David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 63 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ten years after David and Agnes marry, David has grown more successful as an author, and his "domestic joy [is] perfect." One evening, he and his wife are sitting at home surrounded by their children when a visitor arrives asking to see David. The servant says that the man looks like a farmer, and told him he had come a long distance. David asks for the man to be shown in, and Agnes—who catches a glimpse of his face before David—announces that it is Mr. Peggotty.
The fact that Dickens shows so little of David and Agnes' married life is significant for a couple of reasons. Nineteenth-century novels—particularly coming-of-age stories—often end in marriage, which indicates just how important establishing a family was; even more than establishing himself in a profession, it's the capstone of David's growth into adulthood. At the same tme, the fact that David and Agnes's marriage is left largely unexplored is perhaps an indication of just how elusive the "perfect" domestic joy David mentions was in reality; it's difficult to depict or even imagine what a perfect family would look like.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Peggotty is now an old man, but he still looks strong and healthy, and takes the children on his knees when he goes to sit by the fire. He tells David how happy he is to see him and Agnes, as well as their children, who remind him of David and little Em'ly as children. David invites Mr. Peggotty to stay in his house, assuring him that they will catch up after the children have gone to bed.
Mr. Peggotty's remark about David's children resembling David and Emily helps bring the novel full circle: a story that began with David as a small child ends when he has small children of his own. Mr. Peggotty's remarks also provide a sense of continuity—no matter how much has changed over the course of the novel, some things, like Mr. Peggotty, are constant.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Mr. Peggotty explains that he has promised little Em'ly he will only stay in England for a few weeks. He says he doesn't mind the long journey, however, and felt he had to see Agnes and David's family before he grew too old. David wants to know all about Mr. Peggotty's life in Australia, so Mr. Peggotty explains that while their lives were initially hard, they were patient, and have now secured a comfortable living by farming sheep and other livestock.
Dickens suggests that hard work and determination pay off in Australia even more than they do in England. This makes some sense, given that Australia, as a new colony, lacked the rigid social hierarcy of England, and offered many potential opportunities for advancement.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Agnes asks after Emily, and Mr. Peggotty explains that she was initially very depressed, so it is fortunate she didn't know about Ham's death when they set sail. Over the course of the voyage, however, she busied herself taking care of sick or young passengers, which lifted her spirits. When Mr. Peggotty learned about Ham’s accident, he kept the knowledge from Emily, but she eventually found out from an account in a newspaper brought by an immigrant. Mr. Peggotty admits that the discovery deeply affected Emily, and that she is still "sorrowful," but says that the solitude and work on the farm have kept her going. He also explains that while no one knows her true story, she has always refused any offers of marriage. Nevertheless, she takes pleasure in teaching children and caring for the sick.
Little Em'ly's status at the end of the novel is ambiguous. On the one hand, Dickens "allows" her to begin a second life somewhere where she will not be subject to prejudice. She is even able to act as a kind of surrogate mother through her work as a teacher, and the fact that she occupies this position of trust is significant, given the fears about fallen women's supposed ability to corrupt others. The cost of Emily's redemption, however, seems to be a lifelong state of penance; although Emily isn't exactly unhappy, her life is shaped by memories of her past sexual transgressions—so much so that she apparently feels it wouldn't be appropriate for her to marry.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
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David asks about Martha, and Mr. Peggotty says she married a farm-laborer, who is aware of her "true story." As for Mrs. Gummidge, Mr. Peggotty laughingly explains that a ship's cook proposed to her, but that Mrs. Gummidge rejected him by overturning a bucket on his head. Nevertheless, Mr. Peggotty says, Mrs. Gummidge has been a helpful and uncomplaining assistant to him and Emily
Interestingly, Martha isn't subject to the same "punishment" as little Em'ly, perhaps because her own sexual misdeeds weren't a "betrayal" of the novel's main character. Regardless, Martha's story is true to life; because relatively few immigrants to Australia were women, those women who did immigrate stood a good chance of marrying even with a suspect personal history.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Finally, David asks about Mr. Micawber, and Mr. Peggotty says has paid off all his debts. Mr. Peggotty explains that both he and Mr. Micawber eventually grew successful enough to leave the countryside and settle in a town. Since then, he says, Mr. Micawber has become a magistrate, and he shows David a newspaper article recounting a public dinner given in Micawber's honor. The article also mentions that a Doctor Mell presided over the dinner and gave a speech praising Micawber, and David delightedly realizes that this is his old schoolteacher. Mr. Peggotty then points out another section of the paper, which contains a typically ornate letter from Mr. Micawber to David, publically congratulating him for his success and thanking him for the "intellectual feasts" (that is, novels) he has provided to the residents of Port Middlebray.
The opportunities for social advancement are so plentiful that even Mr. Micawber has managed to succeed, not only paying off his debts but working his way up to the position of magistrate (just as Mrs. Micawber once hoped that he would). Even more unexpectedly, Mr. Mell—a relatively minor character from the novel's early chapters—resurfaces in greatly improved circumstances. Since Mell was the kind but impoverished teacher unjustly fired because of Steerforth's and Creakle's classism, his happy ending underscores the novel's contention that virtue is ultimately rewarded regardless of class.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Mr. Peggotty stays with David and Agnes for roughly a month: both Peggotty and Miss Betsey come to London to see him, and they all have many more chats about Mr. Micawber and the other settlers. Shortly before Mr. Peggotty leaves, he and David visit Ham's grave in Yarmouth: David copies the inscription for Mr. Peggotty, who takes some grass from the grave to give to little Em'ly.
Although Mr. Peggotty and the other immigrants have made new and largely happy lives for themselves in Australia, they can't (and don't intend to) entirely leave the past behind. The grass Mr. Peggotty gathers from Ham's grave is a reminder of the past painful experiences that have shaped them, and that they continue to grapple with.
Themes
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon