Wilkings Micawber: Character Analysis in David Copperfield

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      Wilkings Micawber a thoroughly good-natured optimistic man, a broad comic character with a passion writing flowery litter and grandiloquent speeches.

      In the whole wide range of the English novel, there is no more a comic character than Dickens's immortal Mr. Micawber. Perhaps we may rate him as second only to Shakespeare's Falstaff. A. C. Ward sums him up well when he observes, "A kindlier and merrier, a more humorous and a more generous character, was never conceived than this."

Physical Features and Dress

      Mr. Micawber is one of Dickens's most loveable characters. Right from the moment, David meets him. He was a stoutish, middle-aged bald man. His clothes were shabby, but he had an imposing shirt collar on. He carried a jaunty sort of a stick, with a large pair of rusty tassels to it; and a quizzing glass hung outside his coat - for ornament, I afterward found, as he very seldom looked through it, and couldn't see anything when he did."

Autobiographical Touch

      The critics are of the opinion that Charles Dickens has endeavored to paint the traits of his father in the character of Mr. Micawber. As Somerset remarks in his "The Novels and their Authors", to see people well-suited is the idiosyncrasy of Dickens s temper. Mr. Micawber was drawn from his father. John Dickens was grandiloquent in speech and shifty in money matters, but he was no fool and far from incompetent; he was industrious, kindly and affectionate. We know that Dickens made of him."

His Role in the Novel

      Micawber is introduced as the landlord of David Copperfield when he is placed by his step-father in the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby. He is always in debt, and in need of still more money. He is always waiting for something, to turn up. The only event that transpires is Mr. Micawber's imprisonment for debt in the King's Bench prison. He obtains his release under the Insolvent Debtors Act, and proceeds to Plymouth. This does not induce anything to turn up; however, he is next seen selling or trying to, and then endeavors to get something in the coal trade on the Medway. It is this self-sacrificing nature that makes Mr. Micawber go against all possible profits to turn in Uriah Heep to David and Traddles. Later on, Mr. Micawber becomes Uriah Heep's law clerk because he has no other prospects and Uriah Heep offers him a ton of cash. Uriah believes that Mr. Micawber’s chronic shortage of money will make him a willing and useful tool.

      Micawber soon discovers what is expected to him, but instead of assisting in the evil schemes of his employer he quietly proceeds to collect the evidence he can. Thus he communicates to Traddles. And in a general meeting at Mr. Wickfield's office, Uriah is denounced. After he produces evidence against Uriah Heep, David, Traddles and Miss Betsey all club together to buy him and his family tickets to Australia.

His Cheerfulness and Depression of Spirits

      He alternates in moods of extreme cheerfulness, and a conviction that something will very shortly "turn up" to the utmost depression of spirits, in which he presents his career as at a crisis, and terrifies Mrs. Micawber by dark hints as to the possible uses to which a man may put his shaving materials to. And the transition from one mood to the other is so rapid and complete that he can begin a letter describing himself as "a drifting wretch whose doom is sealed" and reopen it before posting to add a postscript describing himself and his family as "at the height of earthly bliss." In his cheerful moods (and he is normally cheerful) he is extremely convivial, and an expert at making punch.

A Pious and a Loveable Person

      Micawber has been painted as a nice soul. He does not have evil intentions or ill motives. He tries to help others and does it in a generous manner. When David goes to stay with him, while he is working at Messrs Murdstone and Grinby, he is very considerate towards him. Later on, we find that he tries to help Miss Betsey Trotwood in getting back her money which she had lost due to deceitful actions of Uriah Heep.

His Attachment to Mrs. Micawber and his Children

      He is genuinely attached to Mrs. Micawber and his children, telling David that "in our children, we live again and that, under the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, any accession to their number was doubly welcome." Indeed, money troubles apart, Mr. Micawber is an excellent family man, and remained thoroughly good-natured and active.

A Persistent Letter Writer

      His liking for words makes him a persistent letter writer. When the "explosion" comes he carefully prepares documents ready, in his most exalted and complicated style, which he reads out. Miss Trotwood observes, "He 'd write letters by the ream, if it was a capital offense." And he is still writing in Australia, as we learn at the end of the novel.

