The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 41 | Summary



The turnkey leads Mr. Pickwick to his bed in debtors' prison. Pickwick seems less concerned with his own situation and more curious about the others in prison. Mr. Pickwick convinces Sam to handle some tasks outside while he goes to bed. Lonely and depressed by the sights and sounds around him, Pickwick retires to his expensive but dirty bed and falls asleep. Later he is awakened by people dancing and drinking in his room. They don't pay much attention to him until they realize he has money. Then they persuade him to buy them sherry and cigars.


Now that he is imprisoned, Mr. Pickwick is about to encounter some hard truths he has heretofore overlooked. His first experience of that comes as he enters the prison and sees small underground chambers, which he assumes are for storing coal. He is greatly shocked to hear that people live in those dark, airless places. After the turnkey leaves them, Mr. Pickwick peers into some of the other rooms, and Dickens offers brief but vivid vignettes of life in a debtors' jail.

Sam is horrified and disgusted for his master; he resents the turnkey's attitude and seems to hope that Pickwick will be so disturbed that he will choose to pay the debt immediately. Instead, Mr. Pickwick suggests to Sam that some people enjoy being locked up. Sam perfectly captures the situation by pointing out that for the ones who don't care, "it's a reg'lar holiday to them—all porter and skittles." For those who do care—"them as vould pay if they could, and gets low by being boxed up"—there are few places more dreadful that debtors' prison.

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