David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 52 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The meeting with Mr. Micawber approaches, and David and Miss Betsey discuss what they ought to do: Dora is very weak, and Miss Betsey feels she ought to stay with her and send Mr. Dick in her place. Dora, however, says that she won't forgive them if Miss Betsey stays home on her account: she threatens to make Jip bite her, teasingly claims that Miss Betsey never does anything to help her, and claims to be perfectly healthy. David and Miss Betsey therefore agree to go, and humor Dora by saying she is a "little Imposter, who feigned to be rather unwell, because she liked to be petted."
As Dora grows sicker, her childish mannerisms seem less and less like a result of her pampered upbringing and more like a conscious choice. When David and Miss Betsey pretend to agree that Dora isn't actually very sick, Dickens describes Dora as looking "slowly" at both of them, implying that she knows the truth. The fact that she maintains her cheerful and naïve demeanor despite this suggests that she is trying to keep David's spirits up. In other words, Dora is at her most mature and selfless when she's dying. 
Themes
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The next day, David, Miss Betsey, Mr. Dick, and Traddles set off together for Canterbury, and arrive that evening at the hotel Mr. Micawber has indicated. They are scheduled to meet Micawber for breakfast, but David goes out for an early morning walk along the familiar streets. The chiming bells, however, remind him of how much everything has changed: "their own age […] pretty Dora's youth; and of the many, never old, who had lived and loved and died, while the reverberations of the bells had hummed." He even happens to cross paths with the butcher who used to bully him, who now has a baby and is a "benignant member of society."
In the past, David has often been struck by how little has changed when he has returned  to Canterbury: the town's association with his time in the Wickfield household, and with Agnes in particular, has typically allowed it to serve as a refuge for him. Dora's impending death, however, marks the biggest upheaval in David's home life since the death of his mother, so he can no longer visit his second childhood home without reflecting bittersweetly on how much has changed.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
David returns to the inn and waits anxiously with Miss Betsey, Traddles, and Mr. Dick. When Mr. Micawber arrives, he refuses to eat anything and warns everyone that they will soon see "an eruption." He explains that Traddles has advised him on what he is planning to do, and asks his listeners to follow his lead, even though he is a "Waif and Stray upon the shore of human nature." David assures Micawber that they trust him, and he asks them to follow him to Wickfield and Heep's. Micawber leaves, and the rest of the group wait for five minutes, as he requested, before setting off.
Mr. Micawber's description of himself as a "waif and stray" is melodramatic, but suggests that he sees himself as a powerless victim of life. In fact, however, his work to expose Uriah demonstrates that he is able to take charge of his own life, and perhaps lays the groundwork for his eventual success in Australia.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
When they arrive at Wickfield and Heep's, David approaches Mr. Micawber at his desk and asks for Agnes, as Micawber had told him to do. Mr. Micawber then shows David, Traddles, Miss Betsey, and Mr. Dick inside, and announces their presence to Uriah. Uriah is momentarily surprised, but then greets them fawningly, saying that he hopes Dora is doing better. He also remarks that despite all the changes in the office, he himself has not changed, which prompts Miss Betsey to say that Uriah is "pretty constant to the promise of [his] youth." Uriah pretends this is a compliment and sends Mr. Micawber to fetch Agnes and Mrs. Heep, explaining that Mr. Wickfield's condition keeps him busy with work—though he says this is a "pleasure as well as a duty."
Given that David Copperfield is a coming-of-age story, it's noteworthy that Uriah has hardly changed at all since his "youth." Where other characters (most notably David) work to correct their faults and weaknesses as they grow older, Uriah continues to be the same resentful and underhanded person he was when he was younger.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
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Mr. Micawber shows Agnes in, and David notices that she looks tired and nervous. He also notices that Mr. Micawber and Traddles seem to be communicating silently with one another. Eventually, Traddles leaves the room. Meanwhile, Uriah repeatedly tells Mr. Micawber to leave, but Micawber ignores him, finally saying that he "chooses" to wait. Uriah grows pale and threatens to fire Micawber, saying he'll talk to him later. Mr. Micawber, however, suddenly bursts out that "if there is a scoundrel on this earth […] with whom [he has] already talked too much, that scoundrel's name is—HEEP!" At this, Uriah accuses David of being jealous of his own "rise," and using Micawber to get back at him. When David urges Micawber to "deal with [Uriah] as he deserves," Uriah warns Agnes and Miss Betsey not to take part in this "gang."
Despite the fact that it is Mr. Micawber who is accusing him, Uriah still blames David for his misfortunes. This underscores the parallels between the two characters' storylines, as well as a major way in which they are different; Uriah resents David because David's class background affords him a degree of respect that Uriah doesn't enjoy, despite also being a fatherless, impoverished young man trying to make his way in the world.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Traddles returns with Mrs. Heep and—when Uriah asks him who he is—explains that he has a power of attorney to act on Mr. Wickfield's behalf. Uriah sneers that Traddles probably tricked Mr. Wickfield into providing this, but Traddles says that they should refer the issue of "fraud" to Mr. Micawber. Worried, Mrs. Heep tries to reason with Uriah, but he snaps at her to be quiet. David, meanwhile, is shocked to see Uriah reveal the full extent of his "malice, insolence, and hatred." Uriah seems especially enraged over the prospect of losing Agnes, and again accuses David of conspiring with Mr. Micawber. Uriah says that while he has never pretended to be a gentleman, David is a hypocrite for plotting against Uriah while priding himself on his "honor."
Despite his villainy, Uriah is arguably one of the more honest and perceptive characters when it comes to social class. Unlike David, who felt deep shame during his brief stint as a factory worker, Uriah isn't embarrassed by his lower-class background. Although Uriah clearly resents the way others treat him on account of that background, he makes no effort, as he says, to pass himself off as a "gentleman" by adopting more middle-class mannerisms and ways of speaking. Meanwhile, he accuses David of priding himself on honor while behaving dishonorably, implying that much of what supposedly distinguishes the classes from one another is simply hypocrisy. 
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Uriah invites Mr. Micawber to say what he has to say, and Micawber—who has barely been able to restrain himself—takes a letter from his pocket and begins to read. The letter was written by Micawber himself, and begins with a lengthy description of his own misfortunes. It was these, he says, that led him to Uriah, whom he describes as a "Forger and a Cheat." At this point, Uriah tries to snatch the letter away, but Micawber strikes his hand with a ruler and threatens to break his head if he comes near him again.
It's significant that Mr. Micawber strikes Uriah on the hand with a ruler, since (as the earlier scenes in Salem House demonstrated) that was a form of punishment often used to discipline young boys. Symbolically, the effect of this is to cut Uriah—who has spent so long trying to rise above his childhood origins—down to size.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
David and Traddles restrain Mr. Micawber, and he resumes reading his letter, explaining that his financial difficulties quickly forced him to ask Uriah for advances, just as Uriah had anticipated: by placing Micawber in his debt, Uriah secured his cooperation in falsifying business documents and deceiving Mr. Wickfield. This plunged Mr. Micawber into a state of depression, but with Agnes's encouragement, he began to collect information on what Uriah was doing.
The revelation that Uriah came by his position at Wickfield and Heaps dishonestly distances him from David, who succeeds through hard work and talent. In doing so, it also suggests that the major difference between the two characters' ambitions is not their different class backgrounds, but their sense of morality.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Mr. Micawber begins to lay out his case against Uriah. His first "charge" is that Uriah took advantage of Mr. Wickfield's episodes of drunkenness to convince him to sign documents withdrawing money for fabricated business dealings. In this way, Uriah made it look as if Wickfield were the one behaving unethically. At this point, Uriah interrupts to again threaten David, but Mr. Micawber reminds Uriah that he himself has been living in Uriah's old house lately, and hints that he found an incriminating pocketbook Uriah left there. Hearing this, Mrs. Heep begs her son to be "umble" and "make terms," but Uriah tells her to be quiet.
