David Copperfield (Sparknotes)
Summary — Preface In the preface written to accompany the first single-volume publication ofDavid Copperfield, Dickens tells us that the completion of the novel is, for him, both a regret and a pleasure. He rejoices in the completion of the novel because the novel was a long time in coming, and he is satisfied that it is finished after two years of hard work. He mourns its completion, however, because it marks the end of his association with a cast of characters to whom he has become intensely attached.
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Dickens remarks that David Copperfield is his favorite of all his novels and that, of all the characters he has invented over the years, David Copperfield is dearest to him. Summary- I am born An older David Copperfield narrates the story of his life. He begins by saying that only the writing that follows can tell who the hero of his story is. He tells of his simple birth, which occurred at the stroke of midnight on a Friday night. An old woman in the neighborhood has told him that the time of his birth indicates he will be unlucky and will be able to see ghosts and spirits.
David’s father is already dead when David is born. David’s aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, appears on the day of David’s birth and speaks with David’s mother, Clara. Miss Betsey informs Clara that she intends to take custody of the girl Clara is about to bear. Miss Betsey wishes to raise the girl so that men never take advantage of her the way Miss Betsey has been taken advantage of in her own life. When David is born and Mr. Chillip, the doctor, informs Miss Betsey that Clara has had a boy, Miss Betsey storms out of the house and never returns. Summary — Chapter II. I Observe.
David’s earliest memories are of his mother’s hair and his nurse, Clara Peggotty, who has very dark eyes. He remembers the kitchen and the backyard, with the roosters that frightened him and the churchyard behind the house, where his father is buried. Both David and his mother submit themselves to Peggotty’s kind direction. In particular, David recalls one occasion when he sits up late reading a book about crocodiles to Peggotty while waiting for his mother to return home from an evening out. David’s beautiful mother returns with Mr. Murdstone, a large man with black whiskers and a deep voice. David and Peggotty both dislike Mr.
Murdstone, and Peggotty warns David’s mother not to marry someone her dead husband would not have liked. Mr. Murdstone returns later and takes David on a short trip to meet two business acquaintances, one of whom is named Mr. Quinion. Mr. Murdstone and Mr. Quinion joke about David’s dislike of Mr. Murdstone and Mr. Murdstone’s intention to marry David’s mother. When they get home, Peggotty proposes that she and David go to visit her brother and his family in Yarmouth. Summary — Chapter III. I have a Change Peggotty takes David to Yarmouth, where her family lives in a boat they have converted into a home.
Peggotty’s brother, Mr. Daniel Peggotty, adopted his nephew, Ham, and his niece, Little Em’ly, who are not siblings, when their fathers drowned. Mrs. Gummidge, the widowed wife of Mr. Peggotty’s brother, lives with them too. Mr. Peggotty and Ham fish during the day, while David and Little Em’ly roam the beaches, collect shells, and fall in love. In retrospect, David muses that he has at times wished that the sea had closed over Little Em’ly then so that she would not have suffered all that she has suffered since. When David returns home, he observes that he has hardly thought of his mother or his home since he left.
When he arrives, Peggotty tells him that his mother married Mr. Murdstone while they were away. David is reunited with his mother. Mr. Murdstone orders David’s mother to control herself in her behavior toward her son. David sees Mr. Murdstone again, for the first time as his mother’s husband. David thinks that Mr. Murdsone, with his great black beard, looks like an enormous and threatening dog. Analysis — Preface–Chapter III Dickens uses foreshadowing and cultivates an atmosphere of mystery in order to make his story dramatic and capture our interest from the start.
The surreal circumstances under which David is born, including the appearance of Miss Betsey, mark the first example of mystery in the novel. Although Miss Betsey is absent for much of the story, she returns when David is in his hour of most dire need. The darkness and abruptness established around Miss Betsey in the opening chapter characterize her throughout the novel. Likewise, David’s comment that Little Em’ly might have been better off in the long run if the sea had swallowed her up as a child foreshadows painful events that come later.
By alluding to these future difficult circumstances early in the novel, Dickens keeps us wondering what will happen to the various characters as the novel unfolds. Throughout David Copperfield, Dickens uses such foreshadowing not only to create suspense about future events but also to establish an ominous tone. Dickens portrays David as a gentle, naive child in order to limit the novel’s perspective and set up the dramatic irony of many of the story’s episodes. We see many signs of David’s youth: his memory of Mr. Murdstone as doglike, his failure to understand that Mr. Quinion and Mr.