His Exposure to Uriah Heep

      His part in the exposure of Heep is perhaps a little far-fetched. We have come to regard him as excellent comedy, but totally impractical, and we feel that he could hardly have possessed the penetration and concentration necessary to expose Uriah Heep. And, indeed Dickens deliberately leaves the details of this exposure somewhat vague. So, too, though we are glad to hear of his success in Australia, we feel that Dickens has created us, that Mr. Micawber, wherever he was, would still be alternately depressed and cheerful, laboring as always under the pressure of pecuniary difficulties.

Not Cutting his Coat according to the Cloth

      Micawber was not very strict about money matters. Probably, he did not believe in cutting his coat according to the cloth. On account of this he suffers many financial difficulties. He had to go to prison because he could not keep his promise to his creditors.

A Great Optimist

      He is a great optimist. He has faith in his future. He thinks that in the future he shall be able to make his life happy. Ultimately; it comes true. He is, "the type of a whole race of men who will not vanish from the earth so long as the hope which lives eternally in the human breast is only temporarily suspended by the laws of debtors and creditors, and is always capable of revival with the aid of a bowl of milk punch. A kindlier and merrier, a more humorous and a more generous character was never conceived than this" (A. C. Ward).

A Rolling Stone

      In the beginning, we find that Mr. Micawber is a rolling stone so far as his employment is concerned. He does not stick to one position. Sometimes he joins the Marines and then becomes a commercial traveler to certain business houses. Somehow or the other he tries to earn his livelihood. He gets settled down only when he migrates to Australia.

A Man of Contradiction

      Micawber is anxious to solve his problems. He accepts any proposal that is put forward to him in this regard. On the one hand, he is not very strict about money matters but on the other hand, he wants to make his position financially sound. It is on account of this anxiety that he accepts Mrs. Micawber's suggestion to go over to her family so that some solution may come out.

Intelligent and Courageous

      Micawber is intelligent as well as wise. If he had not been so, he would not have succeeded in exposing Uriah Heep. Uriah Heep was a Man with a Machiavellian temperament. Only an intelligent person could expose him. The steps had to be taken discreetly and wisely. We find that Mr. Micawber does it wisely. While Uriah Heep is being exposed, he tries to bully Micawber and the party. He also tries to snatch the documents from the hands of Micawber. At this moment Micawber acts very courageously and makes Uriah Heep's attempt unsuccessful.

His Sense of Humour

      Mr. Micawber is a great comic character who is second only to Shakespeare's Falstaff. We cannot help laughing at the way in which he would make motions at himself when a creditor would abuse and threaten him. On their departure, he would go out cheerfully whistling a merry tune with an air of greater abandon than ever before. The comicality of his character is further heightened by his wife, always with a twin at her breast, and always determined never to desert her husband. His sense of humor comes to his rescue even in the most trying of circumstances. He never loses hope and cheerfulness and radiates joy and happiness all around. He carries with him a perpetual sunshine and all those who came in contact with him, bask in it. Thus the statement of G. K. Chesterton is justified when he says, ’’If Falstaff is the greatest comic character in literature, Mr. Micawber is the best but one."


      Dr. Micawber is one of Dickens's greatest creations. It may be said that in spite of his weaknesses and foibles, Mr. Micawber has gone down in the history of English novel as an immortal character like Mr. Pickwick. The credit for this goes to Charles Dickens. We may condemn him for his easy going, lazy disposition, but we cannot help loving him all the same.

      Micawber is a stupendous, and bewildering conception: yet one of the most lovable men that ever lived. Micawber bestrides the pages of the novel like a colossus, and yet he is only a simple-minded man: always at hand-grip with sordid poverty; always having his ups-and-downs; always with the care of too-numerous a family - but always blessed with the cheery, endearing optimism which he has crystallized into a phrase that has become part of our daily speech - "waiting for something to turn up". Yet it was this unsophisticated soul that Dickens utilized for discovering the dirty machinations of Uriah Heep.

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