**spoiler alert** A substantive Dickens novel with a realistic characters and satirical dry humor. Some elements will try the patience of the modern r**spoiler alert** A substantive Dickens novel with a realistic characters and satirical dry humor. Some elements will try the patience of the modern reader: the vocabulary, some dialect, meandering (though masterful) description, and lengthy chapter titles. The part of the story set in America provides a great opportunity to poke fun at the younger country's newspaper hawkers, politicians and businessmen - each of whom is "one of the most remarkable men in the country." The serious theme of the story is the destructiveness of selfishness and greed.
Early in the story, the older Martin Chuzzlewit laments, "What lawsuits grow out of the graves of rich men, every day; sowing perjury, hatred, and lies among near kindred, where there should be nothing but love! Heaven help us, we have much to answer for! Oh self, self, self! Every man for himself, and no creature for me! Yet old Martin fails to see his own selfishness.
Everyone seems to be after his inheritance, including his relative Mr. Pecksniff who uses and abuses his pupils, his daughters and his overly trusting servant Tom Pinch. Each of these eventually leaves, or is turned out of, Pecksniff's home. One daughter ends up in an abusive marriage; another is abandoned at the altar on her wedding day.
Old Martin has disinherited his young namesake in opposition to his marriage plans. Young Martin sets sail for America to make his fortune and then return. His companion, the selfless Mark Tapley welcomes a challenge, believing there is no credit in being jolly (optimistic) if the circumstances are easy! Martin begins to contrast himself with Mark's example.
Ending up sick and near death in a land development (a swamp), Martin reaches a turning point: "He made a solemn resolution that when his strength returned he would not dispute the point or resist the conviction, but would look upon it as an established fact, that selfishness was in his breast, and, must be rooted out." Humbled he returns to England, where he finds that old Martin has fallen under the control of Mr. Pecksniff.
Finally, the truth of events is unveiled before old Martin Chuzzlewit: "In every circumstance, whether it were cruel, cowardly, or false, he saw the flowering of the same pregnant seed - Self; grasping, eager, narrow-ranging, overreaching self; with its long train of suspicions, lusts, deceits, and all their growing consequences - was the root of the vile tree." Mr. Peckniff is discredited along with his nephew, Jonas Chuzzlewit. Old Martin humbles himself and reconciles with young Martin whose marriage will be allowed to proceed.
A secret which Tom Pinch has confided only in his sister is that he also loved Martin's fiancé, but because she was engaged to his friend, he never pursued it. Tom Pinch is seen playing a church organ and thinking of her. "As it resounds within thee and without, the noble music, rolling round ye both, shuts out the grosser prospect of an earthly parting, and uplifts ye both to Heaven." The ending seems abrupt, and many details are left unfinished, but Tom's sacrifice is highlighted as an ultimate example of noble selflessness.