Important Events in The Novel David Copperfield

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(1). David's Reaction to the Re-Marriage of his Mother

      When David returns from his visit to Mr. Peggotty's house at Yarmouth, he found that his mother had been married to Mr. Murdstone. Mr. Murdstone had been visiting their house quite often for some time before. But David had conceived a dislike of Mr. Murdstone from the very first day he saw him. He felt jealous of Mr. Murdstone and did not like Mr. Murdstone to touch his mother. There was something hard and metallic in the nature of Mr. Murdstone which frightened David. His suspicions were justified by the treatment which he received at the hands of Mr. Murdstone. He treated David cruelly and tried to crush all joy and confidence out of him. David could never forgive Murdstone for his almost inhuman treatment. The child knew instinctively that he had to deal with human monsters in the form of Mr. and Miss Murdstone. They tormented David in order to torture his mother. It seems to be no doubt that they were responsible for the misery of David and the early death of his mother.

(2). Circumstances Leading David to the Boarding House

      Mr. Murdstone and David never liked each other. They were prejudiced against each other from the very beginning. David found Mr. Murdstone to be cruel, harsh and utterly devoid of love and human feelings. He believed in nothing but the rod. David on the other hand was hungry for love, which was sadly denied to him. Mr. Murdstone's charge against David was that he was willful and spoiled. He was idle and would not improve unless severely punished. He might be correct about David's willfulness. But he was absolutely wrong about the method he adopted to reform him.

      Soon after Mr. Murdstone's marriage to David's mother, Miss Murdstone the elder sister of Mr. Murdstone, came to live with them permanently and assumed full control of the house. She thought that David's mother was too young and too soft to bring up David well. So, under the joint supervision of Mr. and Miss Murdstone, David's mother was required to give lessons to David and teach him. This turned out to be an unfortunate arrangement.

      His mother used to teach David with Mr. Murdstone and Miss Murdstone sitting in the same room and keeping a close eye on him. If David omitted a single word or made a single mistake, both of them would look up ominously at David and his mother. And David found all that he had learned slipping out of his mind and he blundered more and more. He could not think of his lessons and his mind wandered and he thought of things which had nothing to do with his lessons. He found his position still more hopeless while doing sums. He could never solve the difficult sums dictated by Murdstone and remained in disgrace for the rest of the evening.

      One day David found Murdstone tying a lash to a cane. David was told to be careful about his lessons or he would be whipped. His mother mildly protested that the method of the rod did never improve anybody. But Mr. and Miss Murdstone were "all for firmness". The sight of the lash was enough to bewilder David. He did worse than on any other day. Murdstone gravely led him upstairs and whipped him there. David became mad with pain and bit Murdstone's hand. Then Murdstone beat him mercilessly. Then Murdstone shut David in the room where he remained in the state of confinement for four days. He was allowed only half an hour's walk in the garden and Miss Murdstone brought him his food.

      On the fifth day, he was allowed to come down for breakfast and was told that he was going to the Salem House School. The cart appeared at the gate and moved away with David to school. Murdstone wrote about this incident to the headmaster of the school, Mr. Creakle and asked him to be cruel to David as he was in the habit of biting. The wretched time which David had at the school fills the mind of the reader with grief and pain. It was under these very depressing circumstances that David was sent to Salem House School. He was sent there more for a punishment than for education.

(3). The Description of the Salem House School and David's Experiences

      (a) David was sent to Salem House School as a punishment. It was the worst school in the country. It was a school where the teacher whipped and caned the boys and broke their ribs. It was ruled with an iron hand and a rod.

      The Salem House School, was enclosed by a high brick-wall and looked very dull. It was a square brick building with a bare and unfurnished appearance. The place looked specially grim to David on his first visit to the place, as it was the time of holidays and there were no boys to be seen.

      The class rooms were almost empty and depressing. There was a long room with three rows of desks and dotted all over with pegs for hats and slats. Scraps of old copy books and exercises were lying all over the dirty floor. The rooms smelt bad.

      The playground was a bare graveled yard, open to all the backs of the houses and the offices. On the old door of the playground almost all the boys had scratched their names. The playground was very dusty and looked just like a desert.

