David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 51 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, David is walking in his garden with Miss Betsey when he hears that Mr. Peggotty has come to talk to him. Miss Betsey offers to leave the two men alone, but Mr. Peggotty asks her to stay and explains that he brought little Em'ly back to his room last night, where she knelt before him and explained everything that had happened "as if it was her prayers." At first, Mr. Peggotty says, he found it painful to hear her speak in such a "humbled" way. He was so grateful to have Emily home, however, that this sadness quickly passed.
Although she's not apologizing per se, Emily recounts her experiences in a way that is explicitly penitent: she is kneeling in front of her uncle, and her manner of speaking is similar to a religious plea. This underscores the seriousness of Emily's transgressions.
Themes
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Mr. Peggotty explains that when Emily escaped from Littimer, she ran along the beach until she passed out from exhaustion. The next morning, she woke up to see a sailor's wife she'd made friends with standing over her. The woman took little Em'ly back to her house, hiding her and nursing her through a fever. While Emily was sick and delirious, she imagined she was back near Mr. Peggotty's old house, but also that Steerforth and Littimer were lurking nearby. When Emily finally came back to herself and remembered where she was, she started crying, and the woman who had taken her in consoled her. Meanwhile, as Mr. Peggotty speaks, David is impressed by the vividness of his story, and feels as if he were actually present for it.
The friendships that Emily made with local fishing families, which Steerforth disapproved of, ultimately save her life. Symbolically, her convalescence in the sailor's household also marks a return to and acceptance of the working-class status she had tried to cast off by running away with Steerforth; Emily, in other words, once again becomes one of the "good" working-class characters who accepts her station in life. Initially, however, the resemblance to her childhood and the memories that resemblance provokes upset Emily, because she can't truly return to a childhood state of innocence.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
The fever temporarily wiped out Emily's knowledge of Italian, so she struggled to communicate even as she grew physically stronger. Eventually, however, a little girl she had made friends with called out to her as "Fisherman's daughter," and she remembered how to speak. Once Emily had fully recovered, the woman she was staying with arranged passage for her to France; Emily attempted to pay her and her husband for their kindness, but they refused, and Mr. Peggotty blesses their selfless generosity.
Emily's amnesia temporarily erases one of the major signs of the changes she has undergone since leaving her home—namely, her fluency in foreign languages. The forgetfulness isn't permanent, because Emily can't really return to the person she was before. Her sickness and recovery, however, serve as a symbolic form of rebirth, so it's fitting that Emily has to relearn language the way a young child would. Meanwhile, her hosts' refusal to accept any payment once again associates working-class virtuousness with the absence of ambition or greed.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Once in France, little Em'ly took work at an inn. However, when she happened to see Littimer one day, she fled to England. Although she initially planned to return home, she soon found she was too frightened of her family's anger and the community's scorn. Instead, she went to London, where she was nearly tricked into service as a prostitute by a madam who promised to find her work as a seamstress. At this point, however, Martha found Emily and took her back to her room. Although she told Emily that she had spoken to Mr. Peggotty, and that he had forgiven her, she did not tell Emily when she went out in search of Mr. Peggotty and David. Mr. Peggotty says he isn't sure how Rosa found Emily, but he suspects Littimer told her.
Little Em'ly's storyline nearly falls into the conventional pattern associated with fallen women—that is, a downward spiral leading to poverty and death. Interestingly, however, she is rescued by Martha, another fallen woman. This turns earlier fears that Martha would corrupt Emily on their head, and is therefore a sign of the novel's relatively tolerant view of fallen women: not only is Martha not a harmful influence on other women, but she is actually a positive one, actively working to save both Emily and herself.
Themes
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Home and Family Theme Icon
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Mr. Peggotty says that he and Emily stayed up all night together, crying and talking. Miss Betsey, moved by the story, says she wishes she could be godmother to the child of the woman who took Emily in (since she can't be godmother to David's imaginary sister).
