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

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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What is the climax of David Copperfield?

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The climax is the turning point of a story, and the most exciting part.  In David Copperfield, the climax occurs when David witnesses the aftermath of a shipwreck and Steerforth’s death.  In the resolution, David comes to terms with his wife and friend’s deaths and decides he loves Agnes.

David points us to the climax at the beginning of chapter 55.  First of all, he titles the chapter “tempest, ” which is a big storm.  That’s one clue that something is up!  In this case, the storm is both literal and figurative.  The storm at sea causes death and destruction as David is grappling with a storm within his soul after Dora and Steerfoth die.

I now approach an event in my life, so indelible, so awful, so bound by an infinite variety of ties to all that has preceded it, in these pages, that, from the beginning of my narrative, I have seen it growing larger and larger as I advanced, like a great tower in a plain, and throwing its fore-cast shadow even on the incidents of my childish days. (chapter 55)

Steerforth’s death has a big impression on David.  It resolves the conflict of Emily’s ruination.  He can’t hurt her anymore.  It also makes him re-evaluate his life.  Dora’s death does not really hit him until this point.  This is when David decides he loves Agnes.  David realizes he should have loved her all along.

I cannot so completely penetrate the mystery of my own heart, as to know when I began to think that I might have set its earliest and brightest hopes on Agnes. (chapter 58)

So by the end of the book, everything is resolved.  David’s inner struggle is done, and he lives happily ever after with Agnes.


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