      (b) David had the bitterest experience in the place and spent some of the unhappiest time of his life there. When he went there for the first time it was a holiday. But under instructions from the headmaster who was, enjoying his holiday, a placard bearing the words: "Take care of him. He bites."

      The school opened and the boys came in. Traddles was the first to come and read David's placard. He laughed and introduced David to every boy who came later on mischievously pointing the placard to him. The boy would look at David as if he actually were a little dog and called him "Towzer." This was naturally humiliating among so many strangers and caused him to shed some tears.

      David was produced before Creakle as soon as the school opened. He was a bald cruel man. He told David that he knew his father and said that he was a Tartar, a cruel barbarian and would have his way. He knew his duty and would do it. He punched the ear of David so hard that he felt as if his ear was blazing. However, David had the courage to request Creakle to be allowed to remove the dread placard. But Creakle looked at David so fiercely that he ran out of the room shrieking.

      David was formally admitted into the school after he had been received by Steerforth, the head boy of the school.

      David lived in the same room with Steerforth and a few other students, and the friendship of Steerforth saved him from much trouble and pain in that awful school.

      Soon David finds that Creakle was in fact a Tartar. He was the sternest and the most severe of the masters. They whipped the boys mercilessly. He was a very ignorant person. He knew nothing but whipping. Besides him, there were two other teachers, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell. Mr. Mell was the only gentle person. He was always kind to David.

      This was a school which was administered by the rod. It believed the boys to have no honor and faith and suspected them of all sorts of wickedness. In short, it was no school, but a place where innocent 'criminals' were to be lashed and punished. No wonder that the boys did not learn anything at the school. They were much too troubled and knocked about to learn. They remained trembling in constant dread of the cane. David was, however, more fortunate. He was protected by Steerforth and was able to pick up some crumbs of knowledge.

      There were two memorable incidents during David's stay in this cursed school. First was the quarrel between Mr. Mell and Steerforth the most disgraceful thing that could happen in any school. The second was a visit from Mr. Peggotty and Mr. Ham; the most pleasant thing that could happen to David there.

(4). Dr. Strong's School where David was Sent by his Aunt Betsey
Contrast the Differences between the School of Mr. Creakle and Dr. Strong

      (a) David’s aunt took care him very kindly. She adopted him as her child and sent him to the school of Dr. Strong for education. It was a grave building in a courtyard. It had a learned air about it.

      The school room was pretty large hall. It was on the quietest side of the house. There were then about twenty-five students studying with Dr. Strong.

      Dr. Strong was kind and scholarly. He believed his students and appealed to their sense of duty and honor. The school was well ordered and the students were well-behaved. They also made good progress at their studies.

      Some of the higher scholars boarded at Dr. Strong's house. Dr. Strong at that time was engaged in compiling a monumental Greek Dictionary which was not likely to be completed in his lifetime.

      Dr. Strong's school was one of the best schools of that time. The scholars were happy. They acquired good habits, self-respect and self-confidence there. David soon outgrew the sordid influence of Murdstone and Grinby's Warehouse. He was happy and made rapid progress in games and studies and everybody spoke well of him to aunt Betsey whenever she visited that school. Here David was once again restored to his happy and innocent childhood. Being sent to this school was one of the luckiest things that could happen to David.

      (b) David went first to the Salem House School and afterward to Dr. Strong's school. The two schools had just the opposite atmosphere, traditions and methods. Salem House was governed by brutal force. Tyranny and torture were its accepted methods. Boys were regarded as wicked and were distrusted in everything. They were made to believe that they had no noble instincts. A close watch was kept and the cane and the whip were used at the slightest provocation, and quite often without any provocation.

      The result of this barbaric rule was that the boys acquired the undesirable habit of obeying force only. There was suppression but no discipline. The incident connected with Mr. Mell could only happen in a school like Salem House. Just as Mr. Creakle was obeyed because he was a Tartar, in the same way Steerforth was dreaded and patronized by Creakle because he was a powerful bully. He was the favorite of the headmaster and he could not only tyrannize over the students but could also insult a good and gentle teacher like Mr. Mell. The atmosphere of the place was altogether not favorable to the growth of any healthy spirit among the students.

