Society and Class in Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield”
Social structure is the organized instruction of social relationships and social institutions that comprise a society. David Copperfield depicts the social problems of Victorian society and throughout David Copperfield, Dickens presents a bunch of characters from all classes of British society whose interrelationships bring out the best and the worst in human behavior. Social class in the Victorian period is strictly divided into two classes which are rich and poor. Steerforth family is represented as rich people in David Copperfield and the poor people represented by Martha Endell, David Copperfield, and Mr. Micawber.
Dickens criticizes his society’s view of wealth and class as measures of a person’s value. Charles Dickens reflects his dissatisfaction with society and social classes through the eyes of his characters in the Victorian period by showing the lifestyles of high, middle and low-class people. How the poverty effects lower and middle-class citizens in terrible ways while high-class citizens had it all by birth as Mitchell states in Daily Life in Victorian England “[i]n Victorian England it did not depend on the number of money people had, although it did rest partly on the source of their income, as well as on birth and family connections” (17) and they did not have to work for food, shelter or education. Dickens depicted the upper-class characters behaviors as superficial, deceitful, arrogant and insensitive. Those high-class people think that the middle and lower class people are basically animals and they should not pity them and they think they have the right to talk down upon them. In Charles Dickens’s eyes, the lower class were the majority of just and moral characters belonged to.
Dickens showed great compassion and empathy towards lower class because he was a lower-class child when he was growing up. He was seen as a champion of the lower class by some of the lower-class citizens themselves he was characterized as the spokesman of the poor and that is why he criticized the upper class and glorified middle and lower-class citizens in David Copperfield. McDowall states in An Illustrated History of Britain “Charles Dickens attacked the rich and powerful for their cruelty towards the weak and unfortunate in society” (155) that he was deeply affected by how the society is in the Victorian period. Dickens depicts women, orphans, and mentally disabled people as primarily kind-natured and good in order to display the exploitation these figures suffer at the hands of more powerful characters and the society at large. Dickens showed the powerlessness of the lower-class members and they were treated like animals like they had no rights at all and how corrupt Victorian society is.