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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 42 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Pickwick is assigned to a room with three other prisoners, but discovers he can pay for a private room. He arranges to rent a room from another prisoner. Pickwick asks whether there is anyone who can run errands outside, and he is told a man on the "poor side" runs errands while trying to care for a friend. On the poor side, Mr. Pickwick discovers Mr. Jingle, wearing rags and clearly starving; the man who runs errands is Job Trotter. Mr. Pickwick gives them money to alleviate some of their misery. Mr. Pickwick sends Sam away, saying he should work for one of the other Pickwickians. Sam argues, but Pickwick is adamant; Sam leaves the prison, but without agreeing to Pickwick's plan.

Analysis

When he first enters the prison, Mr. Pickwick thinks the prisoners don't suffer all that much. On his first full day, however, he changes his mind. The prisoner from whom he rents his room tearfully describes himself as a dead man. On the poor side of the prison, prisoners who cannot afford to pay for their meals and rooms are crammed together, many in a single room: young, old, sick, or well. Dickens describes a man hallucinating about riding a horse and a young child trying desperately to get a response from her ill grandfather; in the next paragraph he describes a prisoner's wife who is watering a plant that will never grow again. These images presented in parallel convey the absolute hopelessness of the surroundings.

Dickens intentionally creates this miserable atmosphere before Mr. Pickwick sees Mr. Jingle. Pickwick—and the reader—do not trust Mr. Jingle, but Dickens wants the reader to see just how low Jingle has been brought by two months in prison. Mr. Jingle remains proud and attempts to speak in his old cavalier manner, but he can't keep it up and soon breaks down in tears. Dickens notes that what really persuades Mr. Pickwick of Jingle's plight is the way Jingle looks at a small piece of meat that Job is carrying. That single moment—the sort of thing Dickens may have observed when his own father was imprisoned—expresses what Mr. Jingle has gone through in very few words.

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