The Pickwick Papers is Charles Dickens’ first novel and is written in the picaresque tradition. This genre of writing is by its nature episodic, usually with only the loosest of plots. The Pickwick Papers is a funny book, with genuine moments of humor that will have many readers laughing out loud. Dickens relies strongly on the comical technique of misunderstanding (similar to Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First).
Mr. Pickwick along with four members (Mr. Tupman, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass) belong to a philosophical society called the Pickwick Club. They travel to various locations in England to observe human nature and send back the recordings of their observations, only to find themselves constantly embroiled in misunderstandings with the law and usually women.
The main character Mr. Pickwick is a wealthy retired business man turned philosopher of human nature. In one of the funnier scenes of the novel, he takes a coach to meet his friends. He engages the driver of his carriage in a conversation about his unusual horses and starts taking notes to record the driver’s interesting anecdote. The driver mistakenly believes the man is working for the government and is taking down his information in the notebook to report him, and tries to start a fist-fight over the misunderstanding. Another example occurs later on when Mr. Pickwick discusses with his widowed roommate about hiring a manservant. His language is ambiguous so she believes he’s proposing marriage. Eventually after a long period of time when he fails to marry her, she turns to a lawyer and sues him for breach of his promise to marry. We see, too, that beyond the fun adventures and humorous approach Dickens is already engaging in social critique that feature more prominently and with more focus in his later novels. Dickens shows us the dark and funny side of political parties, corrupt and greedy lawyers, the justice system in general, unscrupulous widows, philosophers and scientists lacking commonsense, and even learned societies who celebrate their own self-importance over irrelevant findings. Nevertheless, like in the comedies of Shakespeare, the novel in true comic fashion ends with everyone getting married.