

Fortunately Dickens has a good sense of timing. He never dwells too long in areas where he is weak. As a result the novel moves swiftly and interestingly along right to the end. For one thing Dickens' power of invention never flags. Even as Sam flirts with Mary, there is a wonderfully comic letter from Tony to engage the reader. One wonders how a wife's death can be humorous without being in bad taste, but Dickens manages it with finesse. Or consider the way Snodgrass' romance with Emily is handled. Both are the dullest of characters. Yet Dickens galvanizes Joe the Fat Boy into life and a series of scenes become charged with interest. Without Joe these scenes would be stale and tedious, and the impending marriage would seem perfunctory. This stupid, greedy, clumsy, infatuated fellow becomes, for the time being, one of the most fascinating persons in the world. Dickens' ability to dramatize such unlikely characters and make them serve the plot is little less than brilliant.

Even when conveying information through his characters, Dickens can make insipid facts dance with revelation. Mr. Perker's feckless clerk, Peter Lowten, informs Mr. Pickwick that Job Trotter has decided to go with Jingle to the West Indies rather than accept a more lucrative position with Mr. Perker. Lowten obviously thinks Job Trotter is a fool, showing himself to be a cynical and self-seeking young man. The law may have corrupted him, but he does not gain much from his corruption, being only a clerk.

If Dickens is poor at depicting romance, his sense of tone in depicting male friendships is infallible. The discussions between Sam and Tony Weller and between Mr. Wardle, Mr. Perker, and Mr. Pickwick are rich in nuance. The reader can feel the exact inflections of the talk. We know what each man is like. We know the pleasure each gets from friendship. And we, too, derive enjoyment from the direction and flavor of their conversations. There is nothing perverse about this. Most men get deep satisfaction from the ease and freedom they feel in the company of other men.

One regrets the transformation of Jingle from a light, amoral, vivacious figure of comedy to a depressed, spiritless, confused, melodramatic penitent. Dickens himself seems embarrassed by the change; as a stage manager he tries to make Jingle's last appearance as brief as possible. Dickens knew very well, of course that he made Jingle an irresistible character. To change him, even to fulfill the plot, must have seemed like a dirty trick.