Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
David Copperfield, the orphaned hero-narrator whose story of his early years and growing maturity is one of the best-known works of fiction in the English language. A posthumous child, extremely sensitive in retrospect, he first experiences cruelty and tyranny when his young widowed mother marries stern Mr. Murdstone, and he quickly forms emotional alliances with the underprivileged and the victimized. His loyalties are sometimes misplaced, as in the case of Steerforth, his school friend who seduces Little Em’ly, but his heart remains sound and generous toward even the erring. As he passes from childhood to disillusioned adolescence, his perceptions increase, though he often misses the truth because he misreads the evidence before him. His trust is all the more remarkable when one considers the recurrence of error that leads him from false friends to false love and on to near catastrophe. Finally, unlike his creator, David finds balance and completion in his literary career, his abiding friendships, and his happy second marriage.
Clara Copperfield, David’s childlike but understanding and beautiful mother, destined to an early death because of her inability to cope with life. Strong in her own attachments, she attributes to everyone motives as good and generous as her own. Misled into a second marriage to an unloving husband, she is torn between son and husband and dies soon after giving birth...
(The entire section is 2326 words.)
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Themes and Characters
The title character in David Copperfield presents himself, his life, and the people and experiences who have helped shape his personality by reconstructing them from memory. Copperfield becomes a novelist, after following a career in journalism for a number of years. Henry James insisted that a novelist is someone who forgets nothing in his lifetime. From childhood onward his mind closely observes the world about him. Every child is a close observer, Dickens also insists. Feeling that he is a mature writer, Copperfield wishes to learn how he became the unique individual he knows himself to be. David's first statement, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else these pages must show," seems to indicate a certain modesty and is quite different than what one might expect for a story which contains a partial autobiography of Charles Dickens. Dickens has to be considered one of the most flamboyant of English writers, a man who loved theatrical performances which he often directed and in which he played leading roles.
Copperfield's father died before his birth. Young David was quite content spending his early years with his mother and the family's beloved housekeeper, Peggotty. He was the center of their lives, but this situation was not to last. Edward Murdstone, a character akin to the stereotypical Victorian villain, woos his mother. Dickens combined the works "murder" and "stone" to...
(The entire section is 2449 words.)
See Mr. Dick
Mr. Barkis, whom David meets when he drives David to his boarding school, woos Peggotty and later marries her. He is a man of few words and is quite miserly. But Peggotty has a happy life with him, and he leaves her a large inheritance after he dies. He serves mainly as a plot device, providing some comic relief in his courtship of Peggotty.
David’s mother, Clara Copperfield, is loving but weak, definitely not strong enough to protect David from the cruelty of Murdstone and his sister. Clara appears quite “timid and sad” as she approaches David’s birth after her husband dies, “very doubtful of ever coming alive out of the trial that was before her.” She defers to everyone, including Peggotty, whom she often treats more like a mother than a servant.
Occasionally Clara shows some strength of character as when she defends her husband against Aunt Betsey’s criticisms. Yet, her fear of losing Murdstone’s love and protection weakens her to the point where she cannot protect her son. At one point, she tries to insist to Miss Murdstone that she is capable of running her own household, but she crumbles when Murdstone chastises her and thus relinquishes all control to him and his sister. She tries to make life easier for David by imploring him to love his new father and to obey him, and she tries...
(The entire section is 3068 words.)