Dora’s housekeeping habits do not improve. For a while, David tries to form Dora’s mind into something to which he can offer his more intimate and intelligent thoughts. But Dora will not be reformed, and David eventually gives up. He is not exactly happy in his marriage to her, for he feels that somehow they are not suited for one another. David hopes that having a child might make Dora more mature, and Dora apparently does become pregnant, but the baby either miscarries or dies at birth. Soon, possibly as a consequence of this pregnancy, Dora falls ill and loses the use of her legs, so David has to carry her up and down the stairs.
David receives a strange letter from Mr. Micawber, and Traddles receives a similar letter from Mrs. Micawber. The letters swear the men to secrecy, report that things in Micawber house are going poorly, and beg to see Traddles and David if they can spare the time. Traddles and David consult and agree to meet Mr. Micawber.
Mr. Micawber reveals that he is financially ruined because Uriah Heep has cheated him. Vowing revenge, Mr. Micawber begs David and Miss Betsey to meet him and Mrs. Micawber at an inn the following week.
Martha comes for David one night and encourages him to follow her. She has already tried to retrieve Mr. Peggotty, but he is not at home, so she has left him a note telling him where to find her. Martha and David rush through the city to the place where Little Em’ly is staying. They find Miss Dartle already there, spewing hateful invectives at Little Em’ly. David refuses to intervene for Little Em’ly because he feels that it is Mr. Peggotty’s duty to get her. Eventually, Mr. Peggotty arrives and carries Little Em’ly away, passed out in his arms.
Mr. Peggotty comes to David and Miss Betsey and relates the story Little Em’ly has told him. Little Em’ly escaped from Littimer onto the beach, where, in a delirium, she was rescued by a young woman whose husband was at sea. The woman nursed Little Em’ly back to health. Little Em’ly went to France and England and intended to go home. When she got close to home, however, she began to fear that her family would not accept her, so she turned back. Martha discovered Little Em’ly and took her in before going out to find Mr. Peggotty and David.
Mr. Peggotty has resolved that he and Little Em’ly will go to Australia because no one knows her there, which will enable her to start over. In the meantime, Mr. Peggotty needs to go to Yarmouth to say goodbye to Ham, and he asks David to accompany him. When David arrives in Yarmouth, he visits Mr. Omer, who reports that all is well with his family, although his own health is failing. He is pleased to hear that all is looking up for Little Em’ly, and he offers to help Martha if he can. David speaks to Ham, who asks him to convey to Little Em’ly that he will always love her and that he is sorry he forced his love on her. Mr. Peggotty closes up the old house, and it is decided that Mrs. Gummidge will go with Mr. Peggotty and Little Em’ly to Australia.
Traddles, David, Miss Betsey, Agnes, and Mr. Micawber all confront Uriah Heep at his home. Mr. Micawber has prepared a list of the frauds that Uriah has committed and has collected much of the evidence necessary to prove that Uriah has committed those frauds. The moment he realizes he is caught, Uriah abandons his humility and becomes very violent toward David. Miss Betsey reveals that Uriah was the source of her ruin and demands her property back. Uriah continues to sling insults at everyone, especially David. Now that the air is cleared regarding Uriah, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber are reconciled. Miss Betsey is introduced to Mrs. Micawber. Miss Betsey suggests that perhaps the Micawbers would like to move to Australia, and she offers to loan them the money they need for the trip.
The departure of several characters for Australia sets the stage for the novel’s conclusion, which focuses on David’s arrival at maturity. Each closing chapter neatly addresses the fate of an individual character. Dickens has been criticized for this tidy, formal ending, which provides little in the way of character development. Yet the entire novel—not just the ending—is filled with such unlikely coincidences and unrealistic occurences. The characters’ sudden resolution of their problems at the end of David Copperfield is no more fanciful than these other plot developments throughout the novel. Furthermore, by tidily ending the subplots involving secondary characters, Dickens is free to focus on David alone and discuss his character development.
Miss Dartle displays an intense hostility toward Little Em’ly that is difficult to explain. There are a number of possible reasons for Miss Dartle’s animosity: perhaps she is jealous of Little Em’ly or has a buried love for Steerforth that has not yet emerged into the open. This kind of occurrence, in which a character’s ultimate actions or words are at odds with what we know of that character’s motivations and personality, is typical of David Copperfield, in which competing and complex motives often intertwine to cause the characters to act erratically. This technique builds suspense, renders Dickens’s characters more complex, and focuses the narration exclusively on David’s clearer perspective.
David praises Mr. Peggotty for his simplicity and good-heartedness throughout the novel, but it is only in the final chapters that we see the full extent of these traits. The kind of charity that Mr. Peggotty shows toward Little Em’ly is a centrally important trait among characters in David Copperfield. Without Peggotty’s kindness, for example, David would be lost when his mother dies. Without Miss Betsey’s compassion, David would flounder on the streets or suffered further cruelties at the hands of Mr. and Miss Murdstone. Dickens points to such examples of good-heartedness as examples of actions that make the world a better place. Here, kindness and mercy become even more important, as Mr. Peggotty’s charity enables Little Em’ly’s and Martha’s redemptions. In displaying this charity, Mr. Peggotty becomes a standard against which the other characters are measured.