One morning, David receives a letter from Mr. Micawber. In it, he explains that although he has not been able to keep in touch with David, he still treasures their friendship. Although Mr. Micawber assures David that he is not asking for money, he alludes vaguely to circumstances that are conspiring to ruin his life, and that have caused him distress that even Mrs. Micawber cannot alleviate. For that reason, he says, he intends to "fly from [him]self" for a few days by traveling to London, and suggests that Traddles and David meet him the day after tomorrow outside King's Bench Prison.
Mr. Micawber's modest professional success has thrown his domestic life into disarray to such an extent that Mrs. Micawber can't even fulfill her wifely role of comforting her husband. In other words, the public and private spheres, which are supposed to be strictly separate, are bleeding into one another in this passage.
David finds the letter confusing but senses that it is important. He is therefore happy when Traddles stops by, and surprised when Traddles reveals that he has also received a letter—in his case, from Mrs. Micawber. They exchange letters, and David finds that Mrs. Micawber's involves Mr. Micawber's strange behavior: in addition to being withdrawn, he is now prone to alarming outbursts of temper. Mrs. Micawber then explains that her husband is going to London, and that she hopes Traddles will meet with him and "reason with him."
Incredibly, the Micawber family seemed to function better when Mr. Micawber had no regular source of income than it does now that he is employed full-time. Although the public and domestic spheres were supposed to be separate in Victorian England, Mr. Micawber is venting his frustration with his employer at home.
Traddles and David agree that the letters are not simply the Micawbers' usual exaggerations, but they can't figure out what is going on. They agree, however, that they ought to write to Mrs. Micawber and assure her that they will meet with Mr. Micawber; David, in particular, feels guilty that he had been too absorbed in his own affairs to respond properly to Mrs. Micawber's earlier letter to him. David and Traddles send a letter the same day, and then explain what is going on to Miss Betsey, who is similarly mystified as to what is happening.
The Micawbers' predicament is puzzling, because the couple is at odds despite the apparent "good faith" on both Mr. and Mrs. Micawber's parts. This situation is reminiscent of the earlier misunderstanding between Doctor and Annie Strong, and it's striking that Uriah Heep played a role in stirring up disharmony in that marriage as well. Combined with Uriah's oppressive influence on the Wickfield household, these incidents paint Uriah as a disturber of domestic peace.
David and Traddles arrive early to the meeting, and find Mr. Micawber already there, looking fondly at the prison. He greets them courteously, but David notices that he looks less "genteel" than he used to. When David asks how Mrs. Micawber is, Micawber says she is only "so-so," and then begins to describe how much he misses being in debtor's prison, where he was free from financial pressures. David reminds him that they have all moved on, but Micawber says that at least in those days he could "look [his] fellow-man in the face, and punch his head if he offended [him]."
Mr. Micawber's fond memories of prison are probably colored by nostalgia, but his point about the pressures of life outside is interesting. To support his family, Mr. Micawber has had to compromise his sense of right and wrong by working for Uriah. In other words, while characters like David achieve financial success through hard work and patience, some characters (like Micawber) seem incapable of achieving similarly "honest" success through no fault of their own.
David, Traddles, and Mr. Micawber go for a walk, the latter saying that he wishes he had never taken up the legal profession. Traddles says he hopes that Mr. Micawber doesn't have a prejudice against the law per se, since he himself is a lawyer. Micawber, however, doesn't respond until David asks how Uriah is. At this, he explodes, saying that Uriah is not his friend, that Uriah's " appearance is foxy," and that he doesn’t want to talk about a topic that has caused him so much distress. David accordingly asks about Mr. Wickfield and Agnes, and Mr. Micawber praises Agnes as the "only starry spot in a miserable existence." He is so overwhelmed, in fact, that he ducks into a deserted street and cries, saying that even his respect for Agnes has become a "reproach" to him.
Like virtually everyone else who meets Agnes, Mr. Micawber is immediately impressed by her grace and kindness. The fact that Dickens depicts Agnes in this way isn't surprising, because it captures the Victorian idea that a truly virtuous woman casts an aura of goodness around her. Agnes's mere presence therefore inspires Mr. Micawber to be better, or at least to feel guilty about his service to Uriah.
After Mr. Micawber composes himself, David offers to take him back to Miss Betsey's to meet his aunt and to make punch. Mr. Micawber accepts and, together with Traddles, they take a coach to Highgate. When they arrive at Miss Betsey's, Mr. Dick is also there, and shakes Mr. Micawber's hand several times in an attempt to cheer him up. Micawber congratulates Miss Betsey on Mr. Dick's kindness, and she agrees that Mr. Dick is "not a common man."
Dickens' characters often have tic-like mannerisms: Micawber, for instance, is always eager to make punch. In part, these mannerisms are simply a way to distinguish between the large cast of characters. With that said, the fact that David suggests making punch at this point in this story is significant; Micawber makes punch in a ceremonial way that underscores his status as head of his household, so David's suggestion is perhaps a way of allowing Micawber to feel empowered at a time when his professional and personal lives are in turmoil.
Mr. Micawber continues to praise Mr. Dick, but David senses that there is something he wants to disclose. Appearing to sense the same, Miss Betsey engages Mr. Micawber in conversation, saying that she knows he is an old friend of David's. Micawber agrees that he is, and says that he wishes he had met Miss Betsey before he was "the wreck" he now is. When Miss Betsey asks about Micawber's family, he describes them as "Aliens and Outcasts," and begins to explain that his position at work is precarious. At Mr. Dick's urging, Micawber continues, saying that if he weren't working for Uriah, his whole family would likely be part of a traveling circus. He is in the middle of making punch while he says this, and after mixing up several steps, he abruptly stops and bursts into tears.
Mr. Micawber's explanation of his family's situation is characteristically fanciful, and mostly serves as comic relief—particularly given that Micawber's words are set against the confused responses of the more practical Miss Betsey. Still, it is true that Mr. Micawber is in a position where behaving honorably (that is, exposing Uriah) will jeopardize his family's financial stability.
David asks Mr. Micawber what's wrong, and Micawber replies that, "Villainy is the matter; baseness is the matter; deception, fraud, conspiracy, are the matter; and the name of the whole atrocious mass is—HEEP." He then announces that he won't remain cut off from all his friends and family any longer. Growing angrier, Micawber says that he will not feel at ease around others until he has destroyed Uriah in one way or another, like by "mov[ing] Mount Vesuvius—to eruption—on—a—the abandoned rascal—HEEP". In a confused and halting way, Micawber indicates that he won't explain any more at the present; he invites everyone, however, to a breakfast in one week, where he says he will expose Uriah.
Although Mr. Micawber doesn't go into details, it seems clear that Uriah has been using his position at Wickfield and Heep for personal gain. On the face of it, this criminality is what differentiates Uriah's social climbing from David's.
Mr. Micawber then races out of the cottage, but sends a letter while David, Miss Betsey, Mr. Dick, and Traddles are still trying to make sense of his visit. In the note, Micawber apologizes to Miss Betsey for his agitation, which he says had been brewing for a long time. He also clarifies when and where the meeting will take place, in case he hadn't been intelligible before. After this meeting, he says, he will once again be able to "contemplate [his] fellow mortal," and will be free at last to die.
For all Mr. Micawber's irresponsibility, he's an honest person who doesn't want to be mixed up in Uriah's criminal business dealings—even if doing so would benefit Micawber financially. The idea that he has compromised himself ethically is deeply shameful, though he expresses this in a typically theatrical, exaggerated way.