The Pickwick Papers | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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The Pickwick Papers | Chapter 44 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Pickwick wants to pay Sam's bill, but Sam refuses and distracts Pickwick with a story about a man who eats a large number of crumpets, against his doctor's advice, and then blows his brains out because he didn't want to be told what to do. Sam does allow Pickwick to rent him a room from a cobbler who is imprisoned. Mr. Tupman, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass come to visit Mr. Pickwick and are shocked to hear that Sam is a prisoner. Mr. Winkle seems to be particularly upset as he was counting on Sam to help him with something. Mr. Pickwick hears that his "landlord"—the poor prisoner whose room he rents—is dying. Pickwick and Sam attend his death in the prison infirmary.

Analysis

Sam and Mr. Pickwick argue, but Sam wins his point and gets to stay. Their debate leads Pickwick to sound more like his old self, as does the visit from the other Pickwickians. Mr. Pickwick can't understand what is bothering Mr. Winkle, but the reader may be able to infer that Mr. Winkle intends to do something about Arabella Allen.

The tone of this chapter has shifted back to "normal" for Pickwick, but Dickens ensures that the prisoners' suffering is not forgotten. He uses the cobbler's story and the death of the Chancery prisoner to illustrate the cruelty of England's laws about debt. The cobbler's story of an inheritance eaten up by debt fascinated Dickens so much he later reused it in Bleak House. The death of the Chancery prisoner (Pickwick's landlord) demonstrates the inhumanity of the system. The prisoner was told six months ago he would die if he didn't get into better air, yet nothing was done to help him. The Court of Chancery was a higher court (similar to the Supreme Court or a circuit court in the United States) that usually dealt with estates, inheritance, or larger or more complex matters that might result in laws that would affect the whole nation. The problems of a single prisoner were swallowed up by this massive case, and he died without ever finding a resolution. His death creates a somber ending to what started as a rather cheerful chapter.

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