Mr. Micawber takes great pleasure in reading the "charges" against Uriah, hinting that he has finally found his calling in life; in fact, Micawber will become a judge after immigrating to Australia. As far as the charges themselves go, the fact that Uriah was able to use Wickfield's alcoholism to his advantage reflects themes of agency and memory. Because Wickfield typically can't remember what has happened when he's been drinking, he isn't fully in control of himself or his actions.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Mr. Micawber's second charge is that Uriah also forged Mr. Wickfield's signature on various documents, including one in which Uriah supposedly advances money to Mr. Wickfield to protect his reputation (that is, by providing him with the money Wickfield was supposed to have withdrawn). Mr. Micawber says that the pocketbook backs up his claims, because it contains Uriah's attempts at replicating Mr. Wickfield's signature. As Micawber speaks, Uriah unlocks a drawer in his desk and then, suddenly remembering that others are watching, stops short.  Meanwhile, Traddles confirms that Micawber gave him the incriminating pocketbook earlier that day, and Mrs. Heep again pleads with her son to be "umble." Uriah retorts that she might as well shoot him, and his mother protests that she loves him and has promised Traddles she would convince her son to set things right.
Given that Uriah was able to obtain Wickfield's signature on documents, it's not completely clear why he ever needed to forge it. In terms of the novel's themes, however, one possible explanation is that Uriah ultimately hoped to entirely usurp Mr. Wickfield's position—not just in the firm, but also as the master of the house and of Agnes. Symbolically, forging Wickfield's signature is a way of taking his place, or even his identity. It also, of course, provides Micawber and Traddles with concrete proof of Uriah's crimes, which leads Mrs. Heep to plead with her son to compromise; ultimately, Mrs. Heep is slightly more sympathetic than her son, if only because she does seem to care for and value her family. 
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Uriah once again ignores Mrs. Heep and fixates on David as the cause of all his problems. Meanwhile, Mr. Micawber proceeds to his final charge, which is that Uriah has used both Mr. Wickfield's supposed business misdealings and his "weaknesses," "faults," "virtues," "honor," and "parental affections" to manipulate and cheat him. Most recently, Uriah convinced Mr. Wickfield to sign over the partnership and his furniture to Heep. He was able to accomplish this, in part, by making Wickfield believe that he had lost all his money in unwise investments and was in fact in danger of defaulting on various contracts. Wickfield felt so much shame over what he had supposedly done that he felt he had no choice except to give in to Uriah's demands. By this point, Agnes is crying in both sadness and relief.
It's fairly obvious that Uriah has exploited Mr. Wickfield’s "weaknesses" (most notably, his drinking), but it's interesting that Micawber claims he also exploited, among other things, Wickfield's love for Agnes. This is in line with what Wickfield himself earlier said about allowing his love for his daughter to become twisted. Micawber doesn't explain exactly how Uriah preyed on Micawber's "parental affections," so it's possible Uriah simply pressured Wickfield into doing things by arguing that they would help Agnes. It seems just as likely, however, that Uriah knew about Wickfield's guilt and regrets surrounding his daughter, and used these as additional leverage. 
Themes
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Home and Family Theme Icon
Micawber announces that he is now nearly finished, and simply needs to provide his evidence. He becomes distracted, however, by imagining in detail all the sufferings he and his family will undergo as a result of the sacrifice he has made in leaving Uriah's employment. Meanwhile, Uriah opens a safe he keeps in the office, only to find that all the books in it are gone. Micawber explains that he took them, and Traddles says that he now has them.
Although Micawber exaggerates the hardship his family is likely to undergo, it is true that he has acted selflessly in exposing Uriah—particularly given that his post at Wickfield and Heep seems to be the first stable job he has had in years. In other words, Mr. Micawber ultimately proves himself to be a good person by giving up his livelihood.
Themes
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Suddenly, Miss Betsey grabs Uriah by the collar and says she wants her property back: she explains that she thought Mr. Wickfield was responsible for its loss, so she had until this point concealed the fact that she had invested it through his firm. David pulls his aunt away from Uriah, assuring her that they will recover the money. Meanwhile, Mrs. Heep continues to plead with her son and everyone else in the room.
Based on what she says in this scene, Miss Betsey apparently suspected Mr. Wickfield not only of mismanagement but actually of embezzlement—or, as she puts it, "making away with" her money. In other words, she was willing to cover for Wickfield when she believed he was guilty of the same crime Uriah is now charged with. Although her very different reaction to Uriah's actions probably stems partly from her preexisting friendship with Mr. Wickfield, it seems likely that class bias also plays a role.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Uriah asks what David wants to do, and Traddles explains what "must be done." First, he says, Uriah needs to give back the contract in which Mr. Wickfield signed away his part in the firm. More than that, Uriah needs to return all the money he has stolen, and provide all of his accounts to ensure that he is telling the truth. Traddles tells Uriah to stay in his room until he and the others have had a chance to go over those accounts, and—when Uriah says he won't—threatens to get the law involved and have Uriah arrested. Mrs. Heep begs Uriah to do as Traddles says, and he reluctantly tells her to go fetch the contract. Mr. Dick goes with her, and she returns with the contract and all the accounts.
