David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 54 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
David's grief does not hit him all at once after Dora dies, in part because so much else is going on around him at the time. He mourns, but then feels that the worst of his grief is behind him. This turns out not be the case: David writes that he later experienced a second wave of depression in which he "came to think that the Future was walled up before [him]."
In different ways, David's relationships with Dora and Steerforth represent some of the last vestiges of childhood: David's love for Dora was a form of immature infatuation, as was his devotion to Steerforth. Regardless, David hints here that these two deaths were perhaps the most difficult trial he had to endure while growing up; since so much of maturity in David Copperfield involves envisioning a future and putting it into action, David's sense that the future has "walled up" is an indication of just how deep David's despair runs.
Themes
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David forms a plan to go overseas, although he is not sure how this idea first came to him. He associates it with Agnes, and suspects she might have suggested it. Regardless, he is deeply aware of and grateful for her presence after Dora's death, and begins to think that his old association of Agnes with the stained glass window was a "foreshadowing" of the role she would play during this period of his life.
The fact that David can't explicitly trace his plans to Agnes is an indication of just how perfectly she embodies the feminine ideal: the moral influence she has over David is so gentle and unassuming that he can't even pinpoint exactly where or when it is at work. What David is becoming aware of, however, is the broader trajectory of his life, and Agnes's place in it. In retrospect, for instance, he sees his childhood association of Agnes and stained glass not as a stray idea but as a sign that Agnes would become a guiding influence in his life.
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David does not intend to leave England until after the entire affair with Uriah has been resolved, and after Mr. Peggotty and Emily have left for Australia. He therefore returns to Canterbury with Miss Betsey and Agnes and goes directly to Mr. Micawber's, where Traddles is staying.
 In retrospect, it becomes clear that tying up these loose ends provides David with a sense of purpose in the wake of Dora's death, helping to distract him from his grief.
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Miss Betsey asks whether Mr. Micawber has thought more about Australia, and he says that his family is as good as "on the sea" already. He admits, however, that he may need more time to pay off the loan than he had originally indicated, but Miss Betsey says this is no trouble. Mr. Micawber thanks her, and says that as he wants to be sure he is "business-like" in this new period of his life, and proposes drafting receipts for all he owes. He also notes that his family is busily preparing for their new life by learning about farming, and Miss Betsey expresses her approval.
As usual, Mr. Micawber is wildly optimistic about his future, perhaps to the point of foolishness; he's getting far ahead of himself in remarking that his family is as good as departed, and his enthusiastic embrace of farming seems no different than any of the other industries he's thrown himself into over the years. Similarly, the receipts Micawber proposes drafting resemble the I.O.U. he previously gave to Traddles, implying that he's learned very little about managing his finances. Despite these warning signs, however, the Micawbers do in fact go in to succeed in Australia.
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Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
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Mrs. Micawber explains that she has been busy communicating with her family: she suspects that their coldness stemmed from unwillingness to support Mr. Micawber, so she feels that they ought to make up, now that the Micawbers are leaving the country. Mr. Micawber, however, says that his wife's family would likely find him "offensive" if they met, because he views them as "Ruffians." Mrs. Micawber objects that neither he nor her family understand one another, and Mr. Micawber apologetically agrees to meet with his wife's relatives (although he also says he would be happy leaving without seeing them).
The Micawbers' bickering again seems to grow out of Mrs. Micawber's largely suppressed resentment of her husband. By bringing up her family's disapproval of Mr. Micawber, Mrs. Micawber is able to vent her frustration with her husband in a socially acceptable way—that is, one that doesn't involve taking ownership of that frustration herself.
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Mr. Micawber and Mrs. Micawber leave David, Agnes, and Miss Betsey alone with Traddles, who is sitting at a table covered in papers. Traddles expresses concern for David, but David shifts the subject to Miss Betsey, explaining that she has recently been traveling back and forth from London, apparently troubled by something. Miss Betsey is visibly upset when David says this, but assures David that he will soon know what is going on. Traddles then explains that Mr. Micawber has worked impressively hard the past few weeks to uncover and set right all of Uriah's treachery. Furthermore, Traddles says, Mr. Dick has been very helpful, both by cheering Mr. Wickfield up and by copying important documents. Meanwhile, Mr. Wickfield has been improving steadily, and is even able to help settle some of Traddles and Micawber's questions.
Like Mr. Micawber, Mr. Dick proves his goodness in part by his willingness to work; in fact, Mr. Dick's determination to work is all the more striking given that no one expects him to do so. Traddles' praise of Mr. Dick and Mr. Wickfield also lays the groundwork for the revelation, later in the chapter, that Miss Betsey deliberately concealed her financial situation from David in order to encourage him to develop these same habits of hard work and discipline. Miss Betsey's anxiety, meanwhile, turns out to involve her relationship to her ex-husband.
