David Copperfield | Sunday Observer

David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens is set in England in the early and mid-nineteenth century. The novel focuses on the life of an orphaned boy by the same name, and it is a Bildungsroman which charts the growth and development of the protagonist David from childhood to adult life.

The novel begins with a description of David’s birth six months after his father passed away. David has a happy childhood with his mother Clara and the nurse Peggotty until his mother re-marries. His stepfather, Edward Murdstone ill treats and abuses David, and sends him away to boarding school where he meets James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles. David’s mother and his baby half brother die shortly afterwards, and Murdstone sends David to work in London when he is only ten years old. David runs away from the workshop, and walks from London to Dover where his grand aunt Betsey Trotwood lives. Betsey Trotwood removes David from Murdstone’s custody and raises him and sends him to school. During his school years David lodges with Mr. Wickfield and makes friends with his daughter Agnes.

In the second half of the novel the antagonist Uriah Heep - a treacherous villain, cheats Mr. Wickfield and Betsey Trotwood. The novel explores the themes of friendship, love, courtship, marriage and family. David falls in love with and marries Dora Spenlow who is the daughter of his employer Francis Spenlow, which highlights his lack of discernment and insight because he does not realize that his friend Agnes is the right woman for him. Dora is silly and lacks understanding and is an incompetent housewife. David’s lack of discernment is also brought to the fore through his friendship with James Steerforth because he does not realize that James is an impresario and is very superficial.

Fortunately David is given a second chance in love when he marries Agnes who is constant and steadfast in her love for him. The novel also emphasizes the value of constancy and steadfastness in love, inter-personal relationships and marriage.

Literature is about life, and Dickens implies that we as humans are susceptible to make mistakes and errors of judgement as is evident by the mistakes that the characters such as David, Clara, Mr. Wickfield, Wilkins Micawber and Emily make in their personal and professional lives. It is important to learn a lesson from these mistakes and not to repeat them. 

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