The decision not to involve the police probably reflects a desire to protect Mr. Wickfield's reputation (and by extension Agnes's). Nevertheless, Uriah does ultimately go to jail for a different crime; in this way, the novel manages to punish Uriah fully without inadvertently punishing any good characters.
Themes
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Traddles tells Uriah he can go think things over in his room. Before leaving, however, Uriah turns to David and says he has "always been an upstart" determined to bring Uriah down. David retorts that it is Uriah who has always been "against all the world," and that greed is inevitably punished. Uriah says David sounds like the teachers at the charity school he attended, threatens to get revenge on Mr. Micawber, and leaves.
In describing David as an "upstart," Uriah once more underscores the similarities between them, and also challenges the idea that David's own social climbing is any more respectable than Uriah's. David, however, immediately reframes the issue in terms of Uriah's personal morality, arguing that he's "against all the world" rather than, for example, against the particular people or classes who have oppressed him. Still, while the novel largely tries erase the classist implications of Uriah's storyline, it's Uriah who gets the last word in this scene, calling David out for his resemblance to the people who originally demanded that Uriah be "[h]umble."
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mr. Micawber announces that he can now reconcile with Mrs. Micawber and the rest of his family, and invites everyone to follow him to his house. Agnes remains behind to comfort Mr. Wickfield, and Traddles stays to guard Uriah, but Mr. Dick, Miss Betsey, and David go with Mr. Micawber, grateful for all he has done. When they arrive at his home, Mr. Micawber immediately runs to his wife and embraces her, explaining that "the cloud is past from [his] mind" and welcoming the return of poverty if it means the return of "mutual confidence." Mrs. Micawber is so overwhelmed that she faints and has to be revived by Miss Betsey.
Once Mr. Micawber no longer needs to keep quiet about Uriah's villainy, he immediately reverts to his former, cheerful self and joyfully rejoins his family. Ultimately, this "mutual confidence" proves more important to Mr. Micawber than money.
Themes
Home and Family Theme Icon
Miss Betsey is surprised at how large the Micawber family is, and asks what the eldest son is being trained to do. Mr. Micawber says that he had hoped his son would become part of a church choir, but admits that he is currently singing in public-houses. Mrs. Micawber insists that her son "means well," and Micawber agrees, but says that he has not "carrie[d] out his meaning, in any given direction whatsoever." This irritates the son, who asks how he is supposed to find another line of work, and Miss Betsey—who has been thinking this entire time—asks whether the family has thought about emigrating.
The discussion about the Micawbers' eldest son gets to the heart of the debate surrounding initiative and success. Mr. Micawber suggests that his son's failure to establish himself in a respectable line of work stems from a lack of focus and discipline. As the son himself points out, however, he's never had the opportunity to learn a trade or become apprenticed to a professional. As a result, no amount of determination and hard work will help him get ahead in life.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Micawber says that he always wanted to emigrate (though David doubts he ever thought of it before). He explains, however, that he doesn't have enough money to make the voyage. Miss Betsey says that Mr. Micawber's helpfulness entitles him to a reward, and Micawber says that while he couldn't accept a gift, he would agree to a loan. Miss Betsey assures him that he can set any terms he likes, and urges him to consider going with Mr. Peggotty and little Em'ly to Australia. Meanwhile, Mrs. Micawber wonders aloud whether Australia is the kind of place where her husband "would have a fair chance of rising in the social scale," and Miss Betsey says that it is, as long as he is "industrious." Mr. and Mrs. Micawber agree that Australia sounds like their "legitimate sphere of action."
Despite the new proof of Mr. Micawber's hard work and good intentions (that is, his efforts to bring Uriah to justice), the novel ultimately suggests that there is no place for him within England's rigid class structure. Still, Dickens doesn't entirely abandon the idea that "industriousness" will ultimately translate into success; once in the more fluid colonial society of Australia, Micawber is able to work his way up to the position of a magistrate.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon