The main characters of the novel are; David Copperfield, Peggotty, Betsey Trotwood, Edward Murdstone, James Steerforth, Wilkins Micawber, Uriah Heep and Dora Spenlow. The other characters are; Clara Copperfield, Mr. Chillip, Barkis, Jane Murdstone, Daniel Peggotty, Emily, Ham Peggotty, Mrs. Gummidge, Martha Endell, Mr. Creakle, Tommy Traddles, Mr. Dick, Mell, Jack Maldon, Mr. Wickfield, Miss Dartle, Mr. Sharp and Dr. Strong (Thomas, 2005).
David Copperfield is the protagonist in the novel. He is depicted as a persevering, diligent and optimistic character. Peggotty is David’s lifelong companion and the Copperfield’s family. Betsey Trotwood is David’s great aunt who becomes his guardian. Edward Musrdatone is David’s unkind stepfather. James steerforth is David’s close friend who is known for his charming nature (Thomas, 2005).
The two main themes of the novel are class consciousness and criticism of social institutions. Charles Dickens brings out the problems associated with the interactions between different classes of people in the setting of the novel; Victoria England. Charles Dickens brings out the severity of division in classes when he shows how distressed David gets when he thinks that he would not be able to get back to the middle class level (Dickens, 1992). This is shown when David works in the warehouse and confesses “the secret agony of [his] soul, claiming, “[M]y hopes of growing up to are a learned and distinguished man [were] crushed in my bosom.” The words used by David show he is broken hearted. David did not associate with other boys in the warehouse as he thought they were beneath him. It is also noted that David went an extra mile to prevent people from knowing that he once poor when he eventually became financially stable.
The difference in classes is also depicted when Em’ly elopes with Steerforth. Em’ly is aware of the wide divide between the lower and middle class when she met David. This is shown when she pointed out a vital difference between her and David apart from their similarity of being orphans. “Your father was a gentleman and your mother is a lady; and my father was a fisherman and my mother was a fisherman’s daughter.” Em’ly said this statement so as to make David aware that her parents had to work hard to maintain their life while his inherited some wealth. Em’ly experiences economic prejudices when she sets off to marry Steerforth. She is even seen as a person who would ultimately “ruin” Steerforth’s prospects (Dickens, 1992).
Charles Dickens criticisms institutions like the boarding school system and the prisons. Dickens brings out the unjust things that take place in boarding systems and also shows that there is no one checking their proper running. He brings out the cruel nature of boarding system caretakers like Creakle who uses his power to harass children emotionally and physically. He also brings out the cruelty that can take place in a family setting in which a man holds all the power. In which case he shows how the child and mother can suffer by painting out how David suffered from the hands of Murdstone. Murdstone beats David continuously until he is saved by his aunt Betsey. Dickens shows that there is no legal system to protect children from cruel fathers and from working at tender ages (Dickens, 1992).
Dickens also shows that prisons are not as effective as they are thought to be. This is shown through Uriah who is still not rehabilitated regardless of his going through the prison system. It is depicted when Uriah claims that David attacked him and as a result gains sympathy from prison officials. It therefore showed that the system is biased, subjective and easily manipulated.
Dickens is able to bring about social injustices in a unique manner and hence David Copperfield is a good read that has remained this way for a longtime.
Jeffers, Thomas L. (2005). Apprenticeships: The Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana. New York: Palgrave.
Charles Dickens (1992). David Copperfield.New York: Chelsea House Publishers