In chapter 3 of The Pickwick Papers, Jemmy tells a heart-wrenching story about a "low pantomime actor" who is at death's door. He introduces the story by saying:

There is nothing of the marvellous in what I am going to relate, said the dismal man; there is nothing even uncommon in it. Want and sickness are common in many stations of life, to deserve more notice than is usually bestowed on the most ordinary vicissitudes of human nature. I have thrown these few notes together, because the subject of them was well known to me for many years. I traced his progress downwards, step by step, until at last he reached that excess of destitution from which he never rose again.


1) So far in the novel, it has become apparent that the Pickwickians enjoy stories about events that are either out of the ordinary or that contain some element of excitement. Why, then, does Jemmy relate this story to them when even he himself claims that it is a tale about normal events that occur in everyday life? What is the significance of the story?

2) The tone of the novel, up until this point, has been light and comical (even during times when there is tension between characters). Why is this sombre story suddenly thrown into the plot?

3) How does Jemmy's tale hint at themes that are inevitably going to be developed as the novel progresses (i.e. pride and humility, class differences etc)?

Last Modified 10 February 2003