David arrives back in London and finds that it has changed in his three-year absence: some of the buildings he remembers are gone, although those that remain cheer him with their familiarity. His friends' situations have also changed: Miss Betsey is back in Dover, and Traddles is now practicing law.
The life David returns to in England is not the same one he left behind; even the physical landscape of London has changed significantly.
David goes immediately to the neighborhood where Traddles works, and asks for his friend's address at an inn. He also asks whether Traddles is making a name for himself, and is disappointed when the waiters say they haven't heard of him. As he looks around at his surroundings, he is struck by how old and formal they look, and he begins to think that the law might be a difficult profession "to be taken by storm." He continues to feel discouraged on Traddles' behalf as he goes up to his room to change. When he comes downstairs, he sees an elderly man, who the waiter tells David is very rich.
Although Traddles has followed a more conventional career path, it's in some ways more challenging to succeed in. The legal system is old and set in its ways, and this sluggishness makes it difficult even for a hard-working and determined individual like Traddles to break into.
After eating, David goes to see Traddles. As he approaches his room, he thinks he hears girls laughing. A young clerk answers the door and takes David to Traddles, who runs to David and embraces him. Traddles is delighted to see David: he has "nothing but good news," and asks how David has been. Before David can respond, however, Traddles continues on, saying he has just missed "the ceremony." David is confused, and Traddles—guessing that he missed his last letter—explains that he has married, and asks Sophy to come out from where she is hiding behind a curtain. David greets her warmly as Traddles says they are "all" very happy. This reminds him of Sophy's sisters, who are currently staying with them, and he admits that he was playing with them while David was coming up the stairs.
Despite David's fears, Traddles is actually doing quite well, both personally and professionally: he's not only fully qualified as a lawyer, but also married, and has consequently passed two major milestones on the way to adulthood.
Traddles asks Sophy to go fetch her sisters, who went to the neighboring room when they heard David. While Sophy is gone, Traddles says that he finds it very pleasant to have Sophy's sisters around after so many years living alone, even though "the society of girls is […] not professional." Traddles then admits that they are "quite unprofessional altogether," since he and Sophy are living in the same rooms he works in. Nevertheless, he says, Sophy is a good housekeeper and manages to have found space for five of her sisters while creating a makeshift bedroom for her and Traddles up in a "little room in the roof." Traddles also points out the old flower pot and table, although he admits they still have many household items they need to save up for.
Traddles's apartment functions as both a workplace and a home, blending together elements of both the professional and domestic spheres, which were conventionally separate from one another. In part, this is a sign that Traddles still has a ways to go in establishing himself in his career, and in life more generally; at the moment, he simply can't afford to maintain a household separate from his office. However, David also finds himself charmed by the feminine influence that Sophy and her sisters have brought to a neighborhood of law offices. The presence of homelike touches like the flower pot therefore illustrates, in a very literal way, the softening influence women and domestic life were supposed to have on the public sphere.
Traddles says that after successfully arguing a particularly noteworthy case, he went to Sophy's father and explained that since Sophy was willing to marry him with his present income and future prospects, she should not be forced to remain single simply for her family's convenience. He also said that he wanted to be "useful" to the family, and that he would be willing to look after Sophy's sisters if they were orphaned. Reverend Crewler agreed and (with great difficulty) persuaded Sophy's mother to agree to the marriage as well. Consequently, Traddles and Sophy were at last able to marry six weeks ago, although he felt like a "Monster" when he saw how upset her family was during the ceremony. Now, however, he is very happy, both with the sisters' company and with his work.
The fact that Traddles finally stands up for his right to marry Sophy is another sign of his growth as a character. Arguably, Traddles was initially too selfless for a nineteenth-century man; his willingness to overlook the way the rest of the Crewler family took advantage of Sophy was a sign that he might, among other things, fail to look out for his own professional interests. Although Traddles is clearly still inclined to think the best of others—he wouldn't feel guilty over depriving the Crewlers of Sophy otherwise—he is also more willing to assert his own rights and interests.
Sophy's sisters enter, and David sees that they are all very pretty, and that the eldest (Caroline) is in fact as beautiful as Traddles has always said. David finds, however, that he appreciates Sophy's "loving, cheerful, fireside quality" even more than her sisters' prettiness, and he thinks that Traddles has married well. Everyone then sits around the fire while Sophy makes tea.
David's respect for Sophy is a sign of how his priorities have shifted since his marriage to Dora. Although Sophy is not as beautiful as some of her sisters, she is a real companion to her husband, and a skilled homemaker. Agnes, of course, is all of these things as well as beautiful, which makes her the ideal match for David.
Sophy tells David that, while on their honeymoon, she and Traddles saw Agnes and Miss Betsey, and that both women were thinking of David. She also says that Traddles thought about David constantly while he was away, and David is charmed by how often Sophy references her husband's thoughts and opinions. Similarly, he finds it sweet that both Sophy and Traddles go out of their way to please Caroline ("the Beauty"). Although all of the sisters are slightly spoiled, David is touched by Sophy and Traddles's own "self-forgetfulness." As the evening goes on, Sophy's services are constantly in request: she pins her sisters' hair, sings whatever songs they ask for, and writes home on their behalf.
