David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Micawber successfully secures his release from prison, and while he celebrates with his fellow inmates, David visits Mrs. Micawber. Mrs. Micawber proposes a toast to her parents, and explains that both are now deceased, her father having died after bailing Mr. Micawber out of prison several times. David asks what the Micawbers plan to do now, and Mrs. Micawber says that her surviving family feels they should move to Plymouth and be on hand in case anything "turns up." She then begins to cry, protesting that she will never leave her husband, despite his faults. Alarmed, David goes to fetch Mr. Micawber, who begins crying himself when his wife reiterates her intention to stay with him. Later, Mr. Micawber tells David that Mrs. Micawber is "very low," and David speculates that the Micawbers are so used to being in financial straits that they find anything else disturbing.
Mrs. Micawber's constant insistence that she won't leave her husband carries a strong implication that she wishes she could; it's particularly suspect in light of her lengthy explanation of how her marriage has impacted her relationship to her family. The gender norms of the time, however, mean that she can only express this in a backwards way, by overly emphasizing her wifely devotion. Meanwhile, the Micawbers' discomfort with their newfound hope for the future further emphasizes how unsuited they are to life in Victorian society; in a strange way, the Micawbers are at ease with their lack of financial success, and thrive not despite but because of it.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
The realization that the Micawbers will soon leave London reminds David of just how lonely and unhappy his current life is. This sense of desperation only mounts as David watches the Micawbers begin to plan for their departure, but he knows he cannot count on Mr. Murdstone to help him into a better situation.
Despite their chaotic circumstances, the Micawbers functioned as a surrogate family for David during his time at the counting-house. Now that they are leaving, however, David is once again orphaned. With no one else to rely on, David is forced to come up with his own plan to better his life.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
On the Sunday before they leave, Mr. Micawber and Mrs. Micawber have David over for dinner, and both thank him for being a friend to them in difficult times. Mr. Micawber urges David to spare himself similar difficulties by avoiding procrastination, though he also notes that "applying that maxim" to his engagement to Mrs. Micawber led him to go into debt to get married. He then reiterates that David should never spend more than he earns, and David promises to heed this advice.
Once again, Mr. Micawber shares conventional Victorian wisdom about self-discipline that he himself can't seem to follow. His remark about marriage in particular becomes a major concern later in the novel, with Dickens suggesting that it isn't enough simply for a couple to love one another: they need to be financially secure before marrying and establishing a household of their own.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
David says goodbye to the Micawbers as they board a coach the next morning, and Mr. Micawber reiterates that he hopes his "blighted destiny" will serve as a warning to David. He also promises to help David if anything "turns up," which he says he is sure it will.
Mr. Micawber's undying belief that things will work out is in many ways a parody of the optimistic Victorian ideology surrounding self-improvement and social advancement. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Micawber is always confident that he is on the verge of great success.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
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The coach drives away, and David goes to work. He plans to run away soon, however, in the hopes of finding Miss Betsey. He has been thinking about this for some time, and mulling over the story of Miss Betsey's presence at his birth: he suspects that his aunt had a soft spot for Clara, and might help David on her account. He therefore writes to Peggotty and learns that Miss Betsey lives somewhere near Dover.
David's plan to find Miss Betsey is both an early example of him exercising initiative and an attempt to locate a new family for himself. Given how young David still is, this is understandable: although he is beginning to learn to take charge of his own life, he does so in order to find an adult he can rely on.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Not wanting to cheat his employer out of any money, David waits until the end of the week, and then attempts to arrange for a box with his things in it to be taken to a coach office until he can send for it. The man he entrusts with taking the box tricks him, however, and drives away with David's money and belongings. David therefore sets off for Dover  empty-handed.
Despite the time he has now spent living on his own, David is still very naïve at this point in the novel, as evidenced by his misplaced trust in this scene. However, the fact that David carries on with his plan despite the loss of all his belongings speaks to his courage and determination.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon