The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

The novel is introduced as coming from the annals of the Pickwick Club; its goal is to provide further insight into the remarkable Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick is an older man, bald, with glasses; he dresses in a respectable and conventional manner. His friends, who are sitting with him at the meeting, are a more varied bunch. Mr. Tupman is an older man, very plump, but still passionate about romance. Mr. Snodgrass, an aspiring poet, wears a "mysterious" cloak, and Mr. Winkle wears a shooting coat as if to promote his "sporting" reputation. The records are dated in 1827, placing the action of the novel a decade earlier than its publication. The club's papers include an acknowledgement of Mr. Pickwick's research, "Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with Some Observation on the Theory of Tittlebats," which they proclaim to be of tremendous scientific value. Mr. Pickwick and three of his friends are going to travel around the country and do research.

As Mr. Pickwick speaks, he is interrupted by cheers and also by an argument from Mr. Blotton, another club member. Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Blotton get into an argument, which is smoothed over through the efforts of Mr. Pickwick's friends.

Analysis

Although the book begins with a celebration of Mr. Pickwick's great accomplishments, the reader is repeatedly informed that Mr. Pickwick does not appear to be an unusual or extraordinary man, but that club members are awed by his intellect. In fact, Mr. Pickwick's "awesome" achievements are silly, rather than profound. Mr. Pickwick is a good man but not a great intellectual. The chapter's style is elaborate, even florid; Dickens treats the pronouncements of this small and not-very-important club as if they are the proceedings of Parliament. The tone is deliberately ironic.

This chapter also introduces four of the main characters. Dickens had to create short, vivid characterizations of the four men so that readers could remember them over the next 20 months.

Dickens enjoyed giving his characters names that are suggestive of their identity. Mr. Pickwick's name, for example, includes the word wick, as in a candle's wick. This suggests that Mr. Pickwick is a source of light or goodness. His first name, Samuel, is that of a Biblical prophet, which seems appropriate, since his friends treat his pronouncements as if he is a source of wisdom. Mr. Tupman's name sounds like "tub" or "tubby," which fits his description. For a poet Mr. Snodgrass is a particularly unmelodious name, and Mr. Winkle is a weak and foolish-sounding name for a man who claims to be an ardent lover of the masculine pursuits of hunting, riding, and so on. Even more obvious is the name of Mr. Blotton, Mr. Pickwick's antagonist inside the Pickwick Club: "blot on."

Mr. Pickwick's argument with Mr. Blotton provides additional insight into Pickwick's character. Mr. Pickwick is a benevolent man, but he does not dismiss or ignore Blotton: he argues with him and is prepared to take it further until Mr. Snodgrass and the Chairman intervene.

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