Nicholas Nickleby, an 18-year-old gentleman's son, is left to take care of his mother and his beautiful sister Kate after his father's death. His father left them no money, and his dying wish was that the family goes to London and turns to help to his brother Ralph, a well-to-do businessman.
Uncle Ralph is not at all happy about Nicholas, Kate, and Mrs. Nickleby showing up on his doorstep, but he feels obligated to do something for them. He finds them a place to live and helps Nicholas to get a job as a headmaster's assistant at Dotheboys Hall, a boarding school for boys in Yorkshire. Mr. Squeers, the headmaster, turns out to be a monster terribly abusing the students, especially one older boy, a poor cripple named Smike. One day, when the boy is once again being beaten, Nicholas interferes, thrashes the headmaster, and runs away from the school. Smike joins him.
They travel to Portsmouth, where they are unexpectedly invited to join a theater as actors. Things seem to go well, until Nicholas learns that his sister Kate is in trouble. Uncle Ralph, under whose protection the young lady was left, is using her to entertain his rich clients, caring little for her discomfort when those clients' advances go too far. Nicholas rushes back to London to defend the honor of his sister.
This report prepared by Laura Southcombe
Nicholas Nickleby is Dickens' commentary on the educational system in place in England when he was growing up. In it he uses "Dotheboys Hall" (get it?) as the school setting where his main character, who is a teacher's aide, finally rebels at the evil of his boss and strikes out on his own. Another powerful social commentary, and one that led directly to legislation to correct the perceptions/situations Dickens' identifies.
This report prepared by Kelly Whiting