Martin Chuzzlewit | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Martin Chuzzlewit | Plot Summary

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Summary

Chuzzlewit's Family Situation

The elder Martin Chuzzlewit is a bitter man who sees money as a curse on his family. Throughout his family's history, money and greed have been a source of corruption and conflict. Mr. Chuzzlewit has a grandson, Martin, of whom he is very fond. He has also taken on a ward named Mary Graham, who becomes his caretaker. Martin and Mary fall in love against Mr. Chuzzlewit's wishes, and since Martin refuses to renounce his feelings for Mary, he is forced to leave.

Martin Joins Mr. Pecksniff

Martin reads an advertisement by Mr. Pecksniff for architecture students, and he decides to go and study with Mr. Pecksniff, not realizing that they are distantly related. Mr. Pecksniff is a greedy, hypocritical architect who has never actually designed anything and likely steals his students' designs as his own. He has two daughters named Mercy and Charity. Mr. Pecksniff takes Martin on as a student in hopes of getting closer to Mr. Chuzzlewit's fortune.

While at Mr. Pecksniff's house, Martin becomes friends with Tom Pinch. Tom is an ex-student of Mr. Pecksniff's who now works for him. Tom worships Mr. Pecksniff, and Mr. Pecksniff doesn't really care much about Tom or treat him well. Tom is actually in love with Mary as well, having seen her in the church when he played the organ, but he keeps it a secret.

The elder Mr. Chuzzlewit meets with Mr. Pecksniff and tells him to throw Martin out. Martin goes to London to figure out what to do. Then Mr. Chuzzlewit appears to fall increasingly under the influence of Mr. Pecksniff, eventually moving in with him.

Meanwhile, elder Martin Chuzzlewit's brother, Anthony, grows sick and eventually dies. His son, Jonas, inherits everything. Jonas eventually proposes to Mr. Pecksniff's youngest daughter, Mercy, even though everyone supposed he would propose to the eldest, Charity. Jonas also demands an extra thousand pounds in addition to the four thousand Mr. Pecksniff had already promised to settle on Mercy.

Voyage to America

In London, Martin forms a friendship with Mark Tapley, a cheerful man who previously worked at the Blue Dragon Inn, near Mr. Pecksniff's house. They decide to go to America together and board a ship called the Screw. They have almost no money, so they ride in steerage the whole way. Once in the United States, they make their way to a place called Eden, where they are conned into buying property. Everyone in Eden is dying of fever, and Mark and Martin almost die there as well. This experience has a profound effect on both men, and they eventually return to England changed. Martin returns to his grandfather to ask for his forgiveness, but Mr. Chuzzlewit is now under the control of Mr. Pecksniff and refuses to respond to Martin.

Schemes

Jonas gets caught up in a scheme with Mr. Tigg, who is a friend of Chevy Slyme. Mr. Slyme is a widely disliked distant Chuzzlewit relative. Mr. Tigg hooks Jonas into his scheme and then blackmails him to keep him involved.

Around this time, Tom Pinch finally realizes what kind of person Mr. Pecksniff is. He goes to London and finds his sister, and they move into a flat together. He sees his friend John Westlock there, and through John a mysterious benefactor offers Tom a job cataloguing books.

Mr. Pecksniff also gets involved in Mr. Tigg's scheme, and Jonas becomes increasingly more paranoid and erratic. He finally murders Mr. Tigg. Jonas is confronted by the elder Mr. Chuzzlewit, Martin, Mark, and John Westlock, who learned from a physician that Jonas poisoned his father. The police arrive and arrest Jonas for the murder of Mr. Montague Tigg, but Jonas takes poison and kills himself.

The Ending

The elder Martin Chuzzlewit gathers everyone together and reveals that he has been deceiving them all. He was testing Mr. Pecksniff, and Mr. Pecksniff failed the test. Martin and his grandfather are reunited, and Martin and Mary are given permission to marry. Mr. Pecksniff has been ruined by Mr. Tigg's scheme and is left destitute and miserable, but as hypocritical as ever.

John and Tom's sister Ruth get engaged and invite Tom to live with them as a family. Mr. Pecksniff's daughter Charity is jilted again on her wedding day. The book concludes with Tom watching Mary and Martin's child play while he plays the organ.

Martin Chuzzlewit Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Young Martin goes to Mr. Pecksniff's.

Rising Action

2 The Pecksniffs return from London and kick Martin out.

3 Martin and Mark board a ship to America.

4 Anthony Chuzzlewit dies, and Jonas gives him a funeral.

5 Jonas proposes to Mercy instead of Charity.

6 Martin and Mark buy land in Eden and go there via steamboat.

7 Mark and Martin return to England.

8 Mr. Tigg is murdered.

Climax

9 Elder Martin brings everyone together to reveal his scheme.

Falling Action

10 Ruth and John Westlock get engaged.

11 Charity is jilted at her wedding.

Resolution

12 Tom watches Martin and Mary's child play.

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