The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 27 | Summary

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Summary

Sam goes to visit his father and stepmother. He arrives to find his father off working and his stepmother visiting with a clergyman named Mr. Stiggins. Sam has tea with Mr. Stiggins and his stepmother and listens to them complaining about his father, who refuses to donate to any of Mr. Stiggins's charitable causes. His father returns, and when Mr. Stiggins and his stepmother are out of hearing, Sam hears his father's many complaints about Stiggins.

Analysis

Sam repeatedly refers to Mrs. Weller as his "mother-in-law." To a modern reader, a "mother-in-law" is the mother of one's spouse, but in Dickens's time, "mother-in-law" could also refer to a stepmother, who was not a person's biological mother, but stood in a motherly role by law (because of marriage to the person's father).

Now the reader has the opportunity to judge religious hypocrisy without Mr. Weller's interpretations. Mr. Stiggins is certainly well-treated by Sam's stepmother and critical of Sam's father. Chiefly, Stiggins objects to Mr. Weller's reluctance to give money to help poor children in other countries. When questioned by Sam, Mr. Weller suggests he would rather give money to help poor people at home in England, including himself. Mr. Weller also points out that a charitable collection was taken up to pay bills for Mr. Stiggins, who apparently couldn't be bothered to pay his own bills.

Acquainted as he was with life in the poorer parts of London, Dickens was understandably offended by religious programs that pleaded with people to help the "savages" and "heathens" of other countries when many were starving and penniless just outside the church door. This is a topic Dickens would return to in later novels, notably in the figure of the hypocritical Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House.

Mr. Weller also once again asserts the suffering of marriage, claiming that he has no ability to stop Stiggins's visits to his house. As with Mr. and Mrs. Pott in Chapter 13, the wife rules the family through manipulation and emotional tyranny, and the husband, ostensibly the head of the household, suffers because of it.

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