Treatment of Children in The Novel David Copperfield

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      Introduction. The wisdom and skill of an artist and the large-hearted aloofness from petty notions that make an experienced novelist, go very far in the matter of the delineation of the characteristic features of children. It is by no means an easy task. The successful portrayal of the child mind has eluded even those writers who can be called masters in that field on the basis of very popular works written by them. Take for example Alice in Wonderland and its author Lewis Carroll. In popularity the book referred to is unique, the mystery of the child's mind has been adequately projected but can we say that he has revealed the griefs and terrors of the child mind? Joyce, the author of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was able to bring into bold relief the unhappiness of childhood. Unfortunately, the joys and loves of childhood could not be revealed properly by him. Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer is a very readable and enjoyable work with the child and his pranks as the theme, but Dickens has depicted the glow and bloom of childhood in an inimitably superb style. The fact that he possessed a childlike vision of the world leading to the profundity of a creative artist is also another factor in the attainment of glorious success by Dickens.

      The Persecuted Child as the Central Figure. David Copperfield and Great Expectations are autobiographical in the line of narration. The hero is supposed to narrate his experiences. Both of them have been terrified, unwanted and helpless in their childhood. Highly individualistic as they had been throughout, their reaction to the various episodes and events that befall them are of a very poignant character.

      Dickens indulges in a profound study of the child mind, identifying himself with the child's point of view and achieving success therein. There are certain features in the occurrences in the world which the adult sets aside as merely mock serious and bombastic but the child views them as sinister realities. Take for example the dishonest waiter's trickery on David in making it appear as though David had consumed all the mutton chops. But to a child, it is a very sinister and sad experience. Hence, it can be safely asserted that readers of different age groups react to the same episode in the novel in diametrically opposed or different manner.

      The Child in Different Locations. The boy's native village Bliniderstone, the seaside resort Yarmouth where he finds many lovable persons, the school, Salem House, the atmosphere of which he finds intolerable and vexatious are locations of widely distinct characteristics. We can observe the way in which children begin to worship some of their senior schoolmastes as David does in adoring Steerforth who proves to be a treacherous cheat. Again we can notice how domineering masters like Mr. Creakle merit the general dislike and even open contempt from the children. We find that Dickens actually re-lives his own childhood and infuses his writings with zeal, curiosity and energetic vehemence of a child. Along with that he makes full use of his imaginative faculty and elevates the intense vision of purile insignificance to the level of the adult vision of strangely rich and excessively unique features.

      Brutality Leaves Indelible Marks. As the well-known critic Allen has put it remarkably well that Dickens could reproduce the intense sensitivity of children because a child is no child if he forgets later the brutal acts perpetrated on him while a child and brutal words and phrases uttered to him then. How true it is that what is done to a child cannot be undone nor what is undone can be replaced or refurbished later. If a pleasure is ruined in infancy it cannot be adequately repaired even if ages pass by. David's adoration of Steerforth can be traced to his satisfaction of having found a staunch and protective friend, at least for the time being. The hollowness of this idol is a latter day discovery but at the time of experience, it is whole and unique and impregnable and unassailable. The idolization is that of a child and the tearing up to pieces by exposition is the work of the adult. The simplicity and innocence of Little Emily is felt by the child David and so the David of blooming maturity becomes stunned when he hears that she has run away with a corrupt fellow not because she had been gullible but because she was enamored of the outward glamour.

      World Seen through the Eyes of a Child. David Copperfield is one of the best novels in English or for that matter in any language. Still, further, it can be said without fear of contradiction that the first fifteen chapters of this novel are the best that Dickens ever wrote. It is true that Dickens highly exaggerates everything. If something can be revealed by means of a few bright rays, he makes use of glaring torches or as many bulbs as possible. If there is a something to be darkened or subdued with dimmer lights or even shadows he never hesitates to keep pitch darkness in unbelievably larger proportions. But one thing is definite. All along it never ceases to be seen through the eyes of a child.

      Pathetic and Amusing Children. Many pathetic children have been created by Dickens in his novels, but there are many amusing children too in his works. Little Nell of Old Curiosity Shop is the picture of innocence in the vortex of a whirlpool of grotesque forms of suffering. It is said that hundreds of readers literally wept on reading the description of her death. Someone even took Dickens too task over such a portrayal. The death of Little Nell signifies the vanishing of a beautiful dream. It is a rude shock to many sensitive readers and it cannot but affect even the most hard-hearted among us.

      On the whole, we can say that as long as the vision of childhood remained free from blurs, the author is able to hold his readers' attention and he gains their approval. But as in the latter half of David Copperfield, if that vision disappears the author's hold on reality loosens and the reader naturally begins to become disinterested.

University Questions

Estimate the success of Dickens as a delineator of the child with special reference to David Copperfield.
"The earlier part of David Copperfield is a profoundly studied portrait of childhood." Discuss.
"As David grows out of his childhood the reader's interest in his concerns tend to decline." Do you agree? Illustrate your answer.
Consider Charles Dickens as a writer fully capable of deep insight into and convincing portrayal of childhood.
"It is hard to overpraise Dickens's sketches of child life. He did not describe a child—he became a child for the time being." Discuss with reference to David Copperfield.
Write a note on Dickens's treatment of children with particular reference to David Copperfield.
Do you agree with the view that in David Copperfield Dickens's strength lies in capturing the child's view of human beings rather than the normal view?

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