Murdstone make jokes at his own expense, his memory of his mother’s hair and form, and so on. We also see David’s innocence in his narrative voice, which focuses on other characters’ best aspects and never hints at infidelity or betrayal. Additionally, as a child, David often fears and dreads aspects of characters that an adult would not. We might expect the adult David to rewrite the story using his adult perspective to make sense of the things that baffled him as a child. But David does not recast his childhood through an adult perspective. As a result, we see the characters and the story as the young David did at the time.
David’s naive voice preserves an element of surprise in the novel, as David repeatedly fails to notice parts of the story that, if shown, would reveal upcoming events. By matching his characters’ physical traits to their emotional traits, Dickens helps us categorize the many people we meet in the novel. Mr. Murdstone, for example, sports a large black beard and evil-looking face that make him appear like a beast—and indeed, he turns out to be a less than savory character. In this way, David Copperfield is generally straightforward in its depiction of good and evil characters.
In most cases, characters are more or less what they appear, which makes it easy for us to remember both their outward appearances and internal traits. Also, because Dickens tends to associate good with light and beauty and evil with dark and ugliness, the images in the novel come into sharp contrast. Thus, when David’s mother and Mr. Murdstone are together, the image is as physically and aesthetically repugnant as it is morally unappealing. Though there are exceptions to this general rule, the alliance of good with beauty and evil with ugliness persists fairly regularly throughout David Copperfield. Chapters IV–VI
Summary — Chapter IV. I fall into Disgrace Having returned home, David finds his house much changed. The change upsets him so much that he cries himself to sleep in his new room. His mother comes up to comfort him, but Mr. Murdstone finds them there and reprimands David’s mother for not being firm with her son. Mr. Murdstone dismisses David’s mother into another part of the house and warns David that he will receive a beating if he disobeys or upsets his mother again. That night, dinner is silent and formal, and David finds it very different from the old dinners he used to enjoy by the fire with Peggotty and his mother.
After dinner, Miss Jane Murdstone, Mr. Murdstone’s cruel sister, arrives to stay. She is dark and masculine, with eyebrows that nearly meet over the bridge of her nose. David observes that she is a metallic lady, with metal boxes and a metal purse. Miss Murdstone takes over the household organization, and when David’s mother protests that she can run her own house, Mr. Murdstone threatens her into submission. Whenever David’s mother voices her concern or anger about anything done in the house or to David, Mr. and Miss Murdstone tell her that her “firmness” is failing.
They often refer to David’s mother, who is much younger than they, as a naive, inexperienced, and artless girl who needs their training. David’s mother accepts the Murdstones’ molding of her, apparently because she is afraid of them. David’s mother continues to conduct his lessons. However, because Mr. and Miss Murdstone snipe at David continuously throughout his recitations, his memory fails him during every lesson. His only comfort is his father’s small collection of adventure books, which David reads over and over in order to bring some friends and pleasure into his life. After one particularly poor lesson, Mr.
Murdstone beats David savagely, and David, in self-defense, bites Mr. Murdstone’s hand. As punishment, David is locked in his room alone for five days. At the end of the five days, Peggotty comes to his door and whispers through the keyhole that he is to be sent away. Summary — Chapter V. I am sent away from Home David rides away with a carrier, Mr. Barkis, who travels between towns carrying people and packages in his cart. As David leaves, Peggotty bursts out of the bushes and gives him a little money, a note from his mother, and several cakes. David is nearly hysterical at being sent away.
He shares the cakes with Mr. Barkis, who, on finding out that Peggotty baked them, asks David to tell her that “Barkis is willin’. ” At the inn where David switches to the London coach, dinner is waiting for him under the name “Murdstone. ” The waiter tricks David into giving him all his dinner and some of his money as a tip. Because it is a large dinner, David gains a reputation at the inn for having eaten a tremendous amount. The coachman and the other passengers tease David so badly that he does not eat even when they stop later to do so. As a result, David arrives in London very hungry.
In London, David waits for several hours until Mr. Mell, who says he is one of the masters at Salem House, arrives to pick him up. On the way to the school, they stop at a charity home and visit an old woman who calls Mr. Mell “my Charley” and cooks David breakfast. They proceed to the school, where all the boys are on holiday. David is forced to wear a sign that identifies him as one who bites—his punishment for having bitten Mr. Murdstone. Summary — Chapter VI. I enlarge my Circle of Acquaintance Mr. Creakle, the headmaster, returns to the school and summons David. The bald, reddish Mr.
Creakle, who never raises his voice above a whisper, warns David that he will beat him for any misbehavior. David is terrified of Mr. Creakle. The headmaster’s wife and daughter, however, are quiet and thin women, and David supposes that they sympathize with the boys Mr. Creakle terrorizes. Tommy Traddles, the first boy to return from holiday, befriends David, which helps David befriend the other boys as they return. James Steerforth, the most respected of the schoolboys because of his wealth, intelligence, and good looks, takes David’s money on the pretense of holding it for him.
Steerforth convinces David to spend the money on a tremendous banquet, which he splits evenly among the boys in the dorm that night. David considers Steerforth to be his protector and friend but not his equal. David is submissive to Steerforth and refers to him as “sir. ” Analysis — Chapters IV—VI Although some of Dickens’s characters manage to improve their social class, social hierarchies are extremely powerful in David Copperfield. For example, even though Peggotty loves David and his mother more than anyone else loves them, both mother and son always treat Peggotty as a servant. On the other and, David reveres James Steerforth, a scoundrel, largely because he is wealthy and powerful. Tommy Traddles, who is kind and gentle to David and shows him much more loyalty than Steerforth, never even comes close to attaining Steerforth’s exalted status. The other boys also naturally obey Steerforth, apparently not because he deserves their respect but because none of them can match the confidence and arrogance that stem from his class status. This social structure that the young students establish continues throughout the novel, as characters judge each other on their class status rather than their merits.
Dickens depicts English social hierarchies as inevitable but acknowledges that they are not ideal. David respects the strict class system, as do most of the secondary characters. David sincerely wishes to seem genteel, enjoys commanding servants about, and draws judgments entirely on the basis of class. Nevertheless, Dickens also shows how the power relations of the class system can be inverted—most notably in the case of the servant at the inn who tricks David into giving up his meal. Likewise, Steerforth is rich yet cruel while Mr.
Peggotty is poor yet good-hearted. These two characters demonstrate that Dickens does not believe that class always corresponds to moral status. On the whole, although Dickens recognizes imperfections in the English class system, he does not actively challenge it in his writing. Although Clara’s failure to protect David is disturbing, the difficult situation of her marriage provokes our sympathy and understanding. Clara does allow her husband and his sister to inflict cruelty on David, which we may find reprehensible.
But at the same time, as Mr. Murdstone breaks Clara’s spirit more and more, and Miss Murdstone convinces her that she is a worthless girl in desperate need of reform, we cannot help but pity Clara. David, for his part, never condemns his mother—in fact, he displays unwavering faith in her. Ultimately, as Clara transforms from beautiful and carefree before her remarriage to beaten-down and frightened afterward, her inexperience and good intentions become clear, and she emerges as a sympathetic character.
The books to which David retreats when his life at his house becomes unbearable bring an element of fantasy to Dickens’s novel and fuel David’s sense of romantic idealism. Though David Copperfield as a novel offers a realistic depiction of the harsh aspects of daily existence for women, children, and the underprivileged, David himself often romanticizes his world. He frequently gets wrapped up in a sense of adventure and high emotion. His description of events that happen to him reveals that he sees his love affairs as tempestuous and his escapades as wild and adventurous.
David’s vivid imagination is both an asset and a handicap, for it simultaneously sustains him through hard times and subjects him to the treachery of those who would take advantage of a boy’s trusting nature. Chapters VII–X Summary — Chapter VII. My “first half” at Salem House School begins, and Mr. Creakle warns the boys that he will punish them severely if they fail in their lessons. He beats David with a cane on the first day. David notices that Traddles gets beaten more than the other boys because he is fat. To cheer himself up, Traddles lays his head on his desk and draws little skeletons on his slate.
Steerforth and David become close when Steerforth, who suffers from insomnia, persuades David to stay up with him at night and tell him the stories David remembers from his father’s books. One day when Mr. Creakle is ill, Steerforth and Mr. Mell get into a fight, and Steerforth reveals that David has told him about visiting an old woman with Mr. Mell at the charity house. Steerforth figures out that the old woman is Mr. Mell’s mother. When Mr. Creakle comes to see what the commotion is, Steerforth tells him about Mr. Mell’s poverty. Mr. Creakle commends Steerforth and fires Mr.
