David begins working at Murdstone's and Grinby's warehouse washing and examining wine bottles. Three companions are working with him, two of whom go by the names of Mick Walker and Mealy Potatoes. David is very upset because they are not well-educated, and thus he has no hope of learning or becoming cultured through their influence, and he often cries because of this lack of opportunity for development. David also meets his new host, Mr. Micawber, who is not very wealthy or high in status but takes great pains to seem rich and elegant. His family consists of Mrs. Micawber, Master Micawber (age four), Miss Micawber (age three), and two baby twins. The family is visited by creditors at all hours and clearly is in financial strife. Nevertheless, they are generally cheerful.
David mainly lives on bread and butter. He keeps his own bread on a special shelf in a particular cupboard in the Micawber house. Once in a while, he manages to get a small amount of meat or ale. He often receives strange looks from shop owners, being a small boy buying his meals on his own. Importantly, David is respected at Grinby's because he never complains about his situation to anyone. Even in his letters to Peggotty he never complains, earning him the nickname, "the little gent."
The Micawbers often tell David of their financial difficulties, and to help them out, upon Mrs. Micawber's request, he helps them sell some of their possessions. Soon, however, Mr. Micawber is arrested and thrown into jail, to be followed by his family, who move in with him. David himself moves into a little room outside of the institution. Mr. Micawber becomes very popular in the prison club, and many of the inmates love to hear his petition read, for it is written in a very ornate, grand style. When Mr. Micawber is released from jail, he decides to leave London to try to find a job elsewhere. Mrs. Micawber grows frantic at the idea of staying behind, so the whole family is to leave together. Before they leave, Mr. Micawber advises David not to overspend, for he equates overspending with misery and financial prudence with happiness.
David decides that he does not want to stay around without the Micawbers, so he decides to run away to find his Aunt Betsey. He writes to Peggotty asking where she is, and Peggotty tells him promptly and sends half a guinea. In order to preserve his high status at work, he stays on for one extra week to make up for the advanced week's worth of payment he receives, after which he leaves.
The journey has a rocky start: his money and possessions are stolen by a boy he pays to carry his things. He is forced to sell first his waistcoat for money, then his jacket. In both situations, he is taken advantage of by the store owners. He is also physically abused by some travelers. Finally, he makes it to his aunt's town and is led to her house by Janet, his aunt's maid and protégée. His arrival takes Aunt Betsey very much by surprise. She consults with her live-in companion, Mr. Dick, and then bathes and feeds him.
Miss Betsey informs David the next day that she has contacted the Murdstones to see what they would like to do with him. Although his aunt does not say whether or not she will return him to them, David is terrified of having to go back to the Murdstones. Meanwhile, she sends him to check on Mr. Dick, who is writing his Memorials but has to constantly start over due to his digressions about King Charles I. David learns from Miss Betsey that Mr. Dick's brother was about to put him in an insane asylum and that she stepped in at the last minute to stop him.
The Murdstones send a letter saying that they will visit Miss Betsey, and the next day they arrive, riding all over the grass, which Miss Betsey absolutely does not allow. During their discussion, the Murdstones constantly call David the worst boy and disrespect his mother. Miss Betsey takes great offense to this, for she believes that Clara was a sweet, loving girl. She asks David if he wants to go back with them--he absolutely does not--and she agrees with Mr. Dick's advice to keep him around. She sends the Murdstones away. She renames David as Trot, short for Trotwood, and he starts his new life with her.
David and Mr. Dick become good friends, flying Mr. Dick's kite together, until one day Miss Betsey suggests that David start school in Canterbury. They go to the school and meet Mr. Wickfield, a lawyer and friend. They also meet Uriah Heep, a strange, somewhat oily character, and Agnes, Mr. Wickfield's daughter, who is about David's age and very beautiful. They decide to let David stay at Mr. Wickfield's house and attend a school in Canterbury until a better situation is arranged. Miss Betsey leaves David, giving him the advice to never be mean in anything he does, to never be cruel, and to always be true.
The subject of social class and standing comes up once again as David begins his work in the warehouse. He is extremely unhappy with his situation because he is no longer surrounded by highly educated and cultured people like his teachers or even like Steerforth. We also see this longing for higher social status through Mr. Micawber, who David says goes to great lengths to appear high class, although he and his family are constantly in financial trouble and do not hide it from David.
This warehouse portion of David's life is based on the time when Dickens himself worked in a warehouse called Warren's Blacking Factory. To Dickens, this was one of the most humiliating and miserable experiences of his life, and he always resented his parents for taking him out of school and making him work. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber may be caricatures of Dickens' own parents, for they both display traits that his parents are believed to have had.
Nevertheless, the Micawbers decide to move to London, beginning the series of frequent moves that they will undertake throughout the novel. David is buffeted from one place to another by circumstances. He follows along with them at first, but soon he realizes that he needs to escape once again. Taking matters into his own hands for the first time to visit his aunt, David shows his greater independence. He remains naïve, though, losing his possessions through theft and bad deals. There are few people worthy of trust in David’s world, which continues to be full of hardship and adversity.
The first ray of hope in this period came when Peggotty supported his escape to Betsey. This hope is vindicated when he is received by his aunt so hospitably. This gives readers further insight into her character and softens her, countering the harsh exit described in the first chapter. We get to know her even better after her encounter with the Murdstones, finding her to be a strong female figure, not at all intimidated by the forbidding appearance of Mrs. Murdstone and her brother. She seems trustworthy as a good protector of David. By the end of this period, Miss Betsey has proven to be a loving and independent woman. Her female empowerment is far in advance of what David has, and it should be seen as an attempt to help him that Betsey sends him off to school once again. This time, he is being sent as a good, developing young man rather than as a troublemaking biter.
Readers also meet Mr. Dick in this section. The fact that Miss Betsey asks for his opinion on whether or not David should stay reveals just how much she values his thoughts, despite his brother’s attempt to institutionalize him. We can certainly see the difference between the vile, conniving Mr. Murdstone and the sweet, simple Mr. Dick, who is a strong and friendly supporter of David’s development, as revealed by his answer to Miss Betsey's question: "Mr. Dick considered, hesitated, brightened, and rejoined, 'Have him measured for a suit of clothes directly.'"
In Chapter 15 we are introduced to some very important characters: Uriah Heep and Agnes Wickfield. Plenty of foreshadowing is used to hint that Uriah will play an evil role to come, with references to his "red hair" (a traditional symbol of fiery evil) and his "slimy" appearance. He hides behind a facade of humility. Agnes, on the other hand, is beautiful, quiet, and already acquainted with household chores. She is seemingly the epitome of the perfect Victorian woman.