David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Barkis and David are soon intercepted by Peggotty, who embraces David and gives him a bag of cakes and a purse with a few coins in it. Barkis and David then continue on, David moved by Peggotty's generosity. Barkis explains that he is taking David to Yarmouth, and—despite his generally "phlegmatic" demeanor—questions David closely about Peggotty: whether she made the cakes, whether she has a sweetheart, and so on. Finally, he asks David to tell her that "Barkis is willin'" the next time David writes to her.
Although Barkis's courtship of Peggotty is mostly played for laughs, it's telling that Barkis becomes interested in her after eating one of the cakes she's made. David Copperfield ultimately suggests that romantic relationships need to be based in part on practical considerations, and Peggotty's skill as a cook (and housekeeper in general) is one example of that.
Themes
Home and Family Theme Icon
David and Barkis arrive at an inn in Yarmouth. David is nervous and overwhelmed as he sits down to dinner, and the waiter manages to trick him out of most of his food and drink, as well as one of the three shillings Peggotty gave him. Nevertheless, the waiter is friendly and warns David about the school he is going to be attending: a boy close to David's age had two of his ribs broken there.
David's first solo excursion into the world highlights just how naïve and inexperienced he is: he believes the waiter, for instance, when he says that only someone used to the inn's ale (that is, the waiter) can safely drink it. Although it happens under unhappy circumstances, David in some sense "needs" to leave home in order to become more worldly and knowledgeable.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
After dinner, David is transferred to a coach, where the other passengers make fun of him for supposedly eating so much. As a result, David is afraid to eat anything when the coach stops for supper, and goes hungry. They then travel through the night, and David wonders what is going on inside the houses they pass. As they approach London the next morning, David fantasizes about the city and imagines that the plots of his favorite stories are unfolding there.
David's curiosity about the houses he passes stems from his own recent experiences, which have dramatically undercut the Victorian ideal of home as a calm and happy refuge from the outside world. David now wonders whether these other houses might contain children in circumstances similar to his own. Meanwhile, his memories of the books he has read and his efforts to transplant those stories to London continue to foreshadow his future career.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
The coach finally stops at an inn in Whitechapel, but no one is there to meet David. He waits anxiously in the booking-office, wondering whether Mr. Murdstone intends for him to simply be abandoned there. Eventually, however, a young man (later identified as Mr. Mell) with a somewhat rundown appearance comes to collect him, introducing himself as one of the teachers at Salem House. David explains that he has not had anything to eat recently, and the teacher says that he can buy breakfast on the way, since he wants to stop to pay a visit to someone anyway.
David's fears at the booking-office reveal just how starkly his life has changed since his mother's remarriage: he is now in danger of effectively being orphaned while one of his parents is still alive.
Themes
Home and Family Theme Icon
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After David has made his purchases, he and Mr. Mell arrive at an almshouse for poor women. Here, they visit with two old women, one of whom is implied to be the teacher's mother. After cooking David's food for him, she asks the teacher to play on his flute. He does so (badly), and David dozes for a while. 
The fact that Mr. Mell has to hide his mother's poverty speaks to how limited the prospects were for members of society's lowest classes. Although Mell himself has managed to attain lower-middle class status as a teacher, his lower-class background threatens to undo even that moderate success.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
David and Mr. Mell leave the almshouse and board a coach, where David again falls asleep. When he wakes up, the two walk the rest of the way to Salem House, which David describes as looking "very dull." A man with a wooden leg lets them in, and returns a pair of boots to the teacher, which he says were too worn for the cobbler to repair. David and the teacher—now identified as Mr. Mell—enter the school, which is largely empty: it is the holidays, and both the students and Mr. Creakle, the headmaster, are away. David then describes the schoolroom Mr. Mell shows him at length, noting its dirtiness and generally "forlorn and desolate" appearance.
Although Mr., Mell's job as a teacher gives him a measure of respectability he would not enjoy doing "unskilled" labor, it clearly doesn't pay well: he can't afford a new pair of boots, and has been wearing the old ones for so long that they can't even be repaired. Given the state of the classroom, however, it's equally clear that the school isn't spending its money on educating its students well. In fact, Mr. Creakle basically views his school as a business venture, which Dickens (a proponent of education reform) suggests undermines the role that education ought to have in shaping young people's minds and characters.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
David finds a placard in the room that reads, "Take care of him. He bites." David assumes that there must be a dog somewhere nearby, but Mr. Mell apologetically explains that David must wear the placard on his back—presumably, Mr. Murdstone has asked the school to punish David by making his "attack" on Murdstone public knowledge. From that point on, David is hyperaware of what the placard must look like to the school's employees and servants, and worries that the other boys will mock him when they arrive; he comes across a door several students have carved their names into, and tries to imagine how each boy will respond to the placard.
Like the beating Mr. Murdstone gave David, the placard David is forced to wear speaks to the novel's ideas about how children learn and develop. Although the placard certainly makes an impression on David, it does so by undermining his confidence. By contrast, the people, events, and experiences that end up contributing to David's growth do so by drawing out positive character traits and providing him with a more solid sense of himself as independent and purposeful.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
The month David spends waiting for his classmates to arrive is unhappy. He does well at his studies with Mr. Mell, and strikes up a kind of friendship with him, despite the teacher's eccentricities. He is lonely and frightened, however, and constantly ashamed of the placard.
David's ability to make good use of his studies with Mr. Mell, despite the less than favorable circumstances, is a sign of his ability to turn even his worst experiences into opportunities for self-improvement and growth.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon