illustration of two young men standing in 19th century garb and looking at one another

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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How is Charles Dickens' David Copperfield a story about growing up?

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One of the best ways you can tell that this is a story about growing up is by reading the first sentence, which I think is one of the best openings in all of literature.

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. 

Don’t we all want to be the heroes of our own lives?  That would be the idea, wouldn’t it?  This sentence really demonstrates Dickens’ idealism and mindset when he wrote this book.  Dickens was obsessed with childhood.  Many of his books have child protagonists, and he was one of the first novelists to focus on growing up.  In David Copperfield, we follow David from a miserable childhood to a fairly successful adulthood, but not without some bumps in the road.

First of all, growing up in a Dickens book usually means you will lose one or both parents.  David lost both.  His father died, and then his mother remarried a horrible stepfather who sent him away to a horrible school, and then his mother died.  David’s mother was weak, mentally and physically.  He never had much of a relationship with her.

There are always also going to be colorful characters in the child’s life.  In this case, there is Pegotty, David’s nurse.  She takes care of him when he is young and stays an important figure in his life.  Her family is also important to him, meaning Dan, Ham, and Em’ly.  David learns about morality through what happens to Em’ly, when a man he looked up to as a friend since childhood, Steerforth, betrays her.

Micawber is another interesting influence in David’s journey to growing up.  I think from Micawber, David learned to manage money carefully.  Micawber didn’t.  He was always waiting for something to turn up.  He was endlessly optimistic and blatantly unluckily and irresponsible.  Betsy Trotwood, David’s great-aunt, was kind to him and supported him well.

This leaves Dora and Agnes.  Part of growing up is learning about the opposite sex.  David had some issues in that area.  He fell head over heels in love with Dora, but while she was pretty and silly, she was also weak and died young.  Agnes was everything Dora was not.  She was steadfast and true, and David married her after Dora died.

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