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

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

How is the use of "memory" applied in the narrative technique in David Copperfield?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although a work of fiction, David Copperfield purports to be a memoir or autobiography penned by Copperfield himself. Therefore, memory is highly important to the book. A clue as to how memory works as narrative technique appears early on, when Copperfield states:

if it should appear from anything I may set down in this narrative that I was a child of close observation, or that as a man I have a strong memory of my childhood, I undoubtedly lay claim to both of these characteristics.

This describes what the chief narrative technique in the novel will be: the story will move back and forth between life as it is experienced in its powerful immediacy by the young David and through the perspective of the older man looking back at events from the distanced vantage point of adulthood.

For example, the opening of chapter 9, in which David learns of his mother's death, is first told from the point of view of the adult looking back:

I pass over all that happened at school, until the anniversary of my birthday came round in March. Except that Steerforth was more to be admired than ever, I remember nothing . . . . The great remembrance by which that time is marked in my mind, seems to have swallowed up all lesser recollections, and to exist alone.

But when it comes to telling of the news of David's mother death, we are there beside the young David, experiencing the blow right along with him. The more detached narrative of the older David only makes more powerful the grief of the younger hearing the news:

‘Because,’ said she, ‘I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning your mama is very ill.’

A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down my face, and it was steady again.

‘She is very dangerously ill,’ she added.

I knew all now.

‘She is dead.’

This "dual" narrative technique is typical of Dickens when he writes first person novels.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

David Copperfield is Charles Dickens’s most autobiographical work.  It is written as an autobiography, with the narrator looking back and reflecting on his life from when he was born until he was a young man.  The narrator is selective in what he tells, but he discusses everything from the perspective of how it impacted his life.

This may be fancy, though I think the memory of most of us can go farther back into such times than many of us suppose; just as I believe the power of observation in numbers of very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. (chapter 2, enotes etext p. 11)

David comments on memory from time to time during the story.  This quote demonstrates the importance of memory to David, and his desire to tell his story from his child’s perspective and adult’s.  As he describes his older and older self, he comments on his own actions and choices.


See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team