The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 40 | Summary

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Summary

Upon returning to London, Mr. Pickwick is arrested by a sheriff's officer, Namby, and his assistant, Smouch, despite Sam's attempts to block them. Pickwick says he is ready to go to prison immediately, but he must wait until he can appear in court. That happens late in the day, and he is committed to the Fleet Prison until he pays the damages and costs of Bardell v. Pickwick, which he asserts he will never do. For his first night, Mr. Pickwick rents a bed from one of the turnkeys.

Analysis

This is the moment that could have broken Mr. Pickwick's resolve. It is one thing for him to say he was willing to go to prison; it is another thing to actually go there. Yet Pickwick is strangely calm and resolved, almost eager to go. It seems clear that in spite of the stories he has heard, he really has no idea what prison will be like.

Once he gets there, he is quickly exposed to the corrupt nature of debtors' prisons, where anything was available as long as a prisoner could afford it. Mr. Pickwick has no compunction about paying for a private room for the night. It is a startling inconsistency in his character: he refuses to pay the damages in Bardell v. Pickwick because he does not believe Dodson and Fogg deserve to make money—an understandable perspective—yet he is willing to pay a turnkey, a jail worker, for the privilege of sleeping in his bed. Why does the turnkey deserve that money? Perhaps Mr. Pickwick is simply too tired to be philosophical at this point.

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