Summary and Analysis
Mr. Pickwick rises early and walks to Rochester Bridge, where he meets "Dismal Jemmy" contemplating suicide, or so he says. Jemmy promises to send Mr. Pickwick a manuscript, and Pickwick returns to eat breakfast and prepare for the visit to Wardle's farm. The Pickwickians obtain a chaise, but the inexperienced Winkle must ride horseback. The horses prove unruly, and Winkle loses his while Tupman and Snodgrass are overturned. After trying unsuccessfully to get rid of a horse, the four men arrive at Wardle's bruised and disgruntled. But Mr. Wardle sees that they are cleaned up and given brandy, which refreshes them.
The Pickwickians are introduced to Mr. Wardle's crotchety, cherished, slightly deaf mother and to several neighbors present. The gathering settles down to a card party. Mr. Pickwick and the old lady trounce two neighbors at whist; and the other card table, which is full of young people, is merry and playful. When the card games are finished the local minister is invited to recite a poem about the ivy and how it thrives on decay. That done, the minister is requested by Mr. Wardle to tell the story of "The Convict's Return," in which John Edmunds, a man with a brutal father and a devoted mother, is convicted of theft and serves fourteen years. When he is released he returns home to find his mother dead and his father in a workhouse. Edmunds and his father get into a violent fight, during which the evil father dies of a burst blood vessel. Edmunds then lives repentantly until his death. When the story is finished, everyone retires.
Mr. Pickwick gets up early and sees Wardle ready to go crow hunting with Winkle. A group assembles, and Winkle is fearful of his lack of skill — in fact, he shoots Tupman in the arm. Tupman is carried back and greeted by the hysterical Rachael. The Pickwickians leave Tupman in Rachael's care and go with Wardle to nearby Muggleton to see a cricket match. There they meet the glib stranger again, who introduces himself as Alfred Jingle and who is on familiar terms with the All-Muggleton team. The Dingley Dell team is badly beaten, which means they must buy dinner for the winners. Under the influence of alcohol, any ill-feeling between the two groups is lost, and everyone stays up drinking until the morning hours.
These chapters proceed by means of contrast to show how pleasant life is at Wardle's Manor Farm. In Chapter 5 the suicidal remarks of "Dismal Jemmy" and the difficulties of getting to Wardle's farm make the arrival seem all the more of a blessing. In Chapter 6 the minister's gloomy poem and tale set the attention paid to old Mrs. Wardle and the jollity of cards into relief. In Chapter 7 the wounding of Tupman simply places Tupman where he wants to be — at home with the ladies, who fuss over him. Further, the rather dangerous sport of hunting is contrasted with the team sport of cricket, which in turn leads to a communal feast and late carousing in Muggleton. The Wardle home is capacious, fun-loving, and full of diversions for everyone.
So far Chapters 2, 5, and 7 have begun with Mr. Pickwick getting up with the sun in a buoyant mood. According to the old theory of "humors," Mr. Pickwick embodies the sanguine personality, whose element is fire. He has a sunny disposition; he "beams"; he is hot-tempered: one cannot discuss him without some metaphors of fire, light, and heat creeping in. The sun and the light it casts provide the atmosphere of comedy; Mr. Pickwick will come to be the warm, radiating center of comedy in this novel.
Balanced against this daylight world, Dickens shows us a night world in the tale and talk of "Dismal Jemmy" and in the tale of the clergyman about John Edmunds. Self-destruction seems to be the main theme of this night world, with revenge as an auxiliary theme. Again, the relation between father and son is brutal, and again the woman is a victim. The savagery of this tale would appall us if it were not safely bracketed as a story. But as part of a tradition of evening storytelling it points up the coziness and good fellowship of the Wardle household, where the old mother is pampered and everyone generally likes everyone else. Dickens uses this contrasting principle throughout the novel. The darkness of the interpolated tale makes the rest of the narrative seem somewhat brighter than it is.
Another feature of these chapters is Dickens' ability to invest animals and minor characters with a personality of their own. The two horses that Pickwick and Winkle take are both ornery and dangerous, but they are ornery in different ways. And a neighbor of Mr. Wardle's, Mr. Miller, has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth and for losing at whist. Dickens' talent for invention, for getting fun out of things that resist comedy, is very rare, but it gives Pickwick Papers a rich and inexhaustible sense of vitality. One can still enjoy this novel after many readings because of Dickens' fertile, life-giving imagination.