David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By the next day, David's whole mood has changed: he is now excited about the prospect of working hard to prove himself to Miss Betsey and to win Dora. In fact, he is sorry his situation is not more desperate and is tempted to join a man breaking stones by the road, just to prove his strength. Instead, he tries to be "practical" by stopping by a cottage for rent to see if it would be a good home for him and Dora. Eventually, he arrives at Highgate, where Doctor Strong now lives.
David's enthusiasm is clearly naïve in some ways, and his "practicality" is actually very fanciful: since he's in no position to establish a home any time soon, his viewing the cottage is more of a dreamy detour than a genuine plan. Still, this chapter marks a turning point in David's development, since the loss of his aunt's fortune does in fact spur him to become more industrious and resourceful.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
David can't resist walking by Mrs. Steerforth's house, where he sees Steerforth's own room has been shut up. Rosa Dartle, meanwhile, is pacing fretfully in the garden. Regretting his decision to stop by, David leaves.
Steerforth's elopement with Emily has transformed his family home, which is now partially shut up as though in mourning. Rosa, meanwhile, seems frustrated by her own limited options in the situation, as a woman: she is pacing back and forth as though she is imprisoned.
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Home and Family Theme Icon
When David reaches Doctor Strong's cottage, he finds the Doctor in the garden. It takes a moment for the Doctor to recognize David, but when he does, he greets him happily and comments on how much he has grown up. David asks after the Doctor and Annie's health, and he says that they are well, and that Annie will be happy to see David. He then reports that Jack Maldon is well too, and home from India, because Mrs. Markleham was anxious about his health.
The mention of Jack Maldon throws David's own growth as a person into sharper relief. Although David is still learning and finding his way in the world, Maldon has not changed at all in the years since David last saw him, and is still taking advantage of the Doctor's generosity rather than working to support himself.
Themes
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Doctor Strong then says that he has no objection to hiring David as his secretary, but he worries that David could do better for himself. David assures him that he is still studying to become a proctor, but that the 70-pound salary the Doctor is offering would double his and Miss Betsey's income. The Doctor is disturbed by this and attempts to offer David more money. When this is unsuccessful, he makes David promise to quit as soon as he can find a better position, and then finally agrees to hire him. David says he would especially like to work on the Doctor's dictionary, which pleases Strong enormously: his papers became disorganized while Jack Maldon was acting as his secretary. David and Doctor Strong decide that he will work for two hours each morning and three each evening.
Doctor Strong initially objects to employing David on the grounds that someone with his academic record should aspire to a genuine career; the position of secretary is also less prestigious than what David could have looked forward to when his aunt was better off. David's willingness to take the job is therefore a sign of humility and determination—qualities that eventually help him to advance in the world. This is again especially clear thanks to the counterexample Jack Maldon provides.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
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Doctor Strong invites David in, and he has breakfast with the Doctor and Annie. While they are eating, Jack Maldon arrives and irritates David by greeting him with "an air of languid patronage." Maldon refuses to join them for breakfast, saying it "bores" him, and then indifferently reports several pieces of news, including unrest in Northern England and a murder. He then asks Annie to go with him to the opera, and Doctor Strong urges her to accept, saying she ought to enjoy herself. She resists, and—looking very upset—tries to change the subject by asking David about Agnes. Eventually, however, Doctor Strong agrees on his wife's behalf, and Maldon goes to work. The next morning, David discovers that Annie did not go to the opera after all, but instead spent the evening with Agnes and Doctor Strong.
Part of what makes Maldon unsympathetic as a character are his aspirations to upper-class status, which Dickens links to his laziness. Although Maldon isn't actually upper-class, he adopts a "languid" manner that David remarks is often mistaken for good breeding—presumably because it implies that the person in question has no need to work and consequently a lot of time to be bored. In David Copperfield, however, it is typically a character's willingness to work—a more middle-class value—that makes them virtuous. Of course, Maldon's behavior towards Annie is another indication of his character, particularly because the same qualities that make her a virtuous woman (reserve, politeness, and so on) make it difficult for her to voice any objections.
Themes
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Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Between his work for Doctor Strong and his time at Doctors' Commons, David is now very busy. The thought that he is doing all this for Dora, however, thrills him—so much so that he sells several waistcoats to feel that he is making more of a sacrifice. He still wants to do more, though, so he decides to consult Traddles.
Again, David's enthusiasm for work and self-denial is a bit naïve and ridiculous; he goes to excessive lengths to feel that he is inconveniencing himself, effectively treating it as a role he's playing. Ultimately, however, he actually becomes the mature and disciplined man he's imitating here.
Themes
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David takes Mr. Dick with him when he visits Traddles, because Mr. Dick has been fretting about doing nothing to help David and Miss Betsey. David hopes it might be possible to find an easy job for Mr. Dick to do. Before he asks Traddles about this, however, David asks whether he himself could earn some extra money by working as a parliamentary reporter. Traddles explains that David would need to learn shorthand, which would likely take several years, but David is so excited that he simply announces he'll begin immediately. Traddles is taken aback and says he hadn't realized David was "such a determined character."
