David Copperfield

By Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Key Facts

Full Title: The Personal History and Experience of David Copperfield the Younger

Genre: Bildungsroman

Composing date: 1849-1850

Published date: 1849-1850, as serial and as a book in 1850

Point of view: First-person point of view

Time setting: Early nineteenth century

Place setting: England, a village of Northern England called Blunderstone, Salem House, a residential school and Yarmouth, a wine shop in London, Dover.

Protagonist: David Copperfield

Character Analysis

There are more than hundreds of characters in the novel. So, it will be tiresome to remember all the characters. Just the major characters should sketched in brain to grasp the core content of the story. The seven major characters of the novel are;


He is the main character of the novel. He is merciful and believes that everybody is best. However, he tries to escape from his problems. He lets others like her aunt Betsey solve his problems for him. He makes friends but doesn’t always see their dangerous traits, such as the selfish nature of his friend Steerforth, or the immaturity of his wife Dora. David devotes his life to the people and is devastated when Dora dies. He runs away again, but when he returns he realizes that he loves Agnes and marries her. They have a family and David becomes a successful writer.

Agnes Wickfield

She is the daughter of Mr. Wickfield. She is regarded as angelic and pure and is very caring with the company of his father. She is always a good friend of David, who realizes that he loves him after Dora’s death. They are married and have a family.


She is David’s nanny or nurse. David is devoted to her throughout his life. He meets her family: her brother, Mr. Peggotty, and his adopted children, Ham and Emily. Although she marries, she comes to meet David as often as she can. Peggotty is the maternal figure in David’s life after his mother dies and he’s left by his cruel stepfather Mr. Murdstone.


He is one of David’s school friends. Despite David believing his best, Steerforth belongs to his original, selfish and elite class. He escapes with Emily and separates Peggotty’s family. When a sudden storm swamps his boat at Yarmouth, he drowns at sea with Ham.

Aunt Betsey

She is a motherhood figure in David’s life. She looks after Davi and sends him to school with all his necessities. She encourages David to become a proctor (lawyer).

Dora Spenlow

She is David’s boss Mr. Spenlow’s Daughter. David almost falls in love with Dora at first sight. David and Dora get married. At first, David feels dissatisfaction with Dora’s immaturity and lack of skills as a housewife. They carry their married life but Dora suffers a miscarriage and dies shortly afterwards.

Uriah Heep

He is the antagonist of David Copperfield. He pretends to have come from a low background to gain the confidence of those around him, and he manipulates people. He steals money from Mr. Wickfield and Aunt Betsey. However, he ends up in jail on another fraud charge.


David Copperfield has a variety of themes related to social issues and characterization. The most common theme is the class differences between different characters and how it relates to their morality. The main themes of the novel are:

Social class

Social class and status are omnipresent throughout the novel. Indeed, the novel can be seen on a large scale as a commentary on social dignity and an attempt at social dignity. Prejudice and unworthy respect are constantly displayed for the upper class. In the case of Steerforth, for example, it is clear that David and the other students at the school called “Salam House” are treated much lower than him. Moreover, he is highly respected by David and even Mr. Peggotty and Ham, both of whom are inferior but true that Steerforth should respect them for their moral character.

The importance of life choices

Charles Dickens’s abandoned autobiography was very much on his mind when he was writing David Copperfield, and his protagonists choose many of his life choices as a reflection of Dickens’ own life. Dickens’ father rescues him from warehouse work, but David Copperfield is an orphan, so he chooses his first important life choice to escape from the warehouse, which is completely autobiographical. Afterward, Miss Betsey and Agnes help guide him in his choices. Agnes, for example, patiently listens to the fancy attitudes of David’s other women. It is her steadfast support that makes it possible for David to finally achieve the family life which he has long wanted. The key to recovery from weak choices is to learn from them, as he learns from his relationship with Dora. Dickens shows that those who do not analyze and learn their life choices like Steerforth and Uriah Heep do not grow or succeed in life.


David Copperfield’s journey through life is a model of the reward of perseverance against adversity. Even before the test of his perseverance through personalization and hard work, he quietly maintains his self-identity under the control of Mr. Murdstone. He does this by keeping himself busy in reading, and through his deep reading, he is introduced to heroes who persevere against even death threats. Later in his life, David’s imagination helps him to master his heroic fantasies and adapt to his livelihood needs.

Equality in marriage

In the world of novel, marriages have achieved success because of the equality between husband and wife in their relationship. For example, the conjugal life of Doctor Strong and his wife. Both of them don’t think that the other is inferior. In contrast, Dickens criticizes characters who try to create a sense of superiority over their spouse. Mr. Murdstone’s attempt to improve the character of David’s mother, for example, only ruins her soul.

The search for true happiness

Throughout the novel, many times the search for true happiness is of paramount importance. The narrator mentions the particularly innocent joy of David as a child before his mother’s marriage to Mr. Murdstone. In general, the plot centers on David’s quest for true happiness, and it is up to the judge to decide whether he succeeds or not.

