Dombey and Son

Dombey and Son Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-19


Chapter 13

At his firm, two managers, Mr. Morfin and Mr. Carker, aid Mr. Dombey. Morfin is amiable, while Carker is very crafty. Mr. Carker mentions that the firm needs to send someone to work at its office in the Barbados, and is going to let Morfin choose whom to send. Dombey, however, happens to be interrupted by Walter, who uncomfortably reminds him of Florence. He announces to Walter that he will be sending him to the West Indies. Walter is stunned but agrees to go. After the conversation, James Carker, Manager, summons John Carker, Junior, into his office. James is angry at being reminded of John’s presence, and alludes to a disgrace he has caused. Walter is distressed by this exchange and tries to take the blame. After he leaves, he hears the brothers continuing to talk and John Carker explaining that Walter reminds him of the person he once was; he says that he has looked out for him, hoping Walter would not make the same mistakes he had. Walter questions John Carker about this afterwards, and John explains that he had stolen money from the firm as a young man and was disgraced, but was allowed to continue working there in a low-ranking position. He is deeply ashamed and no longer has any hopes or ambitions in life.

Chapter 14

Despite his academic difficulties and dreamy ways, Paul has gradually bonded with the staff and students at the Blimber School. At the same time, he has become sicklier. He is released from his studies shortly before the vacation is to begin. As the school prepares for an end-of-term party, a future pupil and his parents, the Skettles, arrive to visit the school. Paul and Florence charm everyone, and when Paul leaves the school to return to London for the vacation, he is shown a great deal of affection. He returns to London, where his state of confusion and the reaction of other characters suggest that his health is declining.

Chapter 15

Walter has been delaying telling his uncle that he will be moving to the West Indies. He explains to Captain Cuttle that he is worried about what the news will mean for his uncle, and he asks for help convincing him that his absence will only be temporary. He also wants Sol to think that his position in the West Indies is a good one, when it is really a very humble one. Walter asks Captain Cuttle to break the news to his uncle, and while he does so, Walter goes for a long walk. Wandering along, he is accosted by Nipper, who is trying to find her way to Stagg’s Garden. Paul is very ill and wants to see Richards, and Nipper is trying to find her. It turns out that Stagg’s Garden has been destroyed due to the construction of railway tracks, but they are able to learn of the new address of the Toodles, and go there. Walter personally escorts Susan and Richards back to the Dombey house.

Chapter 16

Paul says his farewells to Walter and Richards, and then dies in the arms of his sister.

Chapter 17

Captain Cuttle has delayed telling Sol the news about Walter’s new job because he had hoped he could persuade Mr. Dombey to change his mind. However, Paul’s death makes that possibility unlikely, so he tells Solomon, making it sound like a good opportunity for Walter. Sol is shocked, but reconciles himself to the idea. Captain Cuttle continues to feel uneasy so he decides to go and speak to Carker. Carker seems to reassure him that Walter has bright prospects in the firm, and Cuttle is too trusting and optimistic to be suspicious. He expresses his hopes of there someday being a marriage between Florence and Walter.

Chapter 18

Mr. Dombey is paralyzed by grief. Mrs. Chick tells Florence that Sir Barnet and Lady Skettles have invited her to stay with them. Florence says she would rather stay at home, even though she learns that her father is planning to go abroad. Mr. Toots also comes to visit her and brings her Diogenes, the dog that Paul had befriended at the Blimber School. Florence makes one overture to try to share her grief with her father and form a closer relationship with her father, but he behaves coldly towards her.

Chapter 19

Before Walter leaves, he speaks with Susan Nipper and asks her to keep his uncle informed about Florence’s well being. Just as Walter is about to leave, though, Florence and Susan Nipper unexpectedly appear at the shop. Florence wishes Walter well and asks if she can occasionally visit Sol to keep him company. She also pledges to think of Walter like a brother. She is able to discern, however, that the new job is not a favorable opportunity, and expresses her hope that she will someday be able to persuade her father to summon him home. The next morning, John Carker also comes to bid Walter goodbye. Walter sails off for the West Indies, leaving his uncle and Captain Cuttle to hopefully await his return.


In this section, major sources of conflict and trauma are introduced into the novel. While up until this point it may have seemed that Dombey would be the villain of the novel, the introduction of Carker establishes a truly dangerous figure. While Dombey can be proud and cruel, his motives and behaviors are always readily apparent. Carker, on the other hand, clearly plots, schemes, and conceals his true intentions. The tone towards him is sinister from the very beginning. The reveal of Carker's family history and his relationship with his brother John furthers the way in which the novel is critical of family relationships. Carker is capable of completely cutting off his brother and sister if they seem likely to interfere with his plan of advancement. His own pride runs deeper than family sentiment. Similarly, Dombey's resentment and discomfort around the daughter, who acts as an uncomfortable reminder of his failure as a father, is so strong that it prompts him to lash out against Walter by assigning him to the post in the West Indies. In the Victorian era, with travel limited to sea vessels and communication limited to handwritten letters that could take months or years to arrive, this assignment ensured Walter would have virtually no contact with his friends or family. Both the sea voyage and life in the Caribbean, where tropical disease was a common killer, are dangerous. Dombey effectively throws away the life of someone's child because of his own pride and stubbornness.

Walter's departure is shown to be deeply traumatic for the individuals who have come to care about him, such as Sol, Cuttle, and Florence. He demonstrates his advancing maturity and a more pragmatic view of the world in the deception he orchestrates. Both he and Florence can sense that Dombey was not acting out of benevolent sentiment in giving him this position; this shows the clarity and intelligence of the youthful figures. Sol and especially Cuttle seem paradoxically more naïve in their willingness to hope that this voyage will turn out to be a good opportunity for Walter. Misplaced trust is a theme throughout the novel. Florence tolerates what is effectively emotional abuse from her father because she cannot accept that he is a cruel man at heart. Cuttle, because his innate tendency is to see goodness in people, is too willing to trust Carker and Dombey, a weakness that Carker does not hesitate to exploit.

Walter's departure, with all of the uncertainty surrounding whether and when he will see his friends again, mirrors another tragic loss in this section. Paul's death, while heavily foreshadowed, represents a central trauma that will animate much of the rest of the action. It suggests the fragility of life and the insignificance of much of what other characters value. The death, however, is anti-climactic: it seems like it could serve as an epiphany for Dombey, but in fact it just deepens his negative character traits. Rather than leading him to value his only surviving child more, it deepens the gulf between him and Florence. It also makes him even more possessive and jealous of Paul's memory. Rather than realizing that others are also grieving for the child and taking solace in this, he becomes even more bitter and resentful.