Miss Betsey's wish is a sign of the sentimentality that underlies her gruff exterior, and her remark about David's sister serves as a moment of comic relief. It's striking, however, that Miss Betsey seems to take it for granted that little Em'ly will not have children of her own. This suggests that the novel to some extent buys into the idea that Emily is ruined forever as a result of her transgressions.
Themes
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Finally, David asks whether Mr. Peggotty has made up his mind about what to do next. Mr. Peggotty says that he has, and David explains that he intends to emigrate with Emily. Mr. Peggotty then says he has already arranged to board a ship for Australia leaving in about two months. Peggotty, however, will not be going, both because she wants to remain close to David, and out of concern for Ham, whom she keeps house for. Meanwhile, Mr. Peggotty says he intends to provide an allowance for Mrs. Gummidge so that she can have her own house (his thinking being that Peggotty might find her gloominess annoying). David is impressed by Mr. Peggotty's thoughtfulness toward everyone around him.
By taking Emily to a foreign country, Mr. Peggotty hopes to spare her societal condemnation: in Australia, no one will know about her affair with Steerforth. The fact that he settles on Australia specifically is interesting, however, because it had been a penal colony and was consequently associated, in the popular imagination, with criminality—including prostitution. In some sense, Emily seems unable to escape her past even by traveling to another continent (though in reality, the scarcity of female colonists in Australia would have made it relatively easy for her to start over and marry if she wanted to).
Themes
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Mr. Peggotty explains that there is one more thing that troubles him: the money that Emily sent to him over the years. He has brought it with him and asks David to count it, and then explains that he is planning on sending it back to Steerforth and Mrs. Steerforth before leaving the country. He also admits that he is anxious about Ham: he plans to go to Yarmouth to visit him, and asks David to come with him. David agrees, and they set off the next morning.
Once again, Mr. Peggotty refuses to profit off of Emily's relationship with Steerforth. This demonstrates both his own acceptance of his working-class status and shields Emily from any hint of prostitution.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
David and Mr. Peggotty pass Mr. Omer's shop on the way to visit Ham, and David stays behind to talk to Omer while Mr. Peggotty goes on ahead. Mr. Omer's health has declined since David last saw him—he is now confined to a wheelchair—but he is in good spirits, and says he "sees more of the world" now than he ever did before. Furthermore, he is proud of Minnie and Joram, who are running the business quite successfully. Mr. Omer also congratulates David on his success as a novelist, and reminisces about how far he has come since he was a small child at Blunderstone.
As it has before, David's visit to Mr. Omer serves partly as a way of marking the passage of time, and how much has changed since David's childhood. Since he was present at Clara Copperfield's funeral, Omer is one of David's last remaining links to that earliest part of his life, and the fact that Omer himself is now growing older and closer to death is bittersweet.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
David fills Mr. Omer in on how little Em'ly was found, and Omer—though pleased to hear about Emily—asks what will now happen to Martha. David is sure that Mr. Peggotty has not forgotten about her, but admits that he doesn't know. Mr. Omer says he would like to help her out if possible, because he always thought she had good in her. In any case, he says, since everyone will ultimately die, it is important to be kind to one another. This reminds him to ask about Ham, who often comes to keep Mr. Omer company in the evening. David says he is going to see Ham now, and Omer sends his respects before explaining that he has promised to be in bed by six, and insisting that David see his grandchild Minnie (his "little elephant") before leaving.
Martha is arguably even more "tainted" than little Em'ly, so the fact that Mr. Omer feels she deserves a second chance is noteworthy, and points to the novel's relatively tolerant views on fallen women.
Themes
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David goes to Ham's house, where Peggotty now lives as well. Mr. Peggotty has brought Mrs. Gummidge over as well, and both she and Peggotty are crying over the news of little Em'ly's return. Ham is out taking a walk but soon returns and greets David happily. The group discusses Mr. Peggotty's impeding voyage, but not Emily herself. David thinks Ham looks peaceful, but Peggotty tells him, as she walks David to his room, that he is "broken-hearted," and only ever refers to little Em'ly as a young girl. David senses that Ham wants to speak to him privately and decides to seek him out.
