Study Guide

David Copperfield Chapter 6

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 6

I Enlarge My Circle of Acquaintance

  • After about a month of this, Mr. Creakle and the students of Salem House start to return from the summer holidays.
  • Before bedtime one night, Tungay fetches David and takes him to Mr. Creakle's part of the building.
  • Mr. Creakle is waiting with Mrs. Creakle, his wife, and Miss Creakle, his daughter.
  • Mr. Creakle's face is red and horribly angry-looking, but he speaks in a tiny whisper (kind of like boxer Mike Tyson) that makes him all the more intimidating.
  • Mr. Creakle tells David that he knows David's stepfather, Mr. Murdstone.
  • He also tells David that he is "a Tartar" – a violent person – who gets things done.
  • When his own flesh and blood (here he looks at Mrs. Creakle) offends him, he'll get rid of it.
  • Mr. Creakle asks Tungay if "that fellow" (6.18) has been around Salem House?
  • Tungay says no.
  • Finally, Mr. Creakle says that David can go.
  • David asks Mr. Creakle if he can take off the sign before the boys come back.
  • Mr. Creakle leaps out of his chair, frightening David so much that he runs straight back to his bed.
  • The following day, another teacher comes back: Mr. Sharp, who is Mr. Mell's superior.
  • Mr. Sharp is delicate and wears a wig.
  • The first boy to come back is Tommy Traddles, which is lucky for David, because Traddles doesn't take the sign too seriously, mostly just treating it like a game. This is a little embarrassing for David, but nothing like the social death he expected.
  • Next up is James Steerforth, a good-looking older boy, who tells David that his sign is "a jolly shame" (6.30), which makes David adore him.
  • Steerforth asks David if he has any money, which he does – 7 shillings from Peggotty's purse.
  • The older boy encourages David to spend some of that money on treats for the other boys in their dorm room, which Steerforth then distributes as though he were their host. But David doesn't mind this – he's a bit in awe of Steerforth.
  • The boys all start talking about the masters at Salem House: Mr. Creakle is, indeed, supposed to be a violent jerk who will happily beat the boys if he wants to.
  • The wooden-legged man, Tungay, works for Mr. Creakle because he has been in his employment for a long time, mostly doing dirty work. Tungay hates everyone at Salem House, except Mr. Creakle, and enjoys making all of their lives miserable.
  • Apparently, Mr. Creakle has a son who used to teach at the school, but Mr. Creakle tossed the boy out of his home when the kid protested at the way that Mr. Creakle treats Mrs. Creakle. (This explains that scene in the beginning of the chapter about discarding his own flesh and blood when it offends him!)
  • There is one boy who Mr. Creakle never beats: James Steerforth.
  • Steerforth is the only "parlor-boarder" (6.52) – the only of the boys who gets to eat with Mr. Creakle – and he seems to have some sort of weird authority over both the teachers and the students alike.
  • The boys all gossip about how poor Mr. Mell is and about Mr. Sharp's badly fitting wig. They also talk about Miss Creakle, who is supposed to have a crush on Steerforth.
  • David thinks of the breakfast he had with Mr. Mell's mother, but doesn't say anything about it.
  • When the boys all go to bed, Steerforth tells David good night, and that he'll take care of David.
  • David thanks him.
  • Steerforth asks if David has a sister, because if David does, Steerforth would guess that she would be a pretty, shy, bright girl.
  • David says no, he doesn't, and Steerforth thinks it's a shame.

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