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David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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How do Dickens's narrative techniques affect the protagonist's life in David Copperfield?

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Charles Dickens's narrative techniques of first-person point of view, autobiographical style, and characterization help the reader better understand the character of David Copperfield. All of these elements help readers to better understand the background of the man. Copperfield is an adult who has remained especially sensitive to the problems children experience. His emotional connection makes him uniquely qualified to retell his childhood in a sympathetic and compelling manner.

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In David Copperfield, Dickens uses first-person point of view, an autobiographical style, and careful characterization of his protagonist as his key narrative techniques. These techniques are appropriate since the novel is presented as a case of the protagonist telling his own life story.

The first-person perspective puts the reader more fully in David's world. The reader sees everything from David's perspective, and is given a look into his thoughts on the unfolding events. However, it must be remembered that the narrator is not the child or adolescent David. The adult David narrates while looking back on his life thus far. Therefore, there is a slight distance between the experience and feelings of the younger David and how he feels looking back on these events with a more mature perspective. One might take this passage remembering his miserable life with the Murdstones as an example:

Firmness, I may observe, was the grand quality on which both Mr. and Miss Murdstone took their stand. However I might have expressed my comprehension of it at that time, if I had been called upon, I nevertheless did clearly comprehend in my own way, that it was another name for tyranny; and for a certain gloomy, arrogant, devil’s humour, that was in them both. The creed, as I should state it now, was this. Mr. Murdstone was firm; nobody in his world was to be so firm as Mr. Murdstone; nobody else in his world was to be firm at all, for everybody was to be bent to his firmness. Miss Murdstone was an exception. She might be firm, but only by relationship, and in an inferior and tributary degree. My mother was another exception. She might be firm, and must be; but only in bearing their firmness, and firmly believing there was no other firmness upon earth.

Here, the adult David is verbalizing feelings the child David could not. His sense of indignation around the events might also have only arisen over these events with time and looking back upon the past.

David's emotional and moral development are a large part of this narrative as well. Unlike earlier Dickens's young protagonists, such as Oliver Twist or Nell Trent, who move from either misery to fortune or vice versa, David is allowed to grow up and enter maturity. Though he is an adult, as a character Copperfield has great sympathy for the experience of a child. His sensitivity makes him the ideal central figure for a novel where the child's formative experience is such a major part of the story. In this way, the very characterization of the protagonist plays a huge role in the telling of this story; a less observant and sympathetic character would not have been able to impart these events the way adult David does.

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