All the characters relentlessly try to find their own routes. Some, like David and the Peggottys, find true happiness through their familial relationship. Others, such as Micawbers and Uriah, believe that money will bring them a lot of happiness. Still others, such as Dora, find happiness in simple and frivolous pleasures. Thus, Dickens raises the question of whether any of these characters can ever find true happiness because each of these approaches to happiness just leads them to opinions and feelings.

Synopsis of the novel

When his mother remarries, David moves from a happy to indifferent existence, to an oppressive one. He is sent to school, where he meets his friends. When his mother dies, David is made to work in a wine factory until he escapes to his aunt, who sends him to another school to learn how to be a gentleman. He makes more friends and falls in love, but he has a hard time with those he loves. Her aunt and her friends continue to lose their money because of fraud. His nanny Peggotty’s family is being torn apart from him by one of his school friends. David’s wife dies as a result of the abortion. In the end, everything is resolved. Money is refunded; Peggotty’s family embarks on a new adventure; David remarries his friend Agnes and begins his new career as a writer.


The story of the novel follows the life of the protagonist David Copperfield from childhood to maturity. It begins with the title character recounting the events surrounding his birth. He was born at the beginning of the 19th century in his village Blunderstone. David’s mother Clara is a pretty and naive young widow when David was born after six months of his father’s death. Alone in the world, Clara depends on her loyal servant Peggotty to help her raise her son. David’s happy early childhood takes a sudden turn when his mother marries Mr. Murdstone. Murdstone beats David and sends him away to boarding school. He hardly allows Clara to speak to her son, but Peggotty manages to ensure David of her continued love and loyalty. David has a warm relationship with Peggotty, having spent time with her in Yarmouth and enjoying the company of Mr. Peggotty, her fisherman brother. Mr. Peggotty lives with his adopted niece Emily, and his adopted nephew Ham.

David gives a description of his boarding school as terrible because the students are regularly beaten but he befriends many including the upper-class James Steerforth. David goes home on holidays and can learn that his mother has given birth to a baby boy. Shortly after David returns to school, his mother and child die. When David’s mother dies, he is sent home from school. After Mr. Murdstone fires her, Peggotty moves to Yarmouth and marries Mr. Barkis, the horse cart driver. David meets Peggotty.

Instead of sending David back to school at the age of ten, his stepfather Murdstone sends David to work in a wine factory in London, a business in which Murdstone is a co-owner. While working, David realizes that without education his future would be insecure. He decides to run away and moves to Dover to find his affectionate aunt Betsey Trotwood. David finds his aunt and takes refuge with her. Betsey takes care of David, even as Murdstone tries to recover David’s guardianship. She encourages David to become a proctor, a lawyer. She sends him to a better school than the last one where he studied. The school is run by Dr. Strong, whose methods increase respect and self-reliance among his students. During this time, David is accompanied by lawyer Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes, who is a friend and confidant of David. Wickfield’s clerk Uria Heep also lives at this home.

In a disguised way, Uriah Heep slowly gains a complete boost over Agnes and alcoholic Wickfield. Heep hopefully and maliciously informs David that he is interested in marrying Agnes.

After finishing school, David is an apprentice to become a proctor in the firm of Spenlow in London. Now David has concealed his relationship with Agnes and values her judgment and treats her like a dear sister. At this point, due to Heep’s deceptive activities, his aunt’s fortunes diminish. David works hard to make a living. He works morning and evening as secretary to his former teacher, Dr. Strong, and begins learning shorthand with the help of his old school-friend Traddles. With enough moral support from Agnes and his own hard work, David finally gets fame and fortune as an author, writing fiction.

Meanwhile, David’s selfish and snobbish school friend Steerforth meets with David but then goes on to seduce and dishonor Emily. He allures her to marry and elopes with her. After a long struggle, Her uncle Mr. Peggotty manages to find her with the help of Martha. Ham dies in a terrible storm off while trying to rescue the ship. Steerforth also died drowning in the sea. Mr. Peggotty takes Emily to a new life in Australia, where all eventually perceive security and happiness.

In the meantime, David falls in love with Dora and then marries her. Their marriage proves to be troublesome for David in terms of everyday practical matters, but he never stops loving her. Dora dies early in their marriage after an abortion. After Dora’s death, Agnes encourages David to return to normal life and his writing career. While living in Switzerland to alleviate his grief over so many losses, David realizes that he loves Agnes. After returning to England and trying unsuccessfully to hide his feelings, David sees that Agnes loves him too. They get married quickly and in this marriage, he gets true happiness that he has longed in his life. David and Agnes then have at least five children, including a daughter named Betsey Trotwood, after the name of his aunt.

The keywords of the story

  1. David’s childhood
  2. Boarding school
  3. Working at a wine factory
  4. New school and goal
  5. The struggle of David for livelihood
  6. Steerforth’s treachery and death
  7. David’s marriage and troublesome life

Click here: For notes of the novel

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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