David Copperfield

David Copperfield Summary and Analysis of Chapters 51-55

Mr. Peggotty visits David and Miss Betsey to tell them Little Em’ly’s story. Apparently she escaped from Littimer in a delirium but was rescued and nursed back to health by a woman whose husband was a sailor. Mr. Peggotty gets very overcome when talking about this woman, feeling so grateful to her for helping Emily. Little Em’ly then continued traveling through France and England. She remained afraid, however, that her family would turn her away. Thus, she never made it to Yarmouth but turned around and ended up in London.

Mr. Peggotty reveals that he has decided to take Little Em’ly to Australia, where she can start over without anybody knowing her. He and David go to Yarmouth to say goodbye to Ham. While he is there, David visits Mr. Omer, who is becoming more and more ill but remains quite jovial and happy. Ham asks David to tell Emily that he loves her and that he is sorry to have scared her away with his powerful feelings for her. Mrs. Grummidge decides to go with Mr. Peggotty and Little Em’ly, and she makes the trip back to London happily, much unlike her former, depressed self.

Mr. Micawber, Agnes, David, Traddles, and Miss Betsey all meet at an inn, preparing to confront Uriah Heep about his crimes. They go to his home, where Mr. Micawber reads a long list of all of the crimes he has committed. These include forcing Mr. Wickfield into business deals when he was not capable of making them, forging signatures, fudging numbers in accounts, and so on. As Mr. Micawber is reading this list, Uriah finally abandons his humble demeanor and begins insulting everyone, especially David, saying that David always acted proud and conceited toward Uriah. Uriah’s lack of power in the present situation, combined with his mother’s pleas for him to “be ’umble,” finally force Uriah to comply with their demands to get their property back. Miss Betsey also reveals that Uriah caused her own financial ruin, and she gets her property back as well. With the issue of Uriah Heep now settled, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber reconcile. They decide to go to Australia after fixing their relationship with Mrs. Micawber’s family.

The older David again lingers on his memories, recalling the circumstances of his child-wife’s death. He recalls how he and Dora used to talk about what they would do when she got better and all of the places from their time of courtship that they would revisit. Sadly, however, one day Dora asks to see Agnes. She reveals to David that she knows that she will not get better. He refuses to say it himself, but he knows that it is true. The last time he speaks to Dora, she tells him that she was too young to marry him but that she loves him very much for loving her the way he has. Agnes finally goes up to be with Dora while David sits downstairs with Jip, who is whining to go upstairs. Suddenly, Jip dies at David’s feet, and soon after, Agnes comes down to let him know that Dora has passed away as well.

David moves past the sorrowful memories with difficulty. He goes on to recount the meeting of Miss Betsey, Agnes, and Traddles in Canterbury. Traddles discovers that he can regain all of Miss Betsey’s property as well as Mr. Wickfield’s money, and Agnes decides to rent the house and open a school to keep her and her father financially stable. David, meanwhile, decides that he will go abroad after his wife’s death, but before he leaves, Miss Betsey takes him to a hospital and a funeral. She reveals that her husband, who has been dragging money out of her, has finall died and will no longer be a problem. Thus, David can leave the country with peace of mind on this issue.

Before he leaves, David travels to Yarmouth to deliver a letter from Little Em’ly to Ham. He cannot find Ham at his house, and he begins to feel very uneasy at Ham’s absence. As he was entering the town, a storm rolled in. Soon a ship in the distance is wrecked. All of the sailors appear to be dead except one in a red cap, who is waving for help. Ham comes out of nowhere and ties a rope around his own waist, insisting that he go out and try to save the man. He almost succeeds, but a large wave comes crashing down on him and kills him before he can reach the sailor. As David is mourning Ham’s loss, a fisherman calls him out to the shore once more, where he sees the body of Steerforth lying in the same position that he had slept in during his days at Salem House.


Little Emily finally finds peace after her long trial, and now she is heading to Australia where she can start over. She has faced her troubles and gotten over them with the help of her family, and now she is ready to move on. An interesting detail in her story is the fact that she was nursed back to health by the wife of a sailor. This calls to mind the sea, which has taken away many lives and will take more. The sea, in a sense, is giving her another chance.

Meanwhile, the situation with Uriah finally comes to a head. When confronted by everyone whom he has defrauded, Uriah shows his true colors. He drops his humility act and begins cursing everybody until he finally realizes that he has no power anymore, for nobody believes him any longer. The power of the assembled group has overcome his individual manipulative power, and in a sense the community has restored justice. The whole situation ends well, and everyone gets what is rightfully theirs.

The Micawbers, finally having a chance to escape their misery, expect to fix their problems in England, both financially and with Mrs. Micawber’s family. They will head for Australia, which suggests an entirely new life and identity, hopefully one that is successful. In being made whole again, they can fully return to reality, yet they would rather leave England behind and start over more fully.

When Dora finally passes away, of course the scene is profoundly sad. In her final encounter with David, she finally seems to grow out of her childish frame of mind, admitting that she was too young to marry him. The prospect of death makes people mature quickly. In a rather bald moment of parallelism, Jip dies at the same moment as Dora. This is more than a melodramatic coincidence, because Jip’s death symbolizes the death of Dora’s free spirit as well as her body.

In addition, Jip’s death reminds us of the deep heartache involved in the death of a best friend or family member. The memory of Dora’s death is very difficult for the older David, which reveals how much he still loved her in spite of everything. Indeed, David’s grief at the time remains strong and eventually drives him out of the country. He too needs a change of scene.

Another death of a spouse is noted in this section, but it has a completely different feel, and the spouse reacts very differently. Miss Betsey’s ex-husband has died, but he was already dead to her and had been a particular thorn in her side. She survived the persecution and financial difficulties that he caused her, and having done so, she is now truly a free woman. Among all the characters who find themselves alone or unencumbered, Miss Betsey’s freedom is probably the most satisfying. Her story is a triumphant endorsement of the strength of women, who do not necessarily need men in order to be happy and successful.

There are still more deaths in this section, which emphasize other themes. The death of Steerforth calls into question the role of the sea as a mystical force, seemingly with the power to give life and, especially, to take away lives. In terms of poetic justice, Dickens chooses to have Steerforth die perhaps as punishment for his haughtiness or his stealing away of Emily. In addition, the eerie position of his body reminds David of his promise to only remember Steerforth at his best. As for Ham, his death might also be a kind of poetic justice; Dickens might be killing him off because he has attempted to interfere with what the novel needs to be done. Ham’s death might also be a result of his willingness to risk his life because he might see little left to live for himself, considering the extent of the emotional damage inflicted on him by the elopement of his fiancée.