The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Pickwick sets off on his travels. Even before leaving London, he accidentally upsets a cab driver, who challenges him to a fight. Mr. Pickwick and his friends are rescued by a tall, thin young man, whom they later learn is named Mr. Jingle. They all take the coach to Rochester together, and the Pickwickians enjoy Mr. Jingle's company. After dinner, which they share with Jingle, the Pickwickians doze off, except for Mr. Jingle and Mr. Tupman, who decide to attend a ball being held at the inn. Mr. Jingle doesn't have the proper clothes, so Mr. Tupman lends him a new suit of Mr. Winkle's, which features special "P.C." buttons to honor the Pickwick Club. At the ball Mr. Jingle interferes with a local doctor's romance with a widow. He succeeds so well that the doctor challenges him to a duel, but Mr. Jingle ignores him and leaves.

The next morning a messenger arrives asking for a man who wears a coat with "P.C." buttons. Since it is Mr. Winkle's coat, he receives a challenge. He was drunk and has no memory of the previous night, but the messenger describes his coat precisely, so he feels obligated to participate. He swears Mr. Snodgrass to secrecy and invites him to be his second for the duel. Mr. Winkle is terrified that he will be shot, but Dr. Slammer, the insulted doctor, realizes that Mr. Winkle was not the man who insulted him. The matter is cleared up and Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass invite the doctor and his friends to dine with the Pickwickians that evening.

Analysis

Mr. Pickwick and his friends set off on their travels and immediately run into trouble. Mr. Pickwick may be highly esteemed by the members of his club, but he is shockingly naïve for an older man. He realizes that his notetaking has led the cab driver to believe he is an "informer," but he is unable to combat the charge or extract himself or his friends from the angry crowd. This incident also contrasts with the argument in the last chapter: Blotton and Mr. Pickwick, while speaking forcefully, are both willing, even eager, to withdraw their statements and end the fight. The cabman and the mob that supports him won't be satisfied without a physical battle. This won't be the last time that Mr. Pickwick is surprised by the realities of life outside his sheltered world.

This chapter introduces Mr. Jingle, although he is known only as "the tall, thin man" for some time. Mr. Jingle is an extraordinary creature: he wears once-elegant clothes that are now old and dirty, and the clothes were clearly designed for a smaller man. At first Mr. Jingle seems heroic: he rescues the Pickwickians from the mob, after all. A careful reading of that incident shows that Mr. Jingle is, in fact, adept at using the situation to his advantage. He calls for brandy and water to soothe the Pickwickians' nerves, but he drinks plenty of it himself and claims he doesn't have the right change to pay. Notice the name "Mr. Jingle"—it sounds harmless and inoffensive, but it also brings to mind the sound of coins clinking together. By the time of the incident at the ball, most readers of Dickens's time would be aware that Mr. Jingle is behaving inappropriately.

Duels come up repeatedly in The Pickwick Papers, but this is the closest any Pickwickian ever gets to fighting. Duels had been a more common practice in the England of earlier days, but by the 1800s they were falling out of favor. Duels usually were held to avenge an insult to someone's honor. Each person in the duel had a "second," a friend who was responsible for trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement, but also made arrangements for the weapons and for a doctor to be present at the site of the duel. Mr. Winkle's reluctance to duel also provides some insight into his character: someone who is an excellent hunter and sportsman might be less perturbed at the idea of a duel. Fortunately for Mr. Winkle, Dr. Slammer realizes his mistake and the entire duel scenario ends up being more of a farce than a tragedy. In case the farcical qualities of the duel weren't obvious enough, in a fight between someone named Slammer and someone named Mr. Winkle, who seems likely to win? Dickens uses the doctor's name to convey his nature.

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