David Copperfield: Character Analysis in David Copperfield

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      David Copperfield is the central character in the story. All events and episodes revolve around him or owe their unity to some connection to him. It is this little boy who remains present in and connected to each and every episode. With the end of his misery, the novel comes to a close. All the important events of the novel revolve around him.

Projection of Dickens in David's Character

      David Copperfield is a semi-autobiographical novel. It contains the traits of the novelist himself. More or less, the experiences of David are the experiences of Charles Dickens himself. The character of David Copperfield, therefore, has all the weaknesses and strong points of the hero of an autobiography.

The Finest Character of Charles Dickens

      David Copperfield is one of the finest characters drawn by the author. He tells the story of his life from birth to childhood. David is a posthumous child, having lost his father before his birth. His mother Clara looks upon little David as the apple of her eye. David's life during the period of his mother's widowhood is very happy Both his mother and nurse Miss Peggotty love him, but this changes after his step-father Murdstone enters the story. The following are the various stages of his life:

David's Hatred for Murdstone

      Though Murdstone is a lover of Clara somehow little David dislikes him. On his side, Murdstone has no liking for David. When Murdstone marries Clara and dominates her life, poor David becomes a victim of Murdstone's cruelty. So, David reacts badly to it. He is poor at lessons and is caned by Murdstone whom he bites. This results in a series of troubles for David, utterly spoiling his career. He is sent to school where he has to carry on his back a notice, "He bites, take care." But for the protection of Steerforth at the school, David might have become a vagabond.

Death of David's Mother

      The death of David's mother marks the next stage in David's life. His cruel step-father Murdstone and his sister Miss Murdstone have no sympathy for him. David is employed as a menial worker in Murdstone and Grinby's company. This wretched life of drudgery for a little boy, has its demoralizing effect. He runs away, after sometime. But being honest by nature, he runs away on a Saturday night after completing his week's work as the week's wages have been paid in advance. The next stage in David's character, and producing, a change for the better, is his shelter under his aunt Miss Betsey Trotwood. It must be by a stroke of common sense that he goes to her for protection. It shows his pluck and courage to go through the unknown journey for days, almost with an empty pocket and empty stomach. He is lucky in winning his aunt's sympathy and love. He is sent by his aunt to the ideal school of Dr. Strong's.

Aunt's Moral Advice to David

      David scrupulously followed his aunt's moral advice that he must be true, noble and kind and never be mean, false and cruel. He pleases her by taking up the Proctor's profession training under the Lawyer Spenlow. His love for Dora and dislikeness of Uriah Heep are natural for a man of his character. He is a faithful and sympathetic friend of Micawber who has the burden of a large family: When the fortunes of David's aunt are ruined, he has the manliness to work hard and earn extra as a shorthand writer and newspaper reporter. This shows his resourcefulness, self-reliance and bold ability to face the struggles of life. It also shows his gratitude to his aunt. She has helped him in his days of distress; and he repays her by helping her in her distress.

David is a Charming Lover

      David is a charming lover. He always acts as a gentleman. His crush for little Emily does not require special mention. It only shows the natural fancy of a little boy for a little girl. But his feelings for Dora are those of a true and ripe lover. Such guileless and innocent people like David and Dora face domestic difficulties when they marry and set-up home. But he always remains an honorable lover and a faithful husband. He helps her in her household chores. When his wife Dora falls ill, he serves her very lovingly. He would carry her up and downstairs. Her death drowns him in grief. Mention also must be made of his friendship and affection for Agnes. He has always looked upon her with brotherly love. In her difficulties, he shows sympathy and help. After three years of mourning for the lost Dora, he turns to Agnes for love. She has always been a sort of shining angel for him, during those gloomy years. He finally marries her and is glad to learn that what he has done, has also been the dying wish of Dora. David, a faithful lover, is also a faithful friend.

Wrong Interpretation of David's Career

      A critic avers, "But it is not only in his childhood that David shows himself to be sadly incompetent. He is incapable of coping with difficulties; he reveals lack of common sense in dealing with the ordinary problems of domestic life, he does not guess that Agnes is in love with him, and he has none of the drive and vitality of his friends. Thus, while David has charm, and is honest, kindly and conscientious, attracting the affections of almost everyone he encounters, he remains a bit of a fool, and is one of the least interesting persons in the book."

      The above-mentioned views of the critic do not appear to be justified. In the face of his sufferings, he is undaunted. He is maltreated, abused, and thrashed and banished from his house. His stepfather proves a curse for him. He is very innocent and trustworthy. Our sympathies at once go towards him. The school of Mr. Creakle is another trial for him. He never complains. That shows the very worth of his character.

David's Deep Social Snobbishess

      David endeavors to remain above the people whom he is conscious to be below his standard. For example, he mentions his relationship with the other boys at Murdstone and Grinby's. There is another example of David's social snobbishness. He tries to celebrate his birthday at Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse, although he is encountering hardships due to lack of funds.

David's Love of Labour

      David starts his career as an unfortunate orphan. He subsequently becomes a wealthy novelist in his middle age. He has achieved this spectacular success because of his love of labor. He is a very hard-working child, in fact, his life is a rags-to-riches story. He consoles his aunt when she is a victim of evil days. He saves the situation by working sincerely in various capacities.

David's Sharpness of Observation

      One of David's chief characteristics is an extreme sharpness of observation, both of scenes and persons, which is particularly apparent in the description of his early life in Blunderstone and London, Dover and Canterbury. Another is his sensitiveness to other's treatment of him as we see in his boyish relations with the Murdstone's and conversely in his loyalty to the Peggottys, Miss Trotwood, Traddles and the Micawbers. His frankness, honesty and friendliness make him somewhat guileless and unsuspecting of others; for example, of Steerforth, whose motives are less honorable. The trait of his excessive modesty in his personality causes problems for him. For example, the waiter at Yarmouth when he was a boy, and Mrs. Crupp cheated him. His intelligence is apparent from the beginning by the books he was able to read and enjoy at the age of seven or eight. His ambition, good presence of mind, perseverance and resolution are shown by his misery at Murdstone and Grinoy's when all his hopes of a career seem to have been destroyed, and consequently, his running away from London, and later by his struggle to learn shorthand when his aunt loses her property.

David’s Susceptibility to Feminine Attractions

      His susceptibility to feminine attractions is a weakness. As a boy, he falls in love with Emily at Yarmouth, with Miss Shepherd and later with the elder Miss Larkins at Canterbury. As a young man he falls ecstatically and completely in love with Dora (entranced by her prettiness presumably, for he falls in love even before she has spoken a word), and is happy with her despite her impractical nature and his inability to forget Annie's remark about "disparity in marriage," which he can see applied to his own marriage. It is in this respect that his development is shown, for in the end he comes to realize in Agnes the true value of a woman.

David's Common Sense and Honesty

      One of his most refreshing characteristics is his common-sense and honesty - he sees the defects of Doctors' Commons whilst Mr. Spenlow can view that institution only professionally. One of the least satisfactory incidents is his foolish drunken behavior at his party; from which he would have been saved, one would have thought, by his early training in self-reliance and independence.

David's Many Friends in His Life Time

      David picked up many friends in his lifetime. The friendship with the Micawbers became lasting and very intimate. Traddles and Steerforth were his school mates. He too loved them like a true friend. Then there was Mr. Peggotty, although a rustic, David liked him very much and paid frequent visits to the good-natured Mr. Peggotty. David did not like Mr. Murdstone, his stepfather right from the beginning. The Murdstones hated him. All the others had sympathy and love for him.

David's Hyper-sensitive Imagination

      David is imaginative even when he is a child. He has read many stories in his early childhood which deeply influenced his career. So he is an incorrigible romantic because of his imaginative nature. Due to his romantic attitude and the idealization of love, he leads himself into difficult situations. This faculty also helps him to visualize the difficulties of life. He, therefore, overcomes adversities with perseverance. Moreover, this imaginative faculty illustrates Dickens's faith in the final victory of virtue over vice.

David Copperfield is Merely a Sort of Literary Looking Glass

      "One of the strangest things in this novel is the figure of the titular hero himself. David Copperfield is merely a sort of literary looking glass through which we view the other characters. And although David tells us a lot about himself - how he wrote stories for the press, his attempts to enter law, his struggle with shorthand and reporting - few of these details seem real. The reader's interest is more firmly centered on the people who circulate around. David's life, and it is what happens to them rather than to David that is of real importance."

A Good Friend and a Kind Husband

      He was a good friend and a kind husband. He was always sincere and true to Micawber, Traddles and Steerforth. He remembers Mr. Peggotty with gratitude and love. He runs to the bedside of the dying Barkis. He took the tenderest care of Dora, his wife, when she was ill. He was thrown into great depression and it was only through the good influence of Agnes that he recovered from it. His marriage to Agnes was happy and successful.

David Copperfield: A Man of Great Integrity

      He was a man of great integrity. He kept his head up when danger surrounded him on all sides. Though a small boy, he did not take one week's wages from Mr. Quinion because he had advanced him two shillings in the beginning. At Dr. Strong's school and with Mr. Spenlow and Mr. Wickfield he always acts in an honest, sincere and honorable manner. He was not cowed down by misfortunes. He worked hard, learned shorthand, tried his hand at writing, looked up a secretary's job with Dr. Strong, and fought his way up. He soon became a prosperous man and was happily wedded.


      David Copperfield is not a dull hero. Being a self-portrayal of Dickens he has the charm of Dickens's personality. He is full of vitality. Somerset Maugham remarks, "David is a hero drawn after Dickens's own heart - not as he himself was but as he would have wished himself to be, for David Copperfield, is a fantastic action, sometimes gay, sometimes pathetic, composed out of recollections and wish-fulfilments by a man of lively imagination and warm feelings. You must read it in the same spirit as you read As You Like It. It provides entertainment almost as delightful."

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