      Dr. Strong's on the other hand, was the right type of school. It was governed by love and faith. The teachers loved their pupils and the pupils loved and respected their teachers. The boys felt happy and they gave their best to everything. They were trusted and believed to be good and they tried to earn and deserve this trust. They made wonderful progress at both games and studied and zealously guarded the prestige and honor of the institution. The school was well-organized and properly managed. It was run on very sound lines. Every student felt that he had a hand in the management of the school and tried to sustain the character and dignity of the school.

      The effect on the character and education of the student was equally different. Mr. Creakle's pupils were undisciplined. They were too disturbed to make any progress with their studies. The pupils of Dr. Strong were likely to grow up to be fine gentlemen, self-respecting and dignified.

      Doctor Strong's school was as different from Mr. Creakle's as good is from evil.

(5). David Copperfield at Murdstone and Grinby's Warehouse

      David received the news at Salem House that his mother had died. He went home in mourning. This was the saddest thing that could happen to him. He loved his mother tenderly and he never suspected that she would die so soon. His heart was heavy with sorrow and he was stricken with grief.

      David was now left quite alone. Peggotty had also been turned out of the house. He fell to a state of neglect. He received no love or attention from cruel Mr. and Miss Murdstone. They disliked him and sullenly, sternly, steadily over-looked him. Murdstone thought of David as an unnecessary burden and wanted to get rid of him. He sent David with Mr. Quinion, his friend and manager of Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse. David was to begin his life in the world on his own account.

      Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse was at the end of a narrow dirty lane. It was literally overrun with rats. They dealt in wine and sold it to certain packet ships. David along with some other boys was employed to receive and wash empty bottles. The bottles were to be carefully examined at the time of receiving and if flawed, were to be rejected. He had to paste labels on full bottles and put seal or corks on them. These were to be labeled and packed also.

      The work was very hard. The worst part of it was that he had to work with boys who were not the right type of society for a boy like David. There were Mick Walker and Mealy Potato were his companions. When he thought of his companions at school and compared them with his present companions his heart was filled with pain and grief.

      He was to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in a small and unfurnished room in a dirty lane. The financial difficulties and crisis of the Micawber family always made David's heart heavy. Micawber was taken to prison for debts and David had to leave that house and seek another lodging.

      David's life was extremely miserable. He got very low wages which would hardly stretch over a week. He had very little to eat and no joy or pride in this base work. There was nobody to look after him and to guide him. There was every chance of his growing into a vagabond and a rogue. He writes pathetically, "From Monday morning till Saturday night I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support of any kind... I know that, but for the grace of God, I might easily have been, for any car that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond."

      David felt extremely wretched and had almost lost every hope of getting rid of this wretched life. One day he thought of his aunt Betsey Trotwood and found out her address from Peggotty and left for Dover on Sunday. It was a desperate attempt to escape from Murdstone and Grinbyzs Warehouse.

(6). David's Love and His Marriage with Dora

      David was in love with Dora, the daughter of Mr. Spenlow to whom he was articled. He had met her on a week-end visit to Mr. Spenlow's house. He had fallen in love with her at the first sight. He felt happy when he thought of her. He made up his mind to meet her and declare his love for her. He wanted to know his fate. Dora was on a short visit to a friend of hers named Miss Mills. He arrived at her house. He found Dora sitting alone in a room upstairs. He made his proposal and said that he loved her very much and that he would die without her. Dora gave her approval. Soon they were engaged. The time after the engagement was indeed very sweet. They had their meetings, their quarrels and conciliations.

      Next day David wrote to Agnes. He told her about his engagement with Dora and his happiness. By return post, he got a reply to his letter. When he returned to his chambers, he was surprised to find his aunt and Mr. Dick waiting for him there. Her unexpected visit gave him lot of pleasure. His aunt sat on luggage which she had brought with her.

      David could at once see that his aunt was inwardly very much agitated. He began to wonder if he had offended her in any way. But she removed all his doubts and told him about the purpose of her visit. His aunt explained to him that she was utterly ruined. The luggage on which she sat was the only thing she possessed.

      David told his aunt that he was in love with Dora. His aunt did not oppose him, but she appeared to be interested more in Agnes than in Dora. David was deeply in love with Dora. He wanted to make her his life partner. His aunt thought that David was not acting wisely in choosing Dora in preference to Agnes.

