Book II, Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6: Fading Away
Stephen, Rachael, and the mysterious old lady, who has reappeared outside Bounderby’s house and has been hospitably invited for tea in Stephen’s room, are just about to settle down to their meal when Stephen’s landlady comes up the stairs and whispers the name of some visitors in Stephen’s ear. Catching the name Bounderby, the old lady retreats fearfully into a dim corner of the room. Stephen, candle in hand, shows Louisa up. She is followed by her brother, Tom. She has come, Louisa tells Stephen, because of what has just happened at her husband’s. She wants to know what plans he has, and if there is really no hope of his finding work in Coketown. Louisa then offers him money; Stephen, declining the much larger amount she produces from her purse, thankfully agrees to accept two pounds from her.
Tom, who has not been paying much attention to any of this, beckons Stephen out of the room and hurriedly explains that he has thought of a way to do him a good turn. He asks Stephen to “just hang about the bank an hour or so” for the next few nights until he leaves Coketown. If Tom can perform this service, he will pass him the word through Bitzer, the bank porter. Making sure that Stephen understands what he is to do, Tom rushes off with his sister.
For the next few nights before his departure from Coketown, Stephen dutifully loiters outside Bounderby’s bank, but no message comes. Having said his farewells to Rachael, he leaves Coketown on foot.
Dickens heralds Louisa’s unexpected appearance in Stephen’s lodgings with the words “For the first time in her life Louisa had come into one of the dwellings of the Coketown Hands; for the first time in her life she was face to face with anything like individuality in connexion with them.” The point Dickens is making is that normally no thought of the Coketown workers as individuals would ever have occurred to her. She has been brought up to think of them, not as persons, but as a “something”: “something to be worked so much and paid so much, and there ended; something to be infallibly settled by laws of supply and demand.” The episode of Louisa’s visit effectively conveys a sense of the extent to which England had become, in the famous phrase of the time, “two nations,” each unknown to the other, separated by barriers that could be crossed only by extraordinary initiatives of goodwill.