Sophy's suitability as a wife continues to impress David in this passage. In particular, he admires her selflessness, which she demonstrates not only in her constant attention to her sister's needs, but also in her total devotion to her husband; her repeated references to him make it clear that her life revolves around him. From a modern perspective, of course, it seems unrealistic (and possibly unfair) that anyone could be so consistently attuned to the thoughts and wishes of everyone around them.
David returns to the inn later that evening, pleased by the thought of Sophy and her sisters living "among the dry law-stationers and the attorneys' offices." He also feels much more optimistic about Traddles's career prospects, and begins to think back over his own life as he sits in the coffee-room. He is no longer "bitter" about the past, but he feels that he has lost any opportunity of having a real "home" by losing Agnes's love.
The pleasure David takes in the thought of "tea and toast, and children's songs in that grim atmosphere of pounce and parchment" reflects Victorian ideas about the relationship between public and private life. Although these two spheres of life were separate, the domestic realm, and women themselves, were seen as tempering the rough world of business and providing it with a moral compass. David, however, has given up on the hope of having a home of his own at this point in the novel, so witnessing Traddles' happiness is a bittersweet experience for him.
As David is wondering whether he can resign himself to being just a brother to Agnes, he notices that Mr. Chillip is also in the room. David walks over and asks whether Mr. Chillip recognizes him. Startled, Chillip admits that David looks familiar, but can't quite place him, so David finally tells him who he is. The knowledge "move[s]" Mr. Chillip, who tells David that he strongly resembles his father, and that he has heard about David's success as a writer. He also explains that he has moved to a new town where his wife inherited some property. David orders another round of drinks, and Mr. Chillip remarks that "it seems but yesterday" that he was nursing David through the measles.
Mr. Chillip's reappearance toward the end of the novel helps provide a sense of closure, while also reminding readers of how far David has come since his birth.
Mr. Chillip expresses his condolences over Dora's death, which he says he learned about from Miss Murdstone. It turns out that Mr. Chillip is once again living in the same neighborhood as Mr. Murdstone, who married a young woman with some property there. David asks whether Mr. Chillip serves as their doctor, and Mr. Chillip says he is not often called for, but that he has noticed signs of "firmness" in the Murdstones. David continues to press Chillip, who protests that what happens in his patients' private lives isn't his business. Eventually, however, he admits that the new Mrs. Murdstone used to be a "charming woman," but now seems "broken"—though Chillip says that these are Mrs. Chillip's opinions rather than his own.
Like Mr. Chillip himself, the Murdstones' reappearance is in part a marker of David's own progress: the Murdstones may still be abusing children and preying on young women, but David is now completely free of them. There is also a darker side to Chillip's account of the Murdstones, however. David Copperfield is largely a novel that punishes its villains and rewards it heroes, implying that hard work pays off and dishonesty and cruelty do not. The fact that the Murdstones continue to thrive calls these assumptions about justice into question.
David, unsurprised, asks whether Mr. Murdstone still claims to be deeply religious, and Mr. Chillip says that he does, according to Mrs. Chillip. He also says that Mrs. Chillip believes Mr. Murdstone uses religion as an excuse to be cruel, which David agrees is true. Mr. Chillip concludes by saying that the Murdstones are not popular in the neighborhood, and that perhaps their own bad natures constitute a kind of "punishment."
Mr. Chillip suggests that the Murdstones haven't truly escaped punishment; while they seem to be doing well, they are trapped inide their own hard-heartedness, and are therefore cut off from much of what makes life meaningful. The idea that this is itself a form of punishment is somewhat fitting in a novel so heavily invested in its characters' abilities to grow and change for the better. On the other hand, this purely moral form of punishment overlooks the fact that Mr. Murdstone continues to wield a large amount of power as a well-off man, and that he uses that power to terrorize those who are weaker.
David and Mr. Chillip continue to chat, and the conversation eventually moves to Miss Betsey, who was present the night Mr. Chillip delivered David. David says that he is leaving tomorrow to visit Miss Betsey, and that Mr. Chillip would realize how kind-hearted she is if he got to know her. The possibility of meeting her again frightens Chillip so much, however, that he leaves to go to bed. David also goes to bed, and spends the next day traveling to Dover, where he is greeted not only by his aunt and Mr. Dick but also by Peggotty, who is now their housekeeper. David recounts his conversation with Mr. Chillip, and while they are amused by Chillip's fear of Miss Betsey, they are disturbed by the news involving Mr. Murdstone.
Mr. Chillip is a fairly timid man to begin with, so Miss Betsey's unconventional assertiveness (for a woman) continues to frighten him decades after his last encounter with her. This serves as a comic counterpoint to the more seriously traumatic events that continue to haunt characters like David years after the fact.