The real achievement of the earlier part of David Copperfield lies in a certain impression of the little Copperfield living in a land of giants. But one cannot avoid the impression that as the boy grows larger these figures grow smaller, and are not perhaps so completely satisfactory”. How does the author achieve the effect of perceiving the world with child’s eyes? Consider the quote and analyze the characterization techniques Dickens uses on the examples of Mr. and Ms. Murdstone, the Peggotty family, Davy’s mother.
Are Dickens’ heroes and villains static or dynamic in “David Copperfield”? Images of the Salem House, where David is sent after biting Mr. Murdstone, are the very satire on the educational system: boys are stupefied by the abuse of physical punishment, and seek escape in little night-parties listening to David’s accounts of the books he has read. At Salem House David encounters the first idol and mistake of his “undisciplined heart”, a boy from a rich upper-class family called James Steerforth, and one of the truest future friends – Tommy Traddles.
Dickens shows how passionate little David does not distinguish beauty and virtue, and his idolized view of Steerforth is caused as much by his handsome looks and light manners as by his dubious “noble” deeds. Do the class prejudices reveal themselves in the boy’s attitudes to each other and Mr. Mells? At this point in the novel does the author establish any relation between class, upbringing and morale? David starts to mature when he takes his first independent decision to seek his aunt Betsey Trotwood and to escape the misery and hardships of the wine factory, where he is sent to labour by Mr. Murdstone after his mother’s death.
This “rite of passage” is marked by the change of the colour scheme, as well as the chronotope: from gloomy dark-grey London slums to Dover’s open spaces and the green grass of Betsey Trotwood’s lawns on the hill overlooking the sea. David’s naivete in people’s judgement is proved when he first meets Mr. Dick, and it is only later in the novel that he realizes that Mr. Dick’s, and especially his aunt’s, eccentric behaviour helps them disregard social prejudices and form an independent and insightful opinion of others. Reflect upon the phenomenon of British eccentricity evoking the “hobby-horse” theory expressed in Tristram Shandy and perhaps even Hamlet’s “antique disposition”. How does it allow the characters react?
In Betsey Trotwood’s case, can her oddities be a shield for her active position in life, which now would be considered feministic? Under Betsey Trotwood’s guardianship David is being sent to be educated in Doctor Strong’s school of Canterbury. Doctor Strong is another picture in Dickens’ gallery of “dear eccentrics” and represents the universal type of a distinguished scholar who is too blind and absent-minded in his family affairs. The image of Doctor Strong’s school is Dickens’ educational utopia.
In this establishment great attention is devoted not only to the students’ excellence in mastering the subjects, but to their advancement in sports and games as well. Discipline management and high academic score are ensured by the principle of all the students sharing the responsibility for the school’s and Doctor Strong’s postitive image, so that very individual strives to prove school’s good name by personal progress according to his own faculties and abilities. Mr. Wickfield’s daughter, whose house David is staying at, becomes his closest friend and “guardian angel”, and is to play a crucial part later on in his life.
The example of the faults of upbringing one finds in this novel’s most revolting character, Uriah Heep, Mr. Wickfield’s apprentice in the law company. In the working house Uriah and his family are being taught to always “be humble” in life, and Uriah uses his humbleness as the strongest weapon against social injustice as he is treacherously making his way up the career ladder, secured by Agnes’ father’s weakness of character. How does Dickens depict the decay of a personality under the influence of alcohol? Is Agnes unconsiciously any part of her father’s fall?
The advancement of the plot and David’s life take us through the years of his early career as a proctor, and then parliamentary reporter, his love at first sight and hasty marriage to Dora Spenlow. Dickens shows in passing David’s emergence as a writer, devoting more space to more private topics. David’s disillusionment and the end of his adolescent views comes with two major events in his life: little Emily’s flight with Steerforth and the tragic outcome of this subplot and Dora’s death for which David feels subconsciously guilty.
Perhaps David senses the dangerous parallel between Steerforth’s lust towards little Emily’s purity and beauty and the passion of his own “undisciplined heart”. David’s attempts to change “his child wife’s” infantile mind and shape her immature character make Dora feel inferior, burdensome and thus obstructive to David’s happiness, so her illness and lack of desire to struggle with it seem almost suicidal and remind of the tragedy of David’s childhood life and Mr. Murdstone’s treatment of his mother. Contrary to Mr. Murdstone, though, David believes he truly loves Dora.