Martin Chuzzlewit | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Martin Chuzzlewit | Chapters 16–18 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 16: Martin Disembarks from That Noble and Fast-Sailing Line-of-Packet Ship, 'The Screw', at the Port of New York, in the United States of America. He Makes Some Acquaintances, and Dines at a Boarding-House. The Particulars of Those Transactions

Chapter 16 begins with a scene of newspaper boys hawking papers on the ship, before the passengers have even managed to disembark. There is an impression of chaotic yelling and newspaper selling, and in the midst of it Martin meets a "sallow gentleman" who asks him questions and turns out to be Colonel Diver, the editor of a newspaper called "the New York Rowdy Journal."

The captain orders champagne for Colonel Diver and the other newspaper editors present, in order to be favorably written about, and they all go to the captain's quarters. Colonel Diver offers Martin champagne and to introduce him to a "genteel boarding-house." Martin tells Mark to wait for him at the Rowdy Journal office, and goes with Colonel Diver into New York. They go first to the Rowdy Journal office, where Colonel Diver introduces Martin to his war correspondent, Mr. Brick. Colonel Diver and Mr. Brick are surprised that Martin has never heard of or read the articles by Mr. Brick. Martin reads one of his articles and declares it "horribly personal," which Mr. Brick and Colonel Diver find flattering.

The group goes to the boardinghouse Colonel Diver has suggested, and they meet Major Pawkins, the proprietor. The major informs Martin that America is experiencing a commercial depression, and then directs Martin to talk to Mrs. Pawkins about the particulars of rent and lodging. Martin has drinks with the other lodgers, and when an alarm goes off, he confusedly watches everyone run to try and get a seat in the dining room. Colonel Diver has already reserved a seat for Martin. After dinner, the men move to another room to talk, and the main subject of their discussion is money. When Martin brings up the topics of art and literature, they proclaim these to be a waste of time.

Martin begins talking to a man who seems to be ignored by the other boarders. The gentleman asks Martin if he likes Colonel Diver, and Martin replies that he doesn't. The gentleman reveals to Martin that Colonel Diver gets reduced rents for bringing people to the boardinghouse. He seems disdainful of the other men in the room, and tells Martin that they aren't good examples of Americans, though they can be found in large numbers. The two of them take a walk.

Chapter 17: Martin Enlarges His Circle of Acquaintance; Increases His Stock of Wisdom; and Has an Excellent Opportunity of Comparing His Own Experiences with Those of Lummy Ned of the Light Salisbury, As Related by His Friend Mr. William Simmons

Martin finally remembers that he asked Mark to wait for him at the Rowdy Journal office, and asks his new acquaintance if he will walk with him there. Martin finds out that the man is from a small town in Massachusetts, and that he is fond of his home and of America on the whole. Martin tells the man his hopes about coming to America, and the man responds skeptically that he might not have much luck in New York.

Martin finds Mark at the office whistling "Rule Britannia" for an older African American man. Martin asks Mark about the man he was whistling for, and Mark confides that he was a slave. Mark relates the story of how the man, Cicero, bought his freedom and is saving up to buy his daughter's freedom before he dies. Mark, Martin, and Martin's new friend Mr. Bevan, all take Martin to friends of Mr. Bevan's, while Cicero takes their belongings to the boardinghouse.

The friends of Mr. Bevan are a family from England, the Norrises, and Martin is uncomfortable that they seem to know the aristocracy. Martin develops a liking for the two daughters, however, and things go along fine until General Fladdock joins them. The general was also a passenger on the Screw, and Martin is forced to confess that he was a steerage passenger. The family is horrified and Martin leaves. Mr. Bevan leaves as well and apologizes to Martin, saying he was already aware that Martin was a steerage passenger.

They return to the boardinghouse, where the ladies greet Mr. Bevan coldly. Mr. Bevan re-emphasizes what he told Martin earlier, that Martin would probably have to leave New York to find what he's looking for. Martin is dejected, but Mark tells him he must look forward and stay focused on the future.

Chapter 18: Does Business with the House of Anthony Chuzzlewit and Son, from Which One of the Partners Retires Unexpectedly

Chapter 18 shifts back to the characters still in England, and follows Anthony and Jonas Chuzzlewit. Anthony Chuzzlewit complains about how cold he feels, and Jonas tells his father not to ruin his clothes by getting too close to the fire. Jonas complains that his father will live long just to spite Jonas and keep him from his inheritance. Chuffey comforts Anthony, and Jonas tells him that there's no need for him to put so much energy into taking care of Anthony since Anthony has already provided for Chuffey in his will.

Pecksniff arrives and meets in private with Anthony. Pecksniff tells Anthony that he is honored that Anthony would write him a letter and take him into his confidences. Anthony tells Pecksniff that Jonas "is sweet on" his daughter Charity. Anthony begins to rave about getting older and dying, which frightens Mr. Pecksniff. Anthony tells Mr. Pecksniff that Charity only has a small hold over Jonas, and to be careful not to force it or Jonas will back out.

When Jonas returns, Mr. Pecksniff tells him that he thinks his father is dying. Jonas doesn't believe Mr. Pecksniff and asks after his daughters. Anthony falls to the floor and has trouble breathing, and a doctor is called. Jonas suddenly becomes afraid that his father really will die, and asks Mr. Pecksniff to stay. The next morning, they put Anthony in his chair and place it by the window, and he dies.

Analysis

The reader's first glimpse into America is chaos and newspapers with satirical names like "the New York Sewer" and "the New York Keyhole Reporter."

Colonel Diver is made out to be a suspicious character pretty quickly, from the first description of his looks and his expression as "a sallow gentleman with sunken cheeks, black hair, small twinkling eyes, and a singular expression hovering about that region of his face, which was not a frown, nor a leer, and yet might have been mistaken at the first glance for either." Yet this description by the narrator doesn't seem to be the same qualities that Martin notices, for he converses with the man and gives him information about himself. That he does this shows how naive Martin really is, and sets a slightly ominous tone for his future interactions in America.

While in the office with Mr. Brick and Colonel Diver, Martin brings up the topic of slavery in such a way that the reader understands his disapproval of it. He remarks on the so-called "independence" of Americans, that there are a "few thousands here, rather the reverse of independent, who do as they don't like."

Some less likeable parts of Martin's character are glimpsed again in the very beginning of Chapter 17, with the statement "It was characteristic of Martin, that all this while he had either forgotten Mark Tapley as completely as if there had been no such person ... " Martin clearly doesn't consider Mark worth troubling too much over, despite the fact that Mark looked after him the entire sea voyage, and agreed to come to America with Martin for no payment.

As suits Mark's character, he, like Martin, seems dead-set against the institution of slavery, and befriends an old man who had escaped slavery. There is a distinctly sharp conversation between Martin and Mr. Norris in which Martin calls out Mr. Norris's opinions about their being "a natural antipathy between the races," wherein Martin replies that this might be due to the fact that the African American population is forced to endure "the cruelest of tortures, and the bargain and sale of unborn generations."

There is some interesting satirical commentary on the American idea of independence. The ladies at Martin's boardinghouse seem to be caricatures of the independent and educated American woman, as they only attend obscure philosophical lectures and do no "domestic duties."

The scenes between Anthony Chuzzlewit and his son Jonas show the reader that Jonas seems to have control over his father. He is also revealed to be an extremely petty, mean sort of person who cares far more about his inheritance than his own father or his father's comfort.

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