      David doubted if he would get the permission of Mr. Spenlow to marry his daughter. But before David could get Mr. Spenlow's permission he died. Dora was very miserable. She cried for her dead father. She had two aunts with whom she went to live. David felt sorry for her. There was one thing, however, which gave him satisfaction. Now that Dora was poor like him, she could be his wife without the world saying that he had married her for money.

      David now sought Agnes's advice on the subject of his courtship. Agnes advised him to write to the aunts of Dora for permission to carry on the courtship. He did as Agnes had advised him. This went on for a year. At the end of this period David married Dora. Traddles who was now a lawyer, acted as his best man.

(7). Mr. Micawber Exposes the Schemes of Uriah Heep

      Mr. Micawber was employed by Uriah Heep as his confidential clerk. Uriah Heep knew that Mr. Micawber was always in financial difficulties and advanced him large sums of money and had him under his full control. He began to make use of Micawber for furthering his wicked plans against Mr. Wickfield.

      Mr. Micawber's nature revolted against this villainy; He felt choked in this dirty atmosphere of villainy, deceit and wickedness. He wanted to get away from there. But at the same time, he would not like to triumph wickedness over innocence. He made up his mind to expose Uriah Heep and blow him to pieces.

      Mr. Micawber passed on all the information and secrets he knew to Traddles. In consultation with Traddles, he wrote a letter to David and invited him, Agnes, Betsey Trotwood and others at Canterbury. They could see clearly that Micawber had some issue and something serious was weighing on his mind.

      David and all reached Canterbury at the appointed time. Micawber showed them to Uriah Heep’s room and they all are gathered there. Uriah Heep asked Mr. Micawber to leave the room and go away but he refused to do so.

      Most dramatically Mr. Micawber drew out a long document from his pocket and began to read it. He read out an account of several villainous activities perpetrated by Uriah Heep one by one and asked Uriah to deny them if he could. The charge-sheet which Mr. Micawber had prepared was a long one. It included forgery and preparation of false accounts, entries and documents by Uriah Heep. He also exposed the bond which Uriah Heep had forged under the false signatures of Mr. Wickfield against Wickfield and Agnes.

      Uriah Heep came out in his darkest colors. Now exposed, he threw away the garb of his false humility and became defiant and charged David and others of conspiracy. He threatened David and Agnes of dire consequences.

      But all the books and important documents had been passed on by Mr. Micawber to Trad dies. So the credit goes to Mr. Micawber that the darkest schemes of Uriah Heep were exposed and shattered to pieces by him.

      The exposure of Heep is one of the most melodramatic incidents in the book.

(8). David's Marriage with Agnes

      Dora was dead. Her death left David depressed and dejected. On Agnes's advice he went on a foreign tour. He wandered for sometimes in Switzerland. In the beginning, he had no interest either in the beautiful scenes and sights of nature or the human beings in whose midst he lived. Gradually under the tender influence of Agnes, David's interest and charm in things revived. He wrote a book while abroad which was kindly received at home and he became a famous author. He made up his mind and returned to his country earlier than he was expected.

      He spent sometime with his aunt Betsey and his kind nurse Peggotty. He then visited Traddles and was delighted to find him happily married to the girl of his heart. He then went to meet Agnes.

      He sat with Agnes in the window of her room and thanked her for the great solace and support she had been to him throughout his life, specially the hour of his recent affliction. He felt that he could not live without her any longer. He would like to have her as his wife if she agreed. He proposed her and she agreed. All his reserve now was over and his love came gushing out. He told her with love and gratitude that all that he was, she had made him. She had inspired him to do nobler things. He would be ever led by her till he died. He had loved her all along.

      She tenderly told him in her turn that she had also loved him all her life. They were married within a fortnight. David was happy to learn later that his dear Dora had requested Agnes at her death-bed to marry David. They lived blissfully happy afterward.

(9). Iraddles and his Part in the Novel

      David first met Traddles at the Salem House School run by Mr. Creakle. Traddles was the first boy to return from home to the school and he laughed on seeing the placard. "Take care of him, he bites" on the back of David. He introduced David to the boys who came to the school later by pointing to the placard.

      It is likely that Traddles had been an important figure at the school and a friend of Mr. David. After David left the Salem House they did not meet each other for several years. It was at a party given by Mr. Wickfield that David met Traddles again as a shy law student at the university; They had not much time to talk to each other but exchanged addresses with each other, visited each other more frequently and became great friends.

      Traddles later became a fairly successful barrister and married Sophy Crewler after a long engagement. The story leaves him near the top of the tree, expecting his appointment as a Judge.

      Traddles plays an important part in the story as a faithful and trusted friend of David. He goes with David, as his confidential friend to Putney to the house of Dora's parents. It was mainly through his forceful and clever pleading that David gets the permission of those ladies to see Dora twice a week as she approved lover. It was Traddles again to whom David sent his book for publication from abroad. Traddles got it published to the great advantage of David. The book brought David much fame.

      Still more important is the part played by Traddles in getting Mr. Wickfield out of the clutches of Uriah Heep the subtle rascal. Traddles had been collecting all the information against Uriah supplied to him by Micawber. He also took possession of all the books of Mr. Wickfield's office and the burnt notebook in which Uriah had been practicing the forging of Mr. Wickfield's signatures. He had collected overwhelming evidence against Uriah. When Uriah showed defiance and growled, it was Traddles who threatened him with the legal consequences of his actions. It was mainly his skill that defeated the villainy of Heep and made him restore the fortunes of which he had cheated Mr. Wickfield and Agnes and other persons.

He remained a trusted friend, of David till the end.

(10). The Story of the Micawbers

      The Micawbers also play a very important part in the life of David Copperfield. When David was sent to London to work at the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby, arrangements were made with Mr. Micawber for his acceptance as a lodger. Mr. Micawber was a commission agent but he earned practically nothing from his occupation.

      It was half-past twelve when Mr. Quinion asked David to come into the counting house. David met him there a stoutish middle-aged, bald headed man with a broad face. His clothes were shabby but he wanted to look genteel with a fine shirt collar, a stick and a quizzing glass. As David was introduced to him, he asked David how he was in a patronizing manner. He next informed David that, according to instructions received from Mr. Murdstone he would accept David as a lodger. Mr. Quinion told David that the visitor's name was Micawber and that he occasionally took orders from the firm on commission. Mr. Micawber gave his address as Windsor Terrace, City Road. But thinking that David did not know his way about London, he promised to call at 8 p.m. to accompany him to Windsor Terrace.

      Mr. Micawber called him at 8 p.m. The house was shabby and Mrs. Micawber turned out to be a thin lady, not at all young. She always had a baby at her breast - one of the twins. They were a boy of four and a girl of three. David's room was at the top of the house, with very little furniture.

      As Mrs. Micawber showed David to his room, she explained how financial difficulties made it necessary for them to take a lodger. Mr. Micawber, it seemed, was then in a great trouble - a thing Mrs. Micawber could not have understood before her marriage. David somehow got the impression that Mr. Micawber was working for some business firms as an agent in London but made very little amount out of it. Mrs. Micawber hinted that just then, the creditors were most troublesome but Mr. Micawber could not possibly pay them. Perhaps she thought that David was older than he really was - that's why she told him all these things or, perhaps, she wanted to talk to anyone she could find.

      Mrs. Micawber, poor woman, no doubt tried to help him but the creditors visited them all the time and were very troublesome. One of them, a boot-maker, would come very early in the morning and would shout in the most insulting manner. He would even shout insults from the street. Mr. Micawber would be much upset for a while, but the next moment he would go out humming a tune. Mrs. Micawber was also like her husband. Very much upset by something, within an hour she would pawn the spoons and eat a good meal. One evening David found her in a swoon, but that very night she was enjoying her meal and telling stories of her parents.

      David got quite close to the Micawbers, sharing their thoughts and worries. On Saturday nights and Sunday mornings Mr. and Mrs. Micawber would tell him about their troubles. But they would soon get over their depression and Mr. Micawber would form plans "in case anything turned up." David became a friend to them although he was so much younger. But he made it a point not to eat and drink with them as he knew that they were very badly off.

      One day Mrs. Micawber took David completely into her confidence and told him that there was nothing in the house to eat David offered the little money he had as a loan but she would not take it. She then asked David to do her a service which was to dispose of certain articles at the pawn-broker's shop in order to raise some money This had often been done in the past. But neither she nor Mr. Micawber could do it and the servant could not be trusted. David willingly agreed. Thenceforward he would often visit these shops almost every day with some article of property.

      At last Mr. Micawber was arrested for debt and taken to the Kings Bench prison. He was very depressed at first but soon made himself cheerful when David visited him in prison to have dinner with him on the first Sunday. He found it quite difficult to reach the room where Mr. Micawber was.

      At last Mr. Micawber got a room for himself in the prison where the family joined him. As David wanted to be near them a room was found for him near the prison.

      In due time, Mr. Micawber was released from prison. He took lodgings for a week in the same house in which David lived. In the evening Mrs. Micawber explained to David their future plans. Her family had offered to use their influence and obtain employment for Mr. Micawber in the Custom House. Her family was at Plymouth. They would soon go to that town. On David asking her whether she would accompany her husband, Mrs. Micawber was very much moved. She expressed her firm resolve never to desert her husband.

      The day on which the Micawbers were due to leave they breakfasted with David. They were feeling unhappy at the thought of their separation. Here Mr. Micawber advised David to learn to live within his means. Before the Micawbers left Mrs. Micawber kissed David for the first time with motherly affection as she would have done her own son.

      Mr. Micawber enters the story again at the time when David was taking tea with Uriah Heep and his mother. The door of Uriah Heep's house was open. Mr. Micawber came down the street and while passing by it saw Copperfield seated inside. He was surprised to see Copperfield there. He entered the room and began to talk in a friendly way with Uriah Heep. David felt very uncomfortable. He did not like that anything of his past life should be known to Uriah. On the pretext that he was anxious to see Mrs. Micawber, David led Micawber out of the house. On Meeting Mrs. Micawber he learned that Mr. Micawber could not succeed in getting a job in the Custom House. Mrs. Micawber's family did not help him as was expected. Mr. Micawber had been advised to enter the coal trade. But the coal trade needed capital. Mr. Micawber had plenty of talent but he had no capital. So the plan of joining the coal trade must fall through. Although David did not like that Mr. Micawber should be friendly with Uriah Heep he was surprised to find the same evening Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep walking arm in arm. The next day the Micawbers returned to London.

      Mr. Micawber plays a very important role in the later part of the novel. The next time after this we meet him living in the same house with Traddles. Traddles whom David had gone to see told him that he boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber who lived downstairs. David was very much pleased to meet them. Mr. Micawber learned that Traddles was their lodger. Mr. Micawber was employed upon the sale of coms on commission. But the business did not pay.

      Next time we find Mr. Micawber working as the confidential clerk to Wickfield and Heep. He was a clever man, he found out a fraud which Uriah Heep had committed to managing the affairs of Mr. Wickfield. Uriah Heep had taken advantage of the weakness of Mr. Wickfield from past many years. He had intentionally misled him. He had made him to believe that the firm of Wickfield and Heep was bankrupt. To pay the debts of the firm he had persuaded. Mr. Wickfield to draw out the sum of twelve thousand pounds entrusted to him by Betsey Trotwood for investment. In fact, the firm never had been bankrupt. There never had been any debts. This sum had gone into the pocket of Uriah Heep. With great cunning, Heep had made it appear that the money had been stolen as a result of Wickfield's dishonest intentions. He used this lie to torture him and to keep him poor.

      Betsey Trotwood thanked Mr. Micawber for rendering her that great service. As a reward for it, she offered to pay the expenses for his emigration to Australia if he so desired. Mr. Micawber took advantage of this generous offer and went to Australia where his talents helped him in becoming a magistrate.


Give a short description of David's life at Salem House and compare it with the school of Dr. Strong.
Compare and contrast Dr. Strong's School with that of Mr. Creakle.
Describe the part played by Agnes in David's life.
Give an account of Mr. Murdstone's treatment of David and its effect on him.
Write an account of David's childhood till his flight to his aunt Betsey at Dover.
How did Mr. Micawber exposed Uriah Heep?
What role does Uriah Heep play in the Novel? Why does Dickens characterize him in the way that he does?

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