David Copperfield Summary and Analysis: Charles Dickens

Read our detailed notes on the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Our notes cover David Copperfield summary, themes, characters, and analysis.

David Copperfield Introduction:

Charles Dickens, an important English novelist of the nineteenth century, was born on February 7th, 1812 at Portsmouth, Hampshire, in London and died on 9 June 1870. He is renowned as one of the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. His most important works include Great Expectations, Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, Our Mutual Friend, and David Copperfield. Dickens relished extensive fame throughout his lifespan than any previous author ever had.

The Personal History of David Copperfield, also titled as David Copperfield, was published in series in years 1849 to 1850. In a book form, it was published in 1850. Among the novels, David Copperfield was Dickens’ most favorite novel while among characters, David Copperfield was his “favorite child”. The novel is recognized as a semi-autobiographical novel, though both the characters and the title differ in many ways, however, the author’s personal experiences as child labor in a factory, his schooling and his struggles for studying and finally his appearance from senatorial journalism into popular novel writing are real.

David Copperfield Summary:

David Copperfield is born right six months after his father’s death at Blunderstone, in Suffolk. An unconventional great aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, attended his mother in the night of his birth, yet soon leaves shortly and furiously after knowing that the boy has been born as only a baby girl can take her name. With a pretty young mother and a devoted Servant, Peggoty, David spent his early childhood.

Mr. Murdstone soon wooed David’s mother. Soon after their marriage, she discovers that Mr. Murdstone is parsimonious and unkind. She sent David with Peggoty to her relative at Yarmouth. Near the sea, her brother has transformed an old boat into a home, where little Em’ly, his niece, and Ham, a strong nephew lives with him. Both are David’s first real playmates and the time spent with them is among David’s few happy moments of childhood. David and his mother never freed themselves from the dark and gloomy atmosphere distrust that Murdstone creates about them when Jane, Murdstone’s sister comes to take charge of the house.

David, one day, bites his stepfather’s hand, in a fit of childish dread. Immediately after the incident, they send him to a wretched school near London, called Salem House. David’s life has turned more miserable than before under the supervision of a ruthless headmaster, Mr. Creakle. Despite the harsh treatment he receives from Mr. Creakle, Davis’s life in Salem House becomes tolerable because of his friendship with the two boys: Tommy Traddles, and Lordly James Steerforth, a lovable and a handsome boy resp.

With the sudden death of his mother and her newborn baby, David’s school life ends. After returning home, he finds out that his servant has been dismissed by his step-father and she is gone away with the insufficient but serious courtship of Barkis, a stage driver and marries him. In his former house, David finds himself friendless. Murdstone, for his interest, soon put him to work in a trade warehouse in London. David, a ten-year-old, over-work and half-starved in the broken-down establishment of the wine merchants Grinby and Murdstone, that makes him hate his job and people around him. David meets with the Micawber family at his work and creates a strong association with them. Mr. Micawber is jailed because of debts and after his release, he decides to move with his family to Plymouth. David once again loses his good friends and decided to run away.

David only knows his one relative, Miss Betsey Trotwood, his father’s aunt. Of Miss Betsey, he only discerns that she lives in Dover, and was furious at his birth. Nonetheless, he, full of hope, sets out to find her. He is robbed of the few processions he had and arrive in a wretched condition at Miss Betsey’s home. Initially, David is not heartedly welcomed, however, at the advice of Mr. Dick, a feebleminded kinsman of Miss Betsey, Miss Betsey let him live in his house. She considers highly about what to do with David. She writes a letter to Mr. Murdstone who comes with his sister to take away David. Miss Betsey, at their arrival, doesn’t like them and on the advice of Mr. Dick again decides to keep David with her.

Miss Betsey sends David to a school in Canterbury, much to his joy. The school is run by Mr. Strong, a headmaster, unlike Mr. Creakle. David, during his stay at school, lives with Miss Betsey’s Lawyer, Mr. Wickfield and his daughter, Agnes, where he is very happy. There he meets Mr. Wickfield’s squirming and suppositious clerk, Uriah Heep, with a sweaty handshake.

Miss Betsey advice David to take some time before deciding for a profession after he finishes school at the age of seventeen. David meets Steerforth, his former schoolmate, on way to his visit to Peggoty, and goes to his home. At Steerforth’s home, he meets his mother and Steerforth’s beloved, Rosa Dartle, who still carries the scar of Steerforth’s struck.

David convinces Steerforth to join him to visit Peggotty and her family. Steerforth, at Yarmouth, meets Em’ly who is now engaged to Ham. Both Em’ly and Steerforth falls in love with each other.

David decides upon studying law and is articled to the law firm of Spenlow and Jorkins in London. While saying good-bye to Agnes, she expresses him her insecurities about Steerforth and tells him that she doesn’t trust him; moreover, she tells him about the restlessness about the Heep, who is now displaying the signs of feebleness and is about to into a partnership with her father. David encounters Heep as he leaves the house who tells her that he wants to marry Agnes, which terrified David.

In London, David falls in love with his employer, Spenlow’s daughter, Dora. They, soon, become secretly engaged. David, after sometimes, listens about the upsetting news that Em’ly runs away with his friend Steerforth. Miss Betsey visits David and tells that she has lost all her money. He takes a part-time job as secretary to his former headmaster, Mr. Strong to make money for his articles. The money comes from this job was very little, David starts studying to be a reporter of Parliamentary debates.

Spenlow and Jerkins partnership dissolves with the sudden death of Mr. Spenlow. Soon David learns that his employer died pennilessly. David becomes a reporter after studying hard and marries Dora at the age of twenty-one. Meanwhile, David also keeps himself in touch with Mr. Micawber, who is now Heep’s confidential secretary. Mr. Micawber relationship with David and his family has become somewhat mysterious, however, his conscience awakes and discloses Heep’s criminal dishonesty at meeting at Mr. Wickfield. Mr. Wickfield is robbed and cheated for a year by Heep and Miss Betsey also confesses that she is responsible for her loss of money.

To clear his conscience, Mr. Micawber decides to shifts with his to Australia. Meanwhile, Em’ly returns, after getting punished by Steerforth, to her uncle and they, too, shift to Australia. While watching the departing ship, David foreshadows the sunset a promise for good fortune.

Dora’s health now becomes a dark cloud in Davis’s life. Her health declines day after day. Despite his compassionate care, she grows more week and pale. On the night of Dora’s death, Agnes still was next to him like a true friend. David, in his early troubled days, finds comfort in her sympathy and understanding. Davis, upon the advice of Agnes, decides to go abroad. However, he first goes to Yarmouth to hand over a letter to Ham from Em’ly. Meanwhile, David stays there, Ham dies rescuing people in a storm that causes a ship to sink off the coast. Steerforth also dies in this accident.

For three years, David lives in Europe. After his return, on day Miss Betsey cunningly proposes that one day Agnes will be married. He, downcast, goes to wish her happy wishes, however, Em’ly bursts into tears where David recognizes that her heart belongs to her. Both of them marry and David begins his career as a successful novelist.

David Copperfield Character Analysis:

David Copperfield

The narrator of the story and the protagonist of the novel who is born an orphan. As an extremely sensitive child, he experiences cruelty and child labor when his widowed mother courted an unkind man, Mr. Murdstone. After his mother’s death, he escapes from the tyranny of his step-father and goes to Miss Betsey. There he, somehow, lived a life of comfort, however, during his higher studies he faces little financial problems is paying for his articles. David develops and grows out of circumstances into a mature man with moral standards.

Clara Copperfield

She is the mother of David Copperfield. She is understanding and beautiful mother, whose first husband dies before David is born. She marries an unkind man Mr. Murdstone and being unable to cope with life, is fated to die too young.

Edward Murdstone

He is Clara’s second husband and David’s short-tempered step-father. He mistreats David and his mother. He is a symbol of meanness and untrustworthiness. His unkindness is moved with brutality, and his arrogance limits on the messianic.

Jane Murdstone

She is Mr. Murdstone’s sister, who is more like her brother. She is a highly suspicious lady, having a harsh and unbending nature.

Clara Peggotty

She is a devoted servant of Mrs. Field and a nurse and friend of David. She is a cheerful lady. Mr. Murdstone removed her from the job after the death of Mrs. Copperfield.

Daniel Peggotty

He is Clara Peggoty’s brother who lives in a Yarmouth. He is a generous kindhearted man and a guardian of her niece, little Em’ly and nephew, Hem. David visits them in his early childhood.

Ham Peggotty

He is a nephew of Daniel Peggoty and childhood friend of David and Em’ly. He falls in love with Em’ly. He died in rescuing people on the boat that has been hit by the storm.

Little Em’ly

She is adopted daughter and niece of Mr. Peggotty. She is a beautiful and charming girl and David’s first love. She is engaged to may Ham, however, run away with Steerforth. She was soon discarded by him and shifted to Australia with her uncle Peggotty.

Barkis

He is a bashful suitor of Clara Peggoty. He is a stage driver who carries goods between Blunderstone and Yarmouth.

Mrs. Gummidge

She is a widow of Mr. Peggoty’s dead fisher partner. After her husband’s death, Mr. Peggotty takes her to his home.

Miss Betsey Trotwood

She is a great aunt of David copper field. She is unconventional, straightforward but a kind lady. Initially, she is furious with David’s birth but takes his care when he escapes from Murdstones house.

Richard Bailey

He is also known as Mr. Dick. He is a feebleminded man. He is distant kin to Miss Trotwood and lives with her. Upon his advice, Miss Betsey agrees upon keeping David with him.

Dora Spenlow

She is attractive but feeble child-wife of David who loves her very much. She dies after marrying David.

Agnes Wickfield

She is the daughter of Miss Betsey’s lawyer and David’s good friend. David is a great admirer of Agnes’ father, however, his admiration soon transfers to her. She is a lovable and generous lady who nurses Dora Copperfield during her fatal condition. She sympathizes and consoles David on Dora’s death. After David’s return from Europe, she marries him.

Uriah Heep

He is a hypocritical creepy person, who starts his job as a clerk in Mr. Wickfield’s office and soon robs his all money. He claims himself to be very innocent that clues the reader of his cunning nature.

Wilkins Micawber

He is a struggling poor man who is always waiting for a good fortune and eventually prisoned into debtors’ prison. At a time when David works at factory, he befriended Mr. Micawber’s family. They soon leave the city after Micawber is released from the prison. He joins various occupations and finally joins Uriah Heep. He unmasks Heep’s villainously nature and finally shifts to Australia with his family.

Mrs. Emma Micawber

She is the wife of Mr. Micawber. She is graciously born and as impulsive as her husband.

Master Wilkins and Miss Emma

They are Micawber’s Children.

James Steerforth

He is a friend and schoolmate of David Copperfield at Salem House. He is a handsome but spoiled son of a rich widow. He hides his true nature behind a pleasing manner. He is introduced to Peggoty’s family by David. He seduces Em’ly and escapes with her on the night of her wedding. He died by drowning in the sea when a storm hits the boat at Yarmouth.

Mrs. Steerforth

She is a proud, rich mother of James Steerforth. Initially she is a devoted wife and mother, however, after her husband’s death, she estranges from him.

Rosa Dartle

She lives with Mrs. Steerforth. Though a few years older than Steerforth, she loves him. She endures unreasonable humiliation at the hands of Steerforth, who once hit her and the scar doesn’t go away.

Littimer

He is a servant of Steerforth who helps Steerforth to elope with Em’ly. After getting tired of Em’ly, Steerforth plans her marriage with Littimer.

Miss Mowcher

She is a little hairdresser. Steerforth avails her services.