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Traddles announces that, after going over all the accounts, it is clear that Mr. Wickfield could close the firm now without falling into debt. Doing so, however, would leave him with little money to spare, so Traddles suggests that he stay in business but take advice from his friends. Agnes is deeply relieved and eager to help her father by supporting and advising him now, in the hopes of eventually securing his "release from all trust and responsibility." To do this, she plans to rent the house and keep a school. David is touched by her devotion, and thinks back fondly on his childhood in the Wickfields' home.
Since Agnes is a woman, she isn't "required" to work as a way of proving and developing her independence and resolve in the way that the novel's male characters are. Instead, she works as a way of easing the pressure her father is under. Her work outside the home, in other words, is in keeping with her feminine role at home—that is, providing emotional and moral support first to her father and later to her husband. In fact, her actions immediately cause David to remember the happy domestic scenes of his childhood, further underscoring that Agnes's proposal to keep school is not a threat to the reestablishment of the Wickfield's happy household, but rather an extension of it.
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Traddles moves on to Miss Betsey, who says she would be happy to have her money back but can "bear it" if it's lost. Confirming she had 8,000 pounds, Traddles says he can only account for 5,000 pounds. Miss Betsey explains that she held back the missing 3,000 pounds: 1,000 pounds went to David's apprenticeship, and the rest she had saved all along. She told David she had lost everything, however, because she wanted to see whether David could learn to be self-reliant and industrious. Proudly, she says that both he and Mr. Dick have proven themselves. 
The revelation that Miss Betsey had 3,000 pounds in reserve, and that she concealed this from David, puts David's efforts to establish himself in a career in a new light. He was never in any real danger of falling into poverty, so his hard work ultimately had much less to do with earning a living and much more to do with developing his character. This was of course Miss Betsey's intention, and it once again serves to distinguish David from a character like Uriah; whereas the latter works because he has to, and in the hopes of advancing his position, David works because it is the morally right thing to do. 
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Related Quotes
Traddles explains that, with Miss Betsey's admission, he can account for all the money that was lost. Miss Betsey confirms that she believed Mr. Wickfield was responsible for her losses and therefore kept quiet, and Traddles says that it was actually Uriah who signed the documents, in part to make Wickfield believe he himself had stolen the money. Miss Betsey explains that Mr. Wickfield actually wrote a letter to her accusing himself of this, but that she burned it in his presence and urged him to say nothing for Agnes's sake. Hearing this, Agnes covers her face with her hands.
Once again, Miss Betsey indicates that she was willing to cover for Mr. Wickfield when she believed he was guilty of the same crime Uriah committed. Here, she says she did this in order to protect Agnes's reputation, but it's likely that class prejudice also contributed to her less lenient view of Uriah's embezzlement.
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Miss Betsey asks whether Traddles really managed to get all the money back from Uriah, and Traddles says that Mr. Micawber's thoroughness left Uriah no possible way of avoiding repayment. He also says that, according to Uriah himself, he was motivated less by greed than by his hatred of David. Both Uriah and Mrs. Heep have now left Canterbury, however, and Traddles says he doesn't know much more than that. He does suspect that Uriah still has a considerable amount of money, but Traddles does not think this will keep him out of "mischief," simply because of Uriah's hypocritical and suspicious nature. When Miss Betsey describes Uriah as a "monster of meanness," however, Traddles insists that "many people" are capable of meanness.
On the one hand, the fact that Uriah sees David as his personal enemy highlights the parallels between the two characters; Uriah resents David because he has in many respects lived the life Uriah might have lived if he had been born into a middle-class family. At the same time, however, Uriah's hatred of David allows Traddles and the other characters to more easily cast Uriah's actions as a product of a warped character rather than of frustration with widespread inequality and bias. Similarly, Traddles' belief that Uriah would likely continue to do "mischief" even if he were wealthy implies that Uriah is simply immoral by nature (although his later remark that anyone is capable of meanness possibly suggests that Uriah's character is the result of his circumstances and background).
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Miss Betsey changes the subject to Mr. Micawber, and Traddles reiterates how important his help was in catching Uriah. Miss Betsey asks how much money, given this, they ought to provide Micawber with, and Traddles explains that the issue is not so simple: Micawber has given out many I.O.U.'s to Uriah in exchange for his advances, and if he does not pay, he is likely to be arrested before he can leave the country. According to Mr. Micawber, these debts amount to just over 100 pounds. Miss Betsey proposes that she and Agnes jointly provide Micawber with 500 pounds, but David and Traddles strongly urge her not to give him the whole sum at once. Instead, David recommends giving the Micawbers slightly more than they need to secure passage, and then entrusting Mr. Peggotty with providing the rest.
Although Mr. Micawber has proven his basic merit by helping bring Uriah to justice, David still views him as untrustworthy in financial matters—or, at least, as unable to manage his affairs competently. He therefore proposes doling out money to Micawber in smaller amounts, ensuring that he doesn't spend it on anything but paying off his debts and beginning his new life in Australia. This effort to teach Mr. Micawber financial responsibility parallels Miss Betsey's secret test of David's character, and in that sense constitutes a delayed coming-of-age process.
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Once they have settled how to pay Mr. Micawber, Traddles says there is one more "painful" topic he needs to address. He reminds Miss Betsey that Uriah had threatened her husband during the meeting where his crimes were brought to light. Miss Betsey confirms that she was in fact married, and Traddles warns her that Uriah may now try to follow through on his threats. Miss Betsey uncomfortably thanks Traddles but dismisses the topic, instead inviting Mr. and Mrs. Micawber back in.
The mention of Miss Betsey's husband lays the groundwork for the chapter's closing scenes, when Miss Betsey reveals that her husband has recently died. It also illustrates the complexity of Miss Betsey's relationship with her former husband; although some of her discomfort may stem from memories of his mistreatment of her, she is also genuinely saddened by his death, and begins to cry silently during this scene.
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Miss Betsey explains the financial arrangements they intend to make to help the Micawbers. Mr. Micawber is delighted, only to find himself once again threatened with arrest by a sheriff five minutes later. Miss Betsey and the others quickly pay off the I.O.U., however, and Mr. Micawber happily settles down to write his latest I.O.U.'s. Miss Betsey urges him to avoid writing more of these in the future, and Mr. Micawber says that he has always warned his son against amassing debt, and intends to follow his own advice going forward.
Mr. Micawber theoretically understands what's wrong with his approach to financial management, as evidenced by the fact that he warns his son against getting into debt. He seems just as incapable as ever of putting this knowledge to good use in his own life, but his emigration will change that.
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The next day, David, Miss Betsey, and Agnes plan to return to London. The Micawbers will follow them as soon as Mr. Micawber sells off his possessions. David, Miss Betsy, and Agnes go to the Wickfields' for the night, however, which David feels has now been "purged of a disease."
David consistently described Uriah's presence in the Wickfield household as intrusive and contaminating, hinting at both Uriah's sexually predatory behavior towards Agnes and the broader threat posed by the working classes to middle-class domesticity. Now that Uriah is gone, domestic order is restored, and the household is once again happy and healthy.
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Once David and Miss Betsey are back in London, Miss Betsey explains that she did not want to worry David with her problems, but that if David still wants to know what has been troubling her, she will tell him. David says that he does, and Miss Betsey says she will tell him during a carriage ride the next morning. The ride takes them to a hospital with a hearse parked outside it, which Miss Betsey indicates should drive away. David realizes that the hearse is carrying Miss Betsey's husband, and Miss Betsey explains that her husband sent for her during his final illness, and told her that he was sorry. He died just before Miss Betsey left for Canterbury, so Uriah's threats ended up being "vain."
Miss Betsey's willingness to forgive a man who abused her is one of the ways in which she conforms to Victorian gender norms; in fact, she not only forgave his treatment of her, but made multiple visits to his deathbed to comfort him. Characteristically, however, she hid this tenderness at the time, in much the same way that she elsewhere distances herself from "feminine" feelings by attributing them to Clara Copperfield.
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David and Miss Betsey follow the hearse to a churchyard in the neighborhood where her husband was born. They attend the funeral service, and Miss Betsey admits that this is her thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. When they get back into the carriage, Miss Betsey bursts into tears, saying her husband was a "fine-looking man" when they married, though he was "sadly changed" later on. She quickly composes herself, however, and they return to her cottage.
Once again, Miss Betsey quickly tamps down her grief for her husband, and even seems embarrassed by it; she tells David, for instance, that she wouldn't have started crying if she hadn't already been "shaken" by the events of the last few days. This need to disavow "feminine" displays of emotion speaks to the vulnerability of Miss Betsey's position as a single woman. To maintain her independence, Miss Betsey works doubly hard to prove her rationality and practicality.
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Inside the cottage, Miss Betsey and David find a letter from Mr. Micawber explaining that Uriah has called in another debt and that Micawber consequently expects to soon die of anguish. At the end of the letter, however, a postscript announces that Traddles paid the debt in Miss Betsey's absence, and that the Micawbers are now "at the height of earthly bliss."
Before Micawber leaves for Australia, he is arrested for debt several more times. This petty act of revenge is a further sign of Uriah's villainy.
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