Summary — Chapter XXII. Some old Scenes, and Some new People

While in Yarmouth, David visits his old home and feels both pleasure and sorrow at seeing the old places. When he returns late from one such visit, he finds Steerforth alone and in a bad mood, angry that he has not had a father all these years and that he is unable to guide himself better. Steerforth tells David that he would rather even be the wretched Ham than be himself, richer and wiser. After they leave, Steerforth reveals to David that he has bought a boat to be manned by Mr. Peggotty in his absence, and he has named it “The Little Em’ly.”

At the inn, David and Steerforth meet Miss Mowcher, a loud and brash dwarf who cuts Steerforth’s hair as they gossip and talk of Mr. Peggotty, Ham, and Little Em’ly. When David arrives at Peggotty’s, where he is to stay for the night, he discovers Little Em’ly and Ham with Martha, a woman who used to work at Mr. Omer’s with Little Em’ly but fell into disgrace and came back to beg help from Little Em’ly. After Martha leaves, Little Em’ly becomes very upset and cries that she is not nearly as good a girl as she ought to be.

Analysis — Chapters XIX–XXII

The simple life at Yarmouth contrasts starkly with the sophisticated life at Steerforth’s home. At Steerforth’s, characters use their words and actions strategically to produce a desired effect. Littimer, for example, speaks in such a convoluted manner as to be completely opaque, while every one of Mrs. Steerforth’s actions is motivated by her sense of propriety and self-possession. At Yarmouth, on the other hand, characters say exactly what they mean and act out of a desire for harmony with each other. The contrast highlights the class distinction between the two families. The description of the families contributes to Dickens’s overall message that wealth and power do not correlate with good character, and that poverty does not necessarily indicate bad character.

At home, Steerforth reveals that, at heart, he is slick, egotistical, and vain, even though David still continues to deny these tendencies in him. Mrs. Steerforth’s constant doting on her son reinforces these tendencies in Steerforth and make his self-centered nature understandable, if not justified. Though David is unaware of Steerforth’s snobbery, Steerforth belittles David from the moment they meet. Steerforth further demeans David by giving him the nickname “Daisy,” but David still is too caught up in his worship of Steerforth to see anything but his good qualities. Although Steerforth does demonstrate some thoughtfulness at Yarmouth, as when he tells David that he wishes he could be more focused, his self-reflective mood passes as quickly as it appears. David ignores Steerforth’s insults, as well as the fact that Mrs. Steerforth likes David only because he adores her son. Even when Steerforth begins to confide in David about his own insecurities, David views him as a superior being in whom all faults are positive attributes. David’s idolization of Steerforth makes him incapable of seeing the true nature of his false friend, even when Steerforth’s bad side is most exposed.

David attains greater consciousness of romantic love as his character develops. At this stage, David’s feelings of love are still impetuous and adolescent. His frivolous infatuations mirror many of the romantic relationships he sees in his life around him, like that between Annie Strong and Jack Maldon. Although David’s experience of love is not yet as deep as it is later in the novel, he is increasingly aware of others’ romantic relationships. He observes the affair between Jack Maldon and Annie Strong, as well as the unfolding of the love affair between Mr. Orem’s daughter and her sweetheart. As David awakens to romantic love, his narrative focuses more and more on the emotional relationships between characters.