David Copperfield Analysis
by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield book cover
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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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Blunderstone Rookery

Blunderstone Rookery. Suffolk birthplace and boyhood home of David Copperfield, who often associates the place in his mind with the nearby tombstone of his father. Charles Dickens himself grew up in Suffolk and always tied it to childhood innocence. David’s earliest memories of happy evenings with his mother and nurse Peggotty soon give way to the strict and cruel house presided over by his new stepfather and aunt. He retreats to his room and finds refuge in his father’s books. This same room is a prison for five days of punishment which to the boy seem a nightmare of years. Peggotty tries to send him affection and tenderness through the keyhole, but nothing can forestall Mr. Murdstone’s determination to send him away to school.


*Yarmouth. Norfolk seaport, about 110 miles northeast of London, where Dan Peggotty and his three dependents live in a boathouse. Little David first travels here on a two-week visit, little knowing that he will return to a changed rookery with Murdstone installed as his stepfather. For David, the boathouse is better than Aladdin’s palace; he even has his own special room, something that becomes increasingly important to him. In later visits to the Ark, as he calls it, David brings his school friend, Steerforth, unwittingly leading to Little Em’ly’s seduction. Her surrogate father, Peggotty, then insists on placing a candle in the window as a visible sign that he welcomes her back home.

Yarmouth’s beach is also the scene of the tempest. The foundering ship is Steerforth’s “Little Em’ly,” and Ham swims out to rescue a lone survivor on its deck. Symbolically, both men are lost as the boat sinks, and when Steerforth’s body washes ashore, it lands on the very spot where the old houseboat, now wrecked, stood with its nightly candle.

Salem House

Salem House. Dr. Creakle’s school, where Murdstone sends the recalcitrant David. Dickens powerfully projects the unhappy boy, the lonely schoolroom, the wicked giant of a schoolmaster. When Ham and Peggotty come to visit David, Steerforth suggests that he would like to visit their boathouse. However, tragedy falls, and David is told that his mother and new brother are dead; he is removed from Salem House on his tenth birthday.


*London. Great Britain’s capital city, in which several sections of the novel are set. The first is at Murdstone and Grinby’s warehouse in the Blackfriars district waterfront. Here ten-year-old David pastes labels on wine bottles in much the same way the young Dickens had been sent out to work in a boot-blacking factory in London. David feels “thrown away” on a deadening job and unable to express his agony. A lighter note is provided by his stay with the Micawbers, a happy-go-lucky and improvident family. When Mr. Micawber is imprisoned for debt in the King’s Bench Prison, David visits them, much as Dickens had done with his own family.

London is also the setting for David’s job as a proctor after he graduates from Dr. Strong’s school. He takes an apartment in Buckingham Street. It is from here that he courts Dora. After the wedding, they move into their new home in Highgate. It is a sweet, loving home, marred only by Dora’s ineptitude as a housekeeper: the food is raw, the pantry is empty, and the servants are ill-managed. Dora and her dog Jip die here.

The tense and unnatural Steerforth home is located in London, which is also the location of the Blackfriars Bridge scene. Here Dickens is powerful in evoking the dismal and defiled riverside, and in linking its miseries to a suicidal Martha Endell. David’s encounter with this fallen woman ultimately leads Dan Peggotty to Em’ly, who has come to stay with Martha in a decaying old mansion in one of the worst sections of the city.


*Dover. Southeast England port that is home to Betsey Trotwood. When ten-year-old David can no longer stand the misery of his job at the warehouse in London, he decides to run away to seek out his...

(The entire section is 8,230 words.)