Study Guide

David Copperfield Chapter 5

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 5

I Am Sent Away From Home

  • David's crying in the cart as they drive away when, suddenly, Peggotty jumps through the hedge next to the road and climbs onto the cart.
  • She hugs David tightly, presses a purse into his hand, and then runs away.
  • The carrier, Mr. Barkis, starts his driving again.
  • The purse holds a bit of money and note: "For Davy. With my love" (5.4). Seeing this, David starts weeping yet again.
  • Mr. Barkis tells David that they will only be going as far as Yarmouth, where David will catch a coach to his final destination.
  • Then, David offers Mr. Barkis a piece of cake.
  • Mr. Barkis eats it and asks if it was made by Peggotty.
  • David answers yes, Peggotty does all of their cooking.
  • Mr. Barkis asks if Peggotty has any sweethearts – suitors.
  • David says, no, so far as he knows, Peggotty has never had a boyfriend.
  • Mr. Barkis wonders if David will be writing letters to Peggotty. David says, yes, of course.
  • The carrier asks David to include a message in his next letter to Peggotty: "Barkis is willin'" (5.35).
  • But Mr. Barkis won't clarify what, exactly, he's willing to do.
  • Mr. Barkis and David arrive at a totally unfamiliar (to David) inn at Yarmouth.
  • David introduces himself as Copperfield, then as Murdstone, to the lady at the inn, who agrees that a dinner has been bought for him.
  • He settles in for dinner with a waiter who, while seeming like a nice guy, still manages to steal David's food, ale, and dessert right out from under his nose.
  • Then, the waiter brings David ink and paper, which he plans to use to write to Peggotty.
  • The waiter scares David half to death with stories of boys being beaten at school – boys of exactly David's age, between eight and nine.
  • The waiter also manages to guilt David into giving him a giant tip.
  • David gets into a public coach bound for London.
  • Having supposedly eaten so very much (when it was really the rascally waiter), David feels annoyed that he's now the butt of a lot of jokes between the coachman and the other passengers about his appetite.
  • The coach carries David to an inn in the Whitechapel district, where he is left behind.
  • Nobody there is expecting a boy called Copperfield, from Blunderstone, Suffolk.
  • David feels incredibly isolated: what if no one comes to pick him up? What will he do?
  • Finally, someone comes to the inn office: a thin young man with lots of stubble and a poor suit of clothes. This guy is one of the teachers at Salem House, David's new school, and he has come to fetch David.
  • David and this teacher agree to stop on the way to the school so that David can get something to eat.
  • They pause at a housing complex for poor women; they enter a small apartment where an elderly woman greets the teacher as, "My Charley!" (5.114). (We find out later that his name is Mr. Mell.)
  • The apartment is terribly cold and poor and meager, but the elderly woman still has enough to cook up some breakfast for David.
  • The woman asks Mr. Mell – whom David calls "the Master," because he is a master, a.k.a. a teacher, at Salem House – to play the flute a bit.
  • Mr. Mell does, but the music is awful – his music is terribly sad and dismal.
  • Eventually, a friend comes by, another elderly lady: Mrs. Fibbitson.
  • Mrs. Fibbitson agrees with his mother that Mr. Mell plays the flute beautifully – which is totally not true, but does spare his mother's feelings.
  • David soon nods off to sleep to the sound of this awful flute.
  • He sleeps right through the subsequent coach ride to his new home, Salem House.
  • This school is incredibly grim looking.
  • The door of the school is opened by a man with a wooden leg (who, we later learn, is named Tungay), who tells Mr. Mell that the cobbler (read: a shoemaker) has been by the house, but hasn't been able to fix his boots.
  • Mr. Mell is clearly really bummed.
  • David notices that Mr. Mell's shoes and socks both have holes in them.
  • David also learns that he's there during the school's holiday season, so there are no other boys on campus.
  • Even the owner of the school, Mr. Creakle, and his family aren't there.
  • David goes into an empty schoolroom, where he finds a little sign that says, "Take care of him. He bites" (5.136).
  • Mr. Mell comes up behind David and asks what he's doing.
  • David asks if there is a dog around that he should be careful of.
  • Mr. Mell says the sign's not for a dog, it's for David: they have been warned that he bites.
  • Mr. Mell apologizes for having to start out with David in this way, but he has to put the sign around David's neck.
  • This sign does terrible things for David's confidence: he becomes paranoid that people think he really does bite.
  • As David explores the school in everyone's absence, he sees that a lot of the boys have carved their names in an old door to the playground; he tries to figure out what kind of people they are from the way they carve their names.
  • Mr. Mell and David both have long lists of chores to do, but David gets through them because he has nothing else to do.
  • David also spends a lot of time with Tungay, who acts as a kind of caretaker to the building. He's pretty mean to David; he won't let him turn his sign so that no one can see it.
  • Mr. Mell is never cruel to David, though he doesn't talk to him much. David thinks Mr. Mell likes having company.

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