David Copperfield: Novel Summary: Chapters XXVII-XXX

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Chapter XXVII: Tommy Traddles
 
David visits Traddles, who lives in a poor part of the city. Traddles lives in one room, with very little furniture in it. Traddles has scraped together the money to pay for his training to be a lawyer. He is engaged to a curate's daughter, whom he loves very much. She has agreed to wait for him until he has enough money to marry her.
 
Traddles reveals that the Micawbers live downstairs, and David calls in on them. Mr. Micawber is in a perilous financial position, but as ever, he is confident of "something turning up" to save him. Mrs. Micawber is pregnant again.
 
Chapter XXVIII: Mr. Micawber's gauntlet
 
Mr. and Mrs. Micawber and Traddles accept David's invitation to dine at his apartment. Mrs. Crupp reluctantly agrees to cook for the party, but her dishes are unappetizing and the meat is undercooked. The guests re-cook the meat on the fire in David's rooms.
 
The party is interrupted by Littimer, who is looking for Steerforth. Littimer insists on taking over the cooking and serving duties, which puts a dampening atmosphere on events. He refuses to tell David about Steerforth's recent movements, and eventually leaves.
 
While discussing Mr. Micawber's talents and prospects, Mrs. Micawber says that her husband must "throw down the gauntlet to society" and advertise for employment in the newspapers.
 
After the Micawbers go home, David warns Traddles not to lend Mr. Micawber any money, or to lend him his name in order to obtain credit. Traddles admits that he has already lent him his name. Mr. Micawber claimed that the bill was taken care of, but David wonders if this is true.
 
When everyone has left, Steerforth arrives at David's apartment. Steerforth speaks contemptuously of Traddles, but David defends him. Then he reveals that he has come from Yarmouth. He has brought a letter for David from Peggotty. Peggotty writes that Mr. Barkis is very ill. Steerforth says that people die every day, and that what is important is to "Ride over all obstacles, and win the race!"
 
David says he will visit Peggotty tomorrow, but Steerforth asks him to delay his visit by a day and to come with him to his mother's house. David agrees.
 
David reads a letter that Mr. Micawber gave him before leaving. Mr. Micawber writes that all his belongings, along with those of Traddles, have been seized by bailiffs for his non-payment of a debt, which was not, after all, taken care of.
 
Chapter XXIX: I visit Steerforth at his home, again
 
David accompanies Steerforth to Mrs. Steerforth's home. While Steerforth is occupied with his mother, Rosa Dartle asks David why he has been keeping Steerforth so engrossed that he has not been home. When David protests that he has not seen Steerforth until last night, Rosa is shocked. She questions David about what Steerforth is doing, but David can tell her nothing. She says that if Steerforth and his mother were ever to quarrel, they would be hard to reconcile, since they are both too proud to give in.
 
Steerforth is charming to Rosa, and proposes that they will love each other very much in the future. Rosa, furious, strikes him and storms out of the room.
 
That night, David says goodbye to Steerforth. Steerforth says that he wishes that David could call him (Steerforth) by the nickname he gave David, Daisy. He asks that if anything should separate them, David should think of him at his best. David tells Steerforth that he will always love him.
 
Chapter XXX: A loss
 
David goes to Yarmouth to visit Peggotty and Mr. Barkis. On the way, he visits Mr. Omer, who tells him that Little Em'ly has seemed unsettled recently, in spite of the fact that Ham has obtained a comfortable house for them both to live in after they are married.
 
When David arrives at Peggotty's house, he finds Mr. Peggotty, who is helping Peggotty. Little Em'ly is there, clinging disconsolately to Mr. Peggotty. Mr. Peggotty believes that she is upset by Mr. Barkis's imminent death. When Ham comes to take her home, she is unwilling to leave her uncle, and Ham allows her to stay with him.
 
A weeping Peggotty takes David to Mr. Barkis's sickbed. Mr. Barkis is dying but determinedly hugging his box of money, pretending to his visitors that it is full of old clothes. Mr. Peggotty tells David that Mr. Barkis will die as the tide goes out, and he does.
 
Analysis of Chapters XXVII-XXX
 
The character of Steerforth stands in contrast to that of Traddles. Traddles is physically unattractive and poor, while Steerforth enjoys the blessings of good looks, charm, and wealth. However, Traddles has qualities of personal integrity that Steerforth utterly lacks: he is loyal, kind, and hard-working. What is more, Traddles, unlike Steerforth, knows how to love. He is prepared to make sacrifices for his sweetheart, saving money over a period of years so that they can marry. Steerforth, on the other hand, thinks primarily of his own interests. He is prepared to sacrifice not only Little Em'ly's happiness, but also that of her family, in pursuit of instant gratification of his desires.
 
Steerforth has just enough self-knowledge to be aware that he is doing wrong, as is suggested by his wish that he were innocent enough to deserve David's nickname, Daisy, and his request that David should remember him at his best. But he does not possess enough strength of character to change course and do what is right.
 
This section is full of foreshadowings that suggest that Steerforth is covertly doing wrong. His melancholy restlessness, and the fact that neither Littimer, nor Mrs. Steerforth, nor Rosa Dartle, know where he is or what he is doing, imply that he is engaged on a course that is so morally reprehensible that he cannot say a word about it to anyone, lest they intervene and stop him.
 
The sea is an important symbol in this novel. Mr. Peggotty is the character who is closest to the sea. He gains his living from it, but has lost many friends and relatives to it. He looks after two young people who were orphaned by the sea, Little Em'ly and Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge, whose husband was drowned at sea. Just as the sea is a force of nature, Mr. Peggotty seems more in tune than the other characters with the natural cycles of life and death. He knows that Mr. Barkis will die as the tide goes out, and is correct. He also says that births occur when the tide is coming in. For Mr. Peggotty, the sea both gives and takes life.
 
Mr. Peggotty's simple wisdom, brought out in his philosophical attitude to Mr. Barkis's death, is contrasted with Steerforth's response to the news that Mr. Barkis is dying. Steerforth shows no compassion for David or for Mr. Barkis's family. His remarks are, first, that people die every day, and second, that what is important is to "Ride over all obstacles, and win the race!" At the time he says this, it can be taken as a philosophical comment on how to live one's life, but with hindsight, it betrays Steerforth's selfishness. He is referring to the fact that he has embarked on the seduction of Little Em'ly, and that he does not mean to turn back, whatever obstacles are placed in his path. His name, Steerforth, is significant in this regard: he not only lacks a guide to steer him through life, as he has said, but he is incapable of guiding himself wisely. Instead, he steers others into disaster.

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