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The Pickwick Papers | Symbols



Food is very important in The Pickwick Papers. It represents abundance, comfort, and happiness. Dickens spends a lot of time describing the meals eaten by the Pickwickians. Several characters—Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tupman, and Mr. Weller, not to mention Joe the servant boy—are described as being overweight. At the time, people would see that as a sign of prosperity rather than a health issue, and Dickens provides meals to match. Even the description of Manor Farm when they first arrive (Chapter 5) emphasizes the food stored in the kitchen. During the Bardell v. Pickwick trial, one of the letters Mr. Pickwick has written to Mrs. Bardell focuses on food, specifically "chops and tomata sauce." The prosecuting attorney claims he couldn't possibly have written a letter to Mrs. Bardell merely to ask for chops and tomata sauce, but given the importance of food in this book, the reader finds it quite plausible.

Lacking in food, or eating only poor quality food, also functions symbolically in the book. As Sam points out in Chapter 22:

'It's a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,' said Sam, 'that poverty and oysters always seem to go together ... The poorer a place is, the greater call there seems to be for oysters. Look, here, Sir; here's a oyster stall to every half-dozen houses—the street's lined vith 'em. Blessed if I don't think that ven a man's wery poor, he rushes out of his lodgings, and eats oysters in reg'lar desperation.'

In fact, oysters were considered a "poor man's food" because they were easy to store in tubs and they would "keep" a long time. Compare that to Mr. Pickwick who, in Chapter 2, dines on fresh-caught sole. Dickens points out that in prison Mr. Jingle and Job—before Pickwick helps them—are planning to eat "a small piece of raw loin of mutton" (Chapter 42). Mutton is the meat of an older sheep; it has a strong flavor and is very tough unless cooked properly. After Pickwick's help, Job tells Sam they will eat "half a leg of mutton, baked ... with the potatoes under it, to save boiling" (Chapter 45). They are still eating inexpensive food, but there is much more of it and it will be prepared in a more appetizing way. In contrast, Mr. Pickwick's meal in Chapter 51, when he travels with Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen, is described by Sam as "pair of fowls, Sir, and a weal cutlet; French beans, 'taturs, tart, and tidiness."


Clothes in The Pickwick Papers function as a symbol of a character's identity. Interestingly, the focus is far more on men's clothes than on women's. In Chapter 2 the narrator states that "Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire." Mr. Pickwick is one of these men who is not "over-scrupulous;" in fact he is so often described as wearing gaiters that when he leaves them off to dance at Christmastime, his friends are shocked (Chapter 28).

More unusual or outlandish clothes make a statement about the character as well. In Chapter 1 Dickens provides descriptions of some of Mr. Pickwick's friends more elaborate clothing choices, such as Mr. Snodgrass's cape and Mr. Winkle's hunting coat. These clothes, which draw attention to their owners, seem to be a youthful manifestation of self-doubt; Dickens makes sure to note in Chapter 57 that Mr. Winkle, once married and settled, "exchanged his old costume for the ordinary dress of Englishmen." In Chapter 15 Pickwick and Mr. Tupman almost come to blows when Pickwick ridicules Mr. Tupman's idea of appearing in a costume at the costume party breakfast.

Lack of the proper clothes also makes a statement about a character. When the Pickwickians first meet Mr. Jingle in Chapter 2, Dickens slips in a comment that his clothes do not fit properly and his only luggage is a "brown paper parcel, which presented most suspicious indications of containing one shirt and a handkerchief." In Chapter 3 Mr. Jingle borrows Mr. Winkle's beautiful new suit to attend the party, which only gets Mr. Winkle into trouble because the distinctive suit is how Dr. Slammer identifies the man who insulted him. Later, when Mr. Pickwick finds Mr. Jingle in prison, Dickens describes him as "in tattered garments, and without a coat; his common calico shirt yellow and in rags" (Chapter 42). Mr. Jingle confesses that he and Job have pawned coats, extra shirts, a silk umbrella, and even boots, just to get enough money to live.

Dickens is most specific about Sam's attire. When Mr. Pickwick first meets Sam, he has upgraded his coarse clothes for new, higher quality clothes due to his employment with Pickwick. During the trial Sam insists that the main reason he remembers his first day of employment with Mr. Pickwick was because "I had a reg'lar new fit out o' clothes that mornin', gen'l'men of the jury ... and that was a wery partickler and uncommon circumstance vith me in those days" (Chapter 34). Sam is proud of his new clothes, and in fact servants' clothes were a reflection of their employer. When Sam attends the servants' party in Chapter 37, one of the servants confides in him that "we know, Mr. Weller—we, who are men of the world—that a good uniform must work its way with the women, sooner or later. In fact, that's the only thing, between you and I, that makes the service worth entering into." Even among the servants, clothes make the man.

Questions for Symbols

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Considering how David Suzuki ended his discussion, why do YOU think companies like Monsanto are fighting against laws to label genetically modified foods? Why do you think these labeling laws are not
Organic foods are produced differently than non-organic food. Why is this? Explain in 3 to 5 sentences.
The costs between non-organic and organic food types differ, why is that? Explain in a short paragraph.
Tutors, help me to rewrite the paragraph below. Don't just change the words to look different. Also don't change the meaning. It can be reasonably argue that when comparing the total population’s hist
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