The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 20 | Summary



Returning to town, Mr. Pickwick calls upon Dodson and Fogg. While waiting he overhears the clerks describing the lawyers' unscrupulous practices. When he is able to see Dodson and Fogg, they insult him and refuse to compromise.

Mr. Pickwick decides to go see Perker, the lawyer, but he and Sam stop for a drink first. At the tavern Sam encounters his father. Mr. Weller tells Sam he regrets his second marriage, and Sam counters with his own regret that Job Trotter was able to fool him. Mr. Weller recognizes his description of the two men and offers to show Sam and Pickwick where they are now. They agree to meet up in a few days. Sam and Mr. Pickwick search for Perker, but he is gone for the day. Instead, they find his clerk, Mr. Lowten, who invites them to join him and his friends for the evening.


This chapter offers Dickens's perspective on lawyers. Dodson and Fogg are already questionable characters to Mr. Pickwick, since they are a party to this baseless lawsuit. What he overhears in their office provides no consolation. The clerks describe a man who hurries into the office to pay a debt, only to be told—falsely—that he is too late and papers have already been filed against him. After the poor man leaves, Fogg sends a clerk to file the papers after the fact. They have no sympathy for the poor man; in fact, they claim they are teaching him a valuable lesson.

When Mr. Pickwick meets with the two lawyers, he fares no better than that unfortunate client. They seem to be inviting him to cause more trouble, and only Sam's interference prevents that. Once again, Mr. Pickwick is clueless about how the world works. He acts as if all he needed to do was proclaim his innocence and the whole problem will vanish. Sam, wiser to the ways of lawyers, brings him away before he can do any more damage to himself.

The introduction of Sam's father provides another opportunity for Dickens to explore the colorful language and attitudes of lower-class Londoners. Sam was by far the most popular character in The Pickwick Papers at the time of its publication. The reader learns that Sam and his father have not seen each other in two years, but Mr. Weller seems far more preoccupied with the discomfort of his marriage than he is interested in his son. Mr. Weller asserts that his wife was far more charming as a widow than she is now as a wife; he also claims that marriage to a widow "as has got a good loud woice" will cure gout because it will eliminate the chance for partying or relaxation. Based on Sam's earlier description, it seems likely the widow married Mr. Weller for his money and, as those marriages seem to turn out in The Pickwick Papers, they are now a distant and unhappy couple. Dickens often uses members of the plain-speaking lower classes to state a bald fact that the upper classes might try to conceal; Mr. Weller states that marriage in general is a mistake. Dickens has now firmly established one side of the case against marriage; in later chapters he explores the other perspective.

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