Ham's reluctance to speak about Emily as a grown woman is understandable given his personal history with her, and indicates the extent to which he has stopped caring about the future; he seems to be living entirely in memories of his and Emily's youth. In the context of the entire novel, Ham's behavior also fits into a broader pattern of discomfort with female sexuality. There's little room for women who aren't either permanent children (like Dora) or pure angels (like Agnes).
Themes
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Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The next day, Mr. Peggotty is busy packing up or giving away his possessions. David arranges to meet him and Mrs. Gummidge at the old boat-house that evening, because he wants to see it one last time. In the meantime, he seeks out Ham on his way back from work. Ham asks David whether he has seen little Em'ly, and David responds that he only saw her briefly, and that he suspects she might find it difficult to see David now. He also says he is willing to take charge of any written message that Ham might want to send Emily.
With the sale of the Peggotty's house, David loses yet another reminder of his childhood, if not a place that served as a second home to him. Although the loss is necessary and unavoidable, David is still wishes to store up a few final memories of the boat-house. Strikingly, however, he doesn't plan to see Emily herself before her departure. David says that this is because Emily might find the meeting painful—perhaps out of embarrassment that a respectable gentleman like David knows her story. With that said, David expressed discomfort with the idea of Emily as a grown woman even before her affair with Steerforth, so it seems likely that he is avoiding her in part because he prefers to think of her as an innocent child forever.
Themes
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Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Ham thanks David, and says that he does want to say something to Emily—specifically, that he hopes she can forgive him for "pressing" marriage on her when what she needed was a friend to confide in. He also adds, with some difficulty, that he doesn't want Emily to worry that she has made his life unbearable. Although Ham wants Emily to know that he loved her, and could never marry anyone but her, he does not want her to believe that he is "greatly hurt." David assures Ham that he will try to convey all this to Emily. Ham thanks him and also asks him to convey his "lovingest duty" to Mr. Peggotty, whom he does not expect to see again. David promises to do so, and Ham leaves before they reach Mr. Peggotty's house.
The relationship between Ham and Emily is another instance of the difficult transition from the childhood home to the marital home. In this case, however, the problem isn't a child attempting to replicate their childhood home through their choice of spouse (as David does with Dora), but rather a child being pressured to marry someone who was actually part of that childhood home: Ham and Emily are cousins who grew up together, and it was wrong, Ham now suggests, to try to force that familial relationship into a romantic one.
Themes
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Mr. Peggotty and Mrs. Gummidge have emptied the house of most of its furniture by the time David arrives. The locker David used to sit on with little Em’ly is still there, however, and Mr. Peggotty points it out, as well as David's old bedroom. As the wind blows with a "mournful" sound, David thinks back to lying in bed there as a child while "that first great change was being wrought at home." He also thinks of his childhood love for little Emily, and of Steerforth, whom he senses is nearby. Meanwhile, Mr. Peggotty says it will probably be some time before the house has new tenants, since Emily's fate has led people to  view it as unlucky; he himself will be handing over the key to the landlord tonight.
Once inside the Peggotty's house, David is surrounded by objects that remind him of Emily, Steerforth, and himself as a child. Although David elsewhere seems to be fairly happy with the life he has created as an adult, the grief he feels in this passage for his lost childhood (and his childhood innocence) is overwhelming.
Themes
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David and Mr. Peggotty tour the rest of the house, and then return to Mrs. Gummidge, who suddenly cries out that she doesn't want to be left behind. Instead, she offers to come to Australia as Mr. Peggotty's and Emily's servant, or even "slave." Mr. Peggotty protests that it will be a hard voyage and a "hard life," but Mrs. Gummidge insists that she won't accept any allowance. She can work, and—after all the time she has spent waiting for Emily to come home—she can "be loving and patient." She then kisses Mr. Peggotty's hand, and when David and Mr. Peggotty return to London the following day, Mrs. Gummidge accompanies them.
Although she often appeared to resent the necessity of lodging with the Peggottys, Mrs. Gummidge has clearly come to regard them as family. The fact that she even offers to work for them if they will let her come reveals her to be selfless and loving underneath her grumpy exterior. 
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