So there's a sad, decrepit old dude wandering around the streets. He's clearly from the workhouse.
Brain snack: Workhouses were places where poor people who couldn't support themselves were sent to basically be worked to death. Why? Well, let's do a quick rundown of England in the 19th century. No welfare? Check. No Medicare/Medicaid? Check. No social support for people at the end of life? Check. No old folks' homes? Check. So what to do with all the poor old people? Call them immoral, lazy, and deserving of their fate – and lock them up in workhouses. Yikes, right?
So back to our story. Who is this sad old guy? He's Mrs. Plornish's dad, Old Mr. Nandy. He doesn't want to be a burden on his kids and grandkids, so he voluntarily goes to the workhouse, which is basically like a prison. They only let him out for special holidays – today, for example, it's his birthday.
Mrs. Plornish adores her dad. He still sings a little bit and she is totally captivated listening to him. It's actually really sweet and super-sad.
Mr. Nandy runs into Little Dorrit at the Plornishes, and she offers to escort him to the Marshalsea to see Dorrit. Apparently they know each other. Actually scratch that – apparently Dorrit likes to pretend that Nandy is some kind of old servant or vassal who comes out of loyalty to see his old master. Oh yeah, that's a whole world of nonsense right there, but Dorrit is nothing if not delusional.
On the way to the Marshalsea, Little Dorrit and Nandy run into Fanny, who totally loses it at the sight of them. How dare Little Dorrit walk in the company of someone so poor! Fanny claims that this is somehow degrading to the Dorrit family.
At the prison, Dorrit yells at Little Dorrit for the same thing. He and Fanny gang up on her and accuse her of wanting to drag the family's name through the mud.
OK, hang on a sec – are you getting how totally nuts this is? The Dorrits are in prison! They have been for years! For being so deep in debt and so poor that the Dorrit girls have to work for a living – scandalous back then!
But just in the nick of time, Arthur saves the day. A letter comes from him, with some money for Dorrit (a response to Dorrit's own begging letter from a while ago).
Dorrit cheers up, forgives Amy, and gets Nandy to come upstairs for a visit.
Arthur also shows up. Amy wants to leave and not have to see him, but Dorrit makes her stay.
Dorrit's main pleasure in life is pointing out how decrepit old Nandy is, which is also sort of ludicrous, because Nandy is actually a few years younger than Dorrit himself.
But still, to each his own.
After the meal is over, Dorrit walks Nandy out, then stands at the window of his room looking down on the crowd like a king or a pope.
Tip comes in and snubs Arthur rudely. When Little Dorrit asks why, Tip says that by not sending him money, Arthur has insulted him. Talk about a sense of entitlement!
Dorrit gets mad at this, although it's not clear why. Shmoop thinks it might be because: 1) he's angry that Tip is also writing begging letters to Arthur, or 2) he's angry that Tip is insulting the one rich-ish person they know, or 3) Dorrit at least got some money out of Arthur and he's afraid Tip's rudeness will put an end to that.
Tip leaves. Dorrit asks Little Dorrit to hang out with Arthur and smooth things over.