As Traddles' remark about David's "determination" highlights, David's excitement about work is both new and a little over the top. However, despite the fact that his plan to become a parliamentary reporter is not especially well thought out, it does ultimately pay off, since David uses it as a springboard for his eventual career as a writer.
Themes
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Mr. Dick wishes aloud that he could "exert himself," and Traddles asks whether he could copy legal documents. Mr. Dick and David are not sure that this is a good idea, however, since Mr. Dick finds it so difficult to keep Charles I out of his writing. Traddles reminds them that this would simply involve copying documents that are already written, and the three men eventually come up with a plan: Mr. Dick will keep a blank sheet of paper beside him to write on whenever he starts to think about Charles I. This proves very successful, and Mr. Dick even finds himself writing less and less about Charles I as time goes on. What's more, Mr. Dick is delighted to be able to present his earnings to Miss Betsey, whom he says he can now "provide for."
Mr. Dick's job copying documents is another example of the way in which the novel distinguishes between work as a character-building exercise and work as a means of advancing oneself. No one has asked Mr. Dick to work, and David and Miss Betsey would be able to manage without the income he provides. Nevertheless, the book suggests that it is worthwhile for Mr. Dick to work simply because it focuses his attention and gives him purpose. What's more, it allows him to feel as though he's fulfilling his role as the man of the house by earning money for Miss Betsey.
Themes
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After Mr. Dick's problem is sorted out, Traddles tells David that he has a letter for him from Mr. Micawber. In his typically wordy style, Micawber announces that he has managed to secure a job in a "provincial town," and that he would like to invite both David and Traddles to dinner the night before he and his family leave. This turns out to be the same night, so David and Traddles leave for the Micawbers'.
Although Mr. Micawber himself says he isn't surprised something has "turned up," readers may find it more unexpected. In fact, Micawber's new position ends up being less than ideal.
Themes
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The Micawbers are living in a very cramped and impoverished looking apartment. They are already packed to leave and have very little luggage. Nevertheless, David congratulates Mrs. Micawber, who says that while her family considers Mr. Micawber's new position "banishment," she will never leave her husband. She continues on this topic for some time, recalling her marriage vows and saying that any "sacrifice" she is making in relocating pales in comparison to the sacrifice her husband is making in taking a position that is beneath him.
Mrs. Micawber again expresses her frustration with her husband and his situation in a roundabout way, this time by saying that her family believes what she presumably feels herself—that moving to a small town is like being banished. Meanwhile, her remark that the position is beneath her husband contrasts with David's earlier willingness to take on the lower-middle class job of secretary.
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Mr. Micawber says that his new position is in Canterbury. What's more, he will be working as Uriah Heep's clerk. David is stunned, so Micawber explains the Uriah answered his advertisement, helping him to pay off his debts in exchange for his future service.
The fact that Uriah, who was formerly a clerk himself, is now employing a clerk serves as a reminder of how much his circumstances have changed. In his typically underhanded way, Uriah has actually served himself by seeming to do something generous for Mr. Micawber, because he now has Micawber literally in his debt.
Themes
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Mr. Micawber is then briefly distracted by his children's rowdy behavior, but the conversations soon resumes with Mrs. Micawber saying she hopes that this position will eventually lead to her husband becoming a judge. Mr. Micawber pretends to discourage this idea, but also appeals to Traddles, who explains that only a barrister can become a judge, and that becoming a barrister itself requires five years. However, this does not particularly upset Mrs. Micawber, who simply remarks that it is enough that Micawber's current position won't rule out the possibility. Mr. Micawber, meanwhile, announces that regardless of whether he is fortunate enough to become Lord Chancellor, he would like his son to enter the Church, because he has a wonderful singing voice.
As usual, the Micawbers' hopes for the future wildly surpass what their current circumstances justify. It's noteworthy, however, that their grandiose plans resemble David's overly enthusiastic response earlier in the chapter, when Traddles cautioned him that becoming a court reporter would likely take several years.
Themes
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As the evening goes on, David explains his and Miss Betsey's problems to Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, who seem happy about the news. When they are close to finishing the punch, David and Traddles both toast to the Micawbers' success, and Mr. Micawber thanks them profusely. He then brings up the two loans that Traddles acted as guarantor for, and gives Traddles an I.O.U. for the first. David notices that both Micawber and Traddles seem just as pleased by this transaction as if it had actually involved money. Everyone parts in good spirits, and David reflects that Mr. Micawber might have avoided asking for money from David himself based on "some compassionate recollection" of David as a boy.
David's remark about Mr. Micawber's "compassionate recollections" of David suggest that Micawber is on some level aware that he's taking advantage of Traddles, and sparing David the same. However, David also says that he thinks Micawber genuinely sees the I.O.U. as identical to actual payment, implying that Micawber is basically honest at heart. It also suggests, however, that Micawber lacks the skills necessary to succeed in society; although planning for the future is useful and necessary, treating the future (or, in this case, future money) as if it were already a certain thing can be disastrous.
Themes
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Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
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