School begins, and Mr. Creakle warns the boys that he will punish them severely if they fail in their lessons. He beats David with a cane on the first day. David notices that Traddles gets beaten more than the other boys because he is fat. To cheer himself up, Traddles lays his head on his desk and draws little skeletons on his slate.
Steerforth and David become close when Steerforth, who suffers from insomnia, persuades David to stay up with him at night and tell him the stories David remembers from his father’s books. One day when Mr. Creakle is ill, Steerforth and Mr. Mell get into a fight, and Steerforth reveals that David has told him about visiting an old woman with Mr. Mell at the charity house. Steerforth figures out that the old woman is Mr. Mell’s mother. When Mr. Creakle comes to see what the commotion is, Steerforth tells him about Mr. Mell’s poverty. Mr. Creakle commends Steerforth and fires Mr. Mell, who, as he leaves, shows particular favor to David. Another day, Ham and Mr. Peggotty come to visit David at school. They meet Steerforth and are amused by him.
On the day that David arrives home for the holidays, Mr. and Miss Murdstone are away. David, his mother, and Peggotty have supper and pass an evening the way they used to do before his mother remarried. David’s mother has a new child, and David loves the child dearly. The three laugh about Mr. Barkis’s proposal to Peggotty, and Peggotty vows never to leave David’s mother. Peggotty and David’s mother quarrel briefly over David’s mother’s marriage to Mr. Murdstone. David’s mother argues that Mr. Murdstone is just trying to improve her character. She feels that she should be grateful to him. David observes that Peggotty only provokes his mother so that she might feel better by providing these justifications.
The next morning, David apologizes to Mr. Murdstone for biting his hand. Later, he picks up the baby. Miss Murdstone flies into a rage, telling David never to touch the child again. To David’s surprise, his mother sides with Miss Murdstone. David’s mother observes that her two children have the same eyes. Miss Murdstone shrieks that such a comparison between the wretched David and her knightly brother’s child is utterly foolish. Mr. Murdstone forces David to remain in the company of the adults, even though they never speak to him. Mr. Murdstone says that David’s habit of reading in his room is evidence of his sullenness.
When David’s holiday is over, Mr. Barkis picks him up. As they drive away, David turns around and sees his mother standing in the road and holding up her child to him.
In the middle of the next term, David’s mother dies. The school sends David home, and Mr. Omer, a funeral director and general services provider, picks him up at the coach. Mr. Omer takes David to his shop, where he meets Mr. Omer’s daughter, Minnie, and her sweetheart, Mr. Joram. Mr. Joram builds David’s mother’s coffin behind the shop, and David sits through the day listening to the sounds of the hammer. Mr. Omer tells David that David’s little brother died a few days after his mother. The Omer family is quite jovial, but David sits in the shop with his head down.