David returns to London, where he visits Traddles, who has recently married. Traddles is still poor, but he and his wife are very happy. At the inn, David encounters Mr. Chillip, his old family physician. Mr. Chillip says he is now living next door to Mr. and Miss Murdstone, who have destroyed Mr. Murdstone’s second wife and are as cruel and nasty as ever.
David returns to Miss Betsey’s, where Mr. Dick and Peggotty now live. David and his aunt talk through the night. He inquires whether Agnes has any lovers. Miss Betsey tells him that Agnes has many admirers but only one love—but she does not reveal the identity of Agnes’s love. The next day, David goes to visit Agnes. He tells her how much he reveres her, no matter what new ties she should choose to make in her life. Agnes seems troubled by his declarations of affection.
Mr. Wickfield has completely recovered his old sense of calm, and the house is just as it was when David and Agnes were children. The school that Agnes runs is successful, and peace, prosperity, and happiness have returned to the house. Mr. Wickfield briefly recounts the story of his sickness, his obsession with Agnes’s mother after she died, and his obsession with Agnes later. Mr. Wickfield is grateful to Agnes for helping him to recover.
David receives a letter from Mr. Creakle, who has heard of David’s fame. Now a magistrate, Mr. Creakle asks David to come to his prison to witness his new form of punishment, which he says is the perfect way to reform prisoners. At the prison, David and Traddles are told of two prisoners who prove just how well Mr. Creakle’s system works. The first of the prisoners is Uriah, who is serving a life term in prison for defrauding the Bank of England. Uriah tells David, Traddles, and the guards that he wishes everyone could go to jail to improve their lives. The second prisoner is Littimer, who attempted to rob someone but was apprehended by Miss Mowcher, who recognized him in the street and stopped his getaway.
Agnes and David remain friends. One day, when he can bear it no longer, David demands to know whom she loves more than anyone else. She sobs, and David realizes he is her true love. They are engaged and married within two weeks.
One day, while David is at home with Agnes and their three children, Mr. Peggotty visits. He brings word that Mr. Micawber is now a magistrate and that Little Em’ly is doing well. Martha is married to a farmer, and Mrs. Gummidge is well. Mr. Peggotty stays for a month and then goes back to Australia. They never see him again.
David muses on the state of affairs at the time of his writing. He sees Miss Betsey, old but still upright, accompanied by Peggotty, who is also old but still bright and happy. Mr. Dick is still working on his autobiography. Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle argue as usual. Doctor Strong continues to work on his dictionary while he and Annie live in marital bliss. Traddles is a successful lawyer and happily married to Sophy, and Agnes is forever the light of David’s life.
David’s recovery in Switzerland gives him time to reflect on the events of his life and to mature into the good-hearted, honest man he is at the close of the novel. Each of the events in the final chapters is mirrored by some change in David when he returns from Switzerland. The death of Steerforth causes David to abandon his impetuous frivolity, while the heroism of Ham’s death inspires selflessness in David. Dora’s death kills David’s romantic delusions about love and his tendency toward infatuation. Mr. Peggotty’s devotion as he searches for Little Em’ly prompts David to develop a deeper love for Miss Betsey and Peggotty, who, he now realizes, have devoted themselves completely to his happiness. Although David is naïve and simple throughout much of the novel, his ability to learn lessons about character from his friends in the final chapters demonstrates that he has developed significantly as a character.
Agnes, who plays a relatively minor role in the novel until its conclusion, quickly becomes one of the most important characters. Agnes has been one of the most steadfast of David’s relations throughout the novel, so in a sense, it is not surprising that she ultimately plays such a crucial role in David’s life. She proudly bears David’s failure to see his love for her and her love for him. She offers him sage advice on any number of topics, including his other loves, and she is always patient, kind, and good. In many ways, Agnes is the answer to the question David has asked throughout the novel: what is the most moral way to live? David finds good in Agnes that draws him to her, now that he is an older man who does not feel attracted to the silly frivolity he found in Dora. In the end, Agnes emerges triumphant from David’s struggle to control his own emotions.
At the end of David Copperfield, good triumphs absolutely over evil, as those characters who have been constant and well-meaning are rewarded, while evil characters are punished or killed. Dickens’s morality is straightforward: those who believe in love and generosity rather than manipulation and greed succeed. Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle, who are proud, vain, and petty, are miserable over Steerforth’s death and are condemned to bicker among themselves for the rest of their lives. Little Em’ly and Mrs. Gummidge are both rewarded for transforming their characters, whereas Mr. Creakle, who was always cruel and vicious toward the boys at Salem House, now has the unpleasant job of running a jail. By assigning his characters fates that correspond to their traits, Dickens provides a straightforward definition of morality and justice.
Dickens’s meticulous resolution of each of David Copperfield’s subplots stems from his desire to mete out justice clearly. Dickens hammers home the point that Annie and Doctor Strong’s live in mutual happiness as a reward for their dedication to each other. In doing so, Dickens underscores his argument that those who are good can expect good from the world. By the same token, Dickens carefully describes the unpleasant fates of Littimer and Uriah Heep in order to dissuade us from acting as they do. Throughout the novel, Dickens draws a clear line between good and bad and leaves no character’s morality ambiguous. Rather, Dickens suggests that there are absolute measures of good and evil which we must be aware of as we act.