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THE STORY

BOOK THE SECOND

CHAPTER VI

Leaving Bounderby's, Stephen is surprised to see Rachael walking with the mysterious woman he had met a year before. The old woman wanted to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Bounderby, and Stephen reports that Louisa is young and beautiful, but silently he doubts that the two are as happily married as the woman assures him they are.

Stephen tells Rachael of his dismissal from the factory. His only comfort is that his departure from Coketown will make life easier for Rachael. No one will now treat her badly for being his friend.

Stephen asks the old woman to his house for tea. The woman tells Rachael and Stephen her name- Mrs. Pegler. She is a widow whose husband has been long dead. She once had a son who did very well for himself, but he is "lost" to her.

There's a knock at the door. Hearing the name "Bounderby," Mrs. Pegler panics and insists on hiding.

Louisa enters with Tom. Until now she has thought of the mill workers as a group of faceless employees, never as individuals. This is the first time she has seen how simply they live.

She has come to offer whatever help she can. She can't believe Stephen is to be "sacrificed" because of the prejudices of labor and management. Louisa then guesses correctly that the promise keeping Stephen out of the union was made to Rachael.


NOTE: The exact nature of this promise is never made clear, and some readers point to its flimsiness as a plot device that creates a major weakness in the Stephen Blackpool plot.

Louisa offers money to Stephen, but he'll accept only one pound (several dollars). He's grateful for her kindness, but too proud to accept more.

What a change we see in Louisa! Her behavior is often perplexing, alternately sweet and cold. Now, for the first time, she extends herself selflessly to someone else. Through Stephen she is learning that people are more than the statistics her father always made them out to be.

Tom pulls Stephen aside and offers him a chance to do a favor for him and benefit from it. All Stephen has to do is hang around the bank for an hour or two after work. Bitzer will meet him with a message. Assured by Stephen that such a favor will be to his advantage, Stephen agrees.

What does Tom have up his sleeve? Is it likely he wants to help Stephen? Has Tom had a change of heart like Louisa? If so, why does he make a point to speak to Stephen privately?

For the next two days, Stephen fulfils his promise and waits outside the bank after his work at the factory is finished. He sees Bitzer, but the colorless porter says nothing. Stephen decides to wait two hours on the third day. Observed only by Mrs. Sparsit, he fingers patiently until darkness falls. When no message comes, he returns home, sleeps a bit, then prepares to leave town before the other workers are awake.

Making a detour only to pass Rachael's house, Stephen heads out of town, looking back to see Coketown awaken. With a heavy heart, thinking of Rachael, he walks into the countryside and an uncertain future.

NOTE: STEPHEN BLACKPOOL
It has been noted that Stephen is named after St. Stephen, a Christian martyr, because he too is a martyr- to the cause of the oppressed worker. Readers have faulted Dickens for hopelessly stacking the deck against Stephen: a drunken, whorish wife; a woman he loves but can't marry; fellow workers who avoid him; the loss of his job; and the need to leave home. Does he have any chance faced with these odds? In his attempt to show the abused worker, Dickens might have created a character so pitiful that he's no longer believable. In a pure allegory, the portrayal of Stephen might work more successfully. But in a novel that tries for realism, he strikes many as one of its weaker links. What do you think? What might Dickens have done to make Stephen a more realistic character?
 

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