When he first appears, he is an ostler for the Blue Dragon Inn in Salisbury, and is in love with the widowed landlady Mrs Lupin. He departs the pub and goes to London early on in the novel. Mark's catchphrase is that "There's no credit in being jolly" under benign circumstances and so he constantly urges himself to find a more challenging set of circumstances in order to test his good spirits.
Dickens used Mark and Martin's short stay in America as a criticism of the hypocrisy of American politicians (i.e. Jefferson Brick) and businessmen, and especially the slave trade, which Dickens wholeheartedly hated. One of the finest extracts of the novel is where Mark relates the life story of Cicero, an African-American freed slave whom he has met:
"Why, when that man was young - don't look at him while I'm a-telling it - he was shot in the leg; gashed in the arm; scored in his live arm, like a crimped fish... In years and years he saved up a little money, and bought his freedom, which he got pretty cheaply at last, on account of his strength nearly gone, and he being ill. Then he come here. And now he's a-saving up to treat himself before he dies, to one small purchase...only his own daughter, that's all!...in this part of the globe... thy've such a passion for Liberty, that they can't help taking liberties with her!"
After Mark and Martin are swindled into buying a marsh along the Mississippi, they return home to England. Mark gets engaged to Mrs Lupin, takes over the Blue Dragon Inn and renames it the Jolly Tapley.
Mark Tapley was first played on stage by Colin Atkins at the Royal Theatre Northampton (Aled Jones played Young Martin) and in the 1994 BBC production by Steve Nicolson.
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