Markham and Grainger

They are lively and amusing friends.

Francis Spenlow

He is an employer of the London firm that David Copperfield joined as an articled clerk. Davis, after meeting with Spenlow’s daughter, Dora, falls in love with him. After Miss Betsey loses her fortune, Spenlow opposes the marriage of Dora and David. After the sudden death of Dora’s father, David and Dora marry.

Miss Clarissa Spenlow and Miss Lavinia Spenlow

After Spenlow’s death, they take Dora to their home.

Mr. Jorkins

He is the business partner of Mr. Spenlow’s, David’s employer.

Mary Anne Paragon

During the marriage life of David and Dora, she serves them

Mr. Tiffey

He is a clerk employed by Spenlow and Jorkins.

Mr. Wickfield

He is a lawyer of Miss Betsey and Canterbury school. David’s lives at his home and marries his daughter Agnes at the end of the novel. Uriah Heep brought loss to Mr. Wickfield by scheming however is then saved from Mr. Micawber confessions. Mr. Wickfield is a frail, silly, but highly honorable man offended by a rascal who abuses his faults.

Mr. Creakle

He is the master of Salem House, a wretched school. Mr. Murdstone sends David to this school at a very young age. He lacks scholarly skills that made him pride in his strict self-control.

Mrs. Creakle

She is a wife and a victim of Creakle’s tyranny.

Miss Creakle

She is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Creakle who loves Steerforth.

Charles Mell

He is a junior master at Salem house who was discharged by Creakle after discovering that his mother lives in an almshouse.

Mr. Sharp

He is a senior teacher at Salem House.

George Demple

One of the schoolmates of David at Salem House.

Thomas Traddles

He is another schoolmate of David at Salem House. An unhappy boy who consoles himself by drawing skeletons. In later life, he studies law and marries one of the daughters of the clergyman.

Miss Sophy Crewler

She is a fourth daughter of Clergyman’s family. She is a young jolly girl who marries Thomas Traddles.

The Reverend Horace Crewler

He is a poor clergyman. He fathers a larger family of a daughter only.

Mrs. Crewler

She is the wife of Mr. Crewler.

Caroline Crewler, Sarah Crewler, Louisa Crewler, Lucy Crewler, and Margaret Crewler

They are the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Crewler.

Dr. Strong

He is a kind and generous master of the Canterbury School, where Miss Betsey sends David for education. Dr. Strong also hires David as a clerk in his office after Mrs. Betsey loses all her money.

Mrs. Strong

She is a young wife of Doctor Strong.

Mrs. Markleham

She is the mother of Mrs. Strong. Mrs. She is titled “Old Soldier” by the boys at Canterbury school.

Mr. Quinion

He is a manager of the warehouse, where David is sent for child labor after his mother’s death, owned by Murdstone and Grinby

Tipp

He is a workman in the warehouse owned by Murdstone and Grinby.

Mealy Potatoes and Mick Walker

They are the two boys who work at the warehouse with David.

Miss Larkins

An elegant and beautiful lady with whom David falls in love at the age of seventeen. She marries Mr. Chestle and disappoints David.

Miss Shepherd

She is another youthful love of David who studies at Miss Nettingall’s Establishment for Young Ladies

Mrs. Crupp

She is a landlady of David Copperfield, who undergoes the spazzums.

Martha Endell

She is an unfortunate lady who helps Em’ly in return to his uncle Peggoty.

Janet

She is Miss Betsey’s servant.

Jack Maldon

He is a cousin of Mrs. Strong, who was employed by Mr. Strong.

David Copperfield Themes:

The Trouble of the Feeble

The novel, David Copperfield, explore the idea of the abuse done by powerful to the weak and helpless people. To illustrate the concept that exploitation the main principle of industrially developed society, women, orphans and mentally disabled people are focused. The novel describes Dickens’ own experience of child labor and debtors’ prison. Even though the characters in the novel are morally good, however, the suffer retribution from the powers that are superior to themselves. The most intense scenes of the novel are the subjective miseries of the innocents. For instance, David’s suffering and starving at the factory; Mr. Murdstone’s exploitation of David at factory labor; similarly, the students at Salem House have no alternative counter to the cruel headmaster, Mr. Creakle. The children, in absence of their natural parents, suffered a lot at the hands of their so-called protectors.

