Arthur is in the street. He is waiting for a passerbyer so he can ask the name of the place Little Dorrit has entered. He finally asks a dirty old man carrying a musical instrument.
The old man tells him it is the debtors prison. When Arthur learns the old man’s name is Dorrit, he asks about Little Dorrit. He is interested in helping her. The man tells him he is the girl’s uncle. He invites Arthur inside but asks him not to reveal that the girl works for Mrs. Clennam.
Arthur sees Amy Dorrit preparing dinner. He realizes she eats alone so she can take her food back to the prison. She also takes whatever the family doesn’t eat on their plates. She turns white when she sees Arthur. The uncle introduces him as a friend to his brother.
Amy’s father tells Arthur how Amy was born inside the prison and how his son has had difficulty in settling into an occupation. He tells Arthur with pride that no one enters the prison without being introduced to him first. Some of the inmates are grateful for his kindness and reward him with money and other tokens. He tends to value gifts like flowers more than money.
Fanny enters and gets her mended clothes from Amy. She and the uncle leave. Arthur takes his cue. Amy escorts him down, and he tells her he wants to help her. She tells him he is kind, but she wishes he hadn’t followed her. She tells him his mother has been kind to her. He asks how his mother found her. She says a friend of hers put up her advertisement, and the mother found her that way.
He winds up staying too long and getting locked in. Tip finds him. He tells him he is a prisoner there like his father, but Amy doesn’t want their father to know for some reason he can’t understand. Tip tells Arthur that he can pay for a bed if he doesn’t want to bother Amy. He also talks about how devoted his sister is to their father, and she doesn't want to leave him.
The people that own the Snuggery, where visitors are put up, are prisoners or former prisoners. They eagerly tell how they wound up there. To them, they view debt like a disease all people catch eventually. Tip believes coming to Marshalsea is the best thing that can happen to a person.
Arthur feels differently. He sees the lack of food, the coffins waiting for occupants, and the fire hazards that could destroy the place with everyone in it in little time.
He wonders if his mother has more motive in being kind to Little Dorrit. What if his family was responsible for the Dorrit family’s downfall? He wonders if his mother confining herself to her room is a form of penitence.