Summary — Chapter LII. I assist at an Explosion

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.

Analysis — Chapters XLVIII–LII

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.