The feeble in David Copperfield certainly not outflow the control of the influential by stimulating the influential openly. In its place, the feeble must associate themselves with correspondingly influential characters. For instance, David doesn’t rise against Mr. Murdstone to dare his power, but, he escapes to the well-off Miss Betsey, who through her economic strength meet the expense of her the influence to save David from Mr. Murdstone. David’s act of escape proves neither self-sufficiency nor his own internal quality, nevertheless the worth of family links and family financial status in human relations.

Impartiality in Marriage

Equality among the spouses in the marriage guarantees a happy and proper life. This theme of the novel is illustrated through Mr. Strong’s marriage. Dickens views in a happy marriage, neither of the spouse overpowers others; moreover, the views that people inferior who overpower their partners. On the other hand, Dickens condemns characters who endeavor to entreat a sense of dominance over their partners. In order to improve David’s mother character, Mr. Murdstone crushes her spirit. He forces her into submission for the sake of improvement that results in her quietness and disenfranchised character. In comparison, though Doctor Strong does the effort to develop Annie’s personality, he does so with love and respect, not to evoke a sense of superiority. Unlike Murdstone, Mr. strong is kind and gentle who believes in the rights of women. He accepts that a wife, as a woman depends upon his husband and seeks moral guidance from him. In David Copperfield, Dickens does not test the unconventional social views regarding the roles of women in society, however, he does points out toward the age of women’s empowerment by portraying equality in marriages.

Wealth and Class

Charles Dickens, in David Copperfield, condemns his society to measure the value of a person through his wealth and class status. Through Steerforth, Dickens shows that wealth, power, and nobility are traits the more often corrupt people than improving them. Steerforth is narcissist and unfaithful that is mostly caused by his class status. While, Mr. Peggoty and Ham, on the other hand, are substantial, caring and compassionate, though they are poor. In Dickens’ time, it was believed that those who are poor are morally weak people and they deserved to suffer because of their inherit sacristies. While Dickens shows sympathy toward these poor people and infers that their miseries result from the unfairness in society.

Dickens does not over-generalized the concept that all poor are kind and all the rich are cruel. Even poor people have done fraud with David when he is young, poor and helpless. Likewise, Doctor strong and Agnes, belonging to a wealthy class, helped him in his bad times showing their moral standards. Dickens draws the picture that wealth and class do not shape the personality nor guarantee the character of a person and it is wrong to judge a person by his wealth. However, a man’s individual deeds are the best way to judge the character of a man.

David Copperfield Analysis:

David Copperfield is a complex investigation of psychological development that makes it Freud’s favorite. The novel flourishes in the merging elements of a fairy tale with open-ended maturation process of the protagonist. The novels display the idea of a fatherless child whose tranquil childhood is disturbed by the masculine control of his stepfather. The novel deal with the suffering that David encounter in his early part of the life, then his matrimonial to a Child-wife, Dora; his postulations of identity as mature middle-class, he his learning to trained an “undisciplined heart”. The story suggests the deed of reminiscence while exploring the nature of remembrance itself. David’s growth is established alongside other fatherless Childs, whereas the retributive Mr. Murdstone is counter postured to the lively and exciting Mr. Micawber.

Charles Dickens in his novel, David Copperfield, explores the uncertainties and worries that revolves around the class and gender. The particular events of seduction in the novel evidence of this fact. For instance, the seduction of Em’ly by Steerforth and the strategies on the pious Agnes by Uriah Heep along with David’s attraction towards child-like sexuality of Dora and at the end the housetrained reasonableness of Agnes in his own expedition for a family.