Mell, who, as he leaves, shows particular favor to David. Another day, Ham and Mr. Peggotty come to visit David at school. They meet Steerforth and are amused by him. Summary — Chapter VIII. My Holidays. Especially one happy Afternoon. On the day that David arrives home for the holidays, Mr. and Miss Murdstone are away. David, his mother, and Peggotty have supper and pass an evening the way they used to do before his mother remarried. David’s mother has a new child, and David loves the child dearly. The three laugh about Mr. Barkis’s proposal to Peggotty, and Peggotty vows never to leave David’s mother.
Peggotty and David’s mother quarrel briefly over David’s mother’s marriage to Mr. Murdstone. David’s mother argues that Mr. Murdstone is just trying to improve her character. She feels that she should be grateful to him. David observes that Peggotty only provokes his mother so that she might feel better by providing these justifications. The next morning, David apologizes to Mr. Murdstone for biting his hand. Later, he picks up the baby. Miss Murdstone flies into a rage, telling David never to touch the child again. To David’s surprise, his mother sides with Miss Murdstone.
David’s mother observes that her two children have the same eyes. Miss Murdstone shrieks that such a comparison between the wretched David and her knightly brother’s child is utterly foolish. Mr. Murdstone forces David to remain in the company of the adults, even though they never speak to him. Mr. Murdstone says that David’s habit of reading in his room is evidence of his sullenness. When David’s holiday is over, Mr. Barkis picks him up. As they drive away, David turns around and sees his mother standing in the road and holding up her child to him. Summary — Chapter IX.
I have a memorable Birthday In the middle of the next term, David’s mother dies. The school sends David home, and Mr. Omer, a funeral director and general services provider, picks him up at the coach. Mr. Omer takes David to his shop, where he meets Mr. Omer’s daughter, Minnie, and her sweetheart, Mr. Joram. Mr. Joram builds David’s mother’s coffin behind the shop, and David sits through the day listening to the sounds of the hammer. Mr. Omer tells David that David’s little brother died a few days after his mother. The Omer family is quite jovial, but David sits in the shop with his head down.
When David arrives home, Peggotty greets him and comforts him. Miss Murdstone only asks him if he has remembered his clothes. In retrospect, David admits that he cannot recall the order of all the events around this time, but he describes going to his mother’s funeral with the few people who attend. Afterward, Peggotty comes to him and tells him about his mother’s last moments. She says that his mother died with her head on Peggotty’s arm. Summary — Chapter X. I become Neglected, and am provided for Mr. and Miss Murdstone take no interest in David after his mother’s death.
They make it clear that they want him around as little as possible. Miss Murdstone fires Peggotty, who goes home to her family. Peggotty proposes to take David with her for a visit. On the ride there, Mr. Barkis flirts with Peggotty, who asks David what he would think if she married Mr. Barkis after all. David says he thinks it is a wonderful idea. At Mr. Peggotty’s house, David finds Little Em’ly older and more beautiful than before, though she has become a bit spoiled and coy. Mr. Peggotty and Ham praise Steerforth, whom they have met at Salem House. Mr.
Barkis and Peggotty get married in a private ceremony at a church one afternoon while Little Em’ly and David are out riding around. When David returns home, Mr. and Miss Murdstone completely ignore him. David falls into a state of neglect until Mr. Quinion, Mr. Murdstone’s business partner, appears. When Mr. Quinion arrives, the Murdstones arrange for David to go to London to work in the wine-bottling industry. Analysis — Chapters VII–X Mothers and mother figures in David Copperfield represent a safe harbor from the cruelty of the world. They fill this role not only for children but for adults as well.
David’s mother offers him emotional support and occasional reprieve from the Murdstones’ cruelty. Peggotty takes on the role of mother figure to both David and David’s mother, as she cares for both of them when they need her help. Many of Dickens’s novels feature orphans who, lacking this important refuge from a cruel world, come across as especially pitiful characters. In David’s case, Peggotty (and later, Miss Betsey) save him from this fate. But until these mother figures are able to help him, he suffers a great deal in losing his natural mother and living with the disadvantages that motherlessness creates.
Although the large cast of secondary characters in David Copperfield may seem overwhelming, these characters serve two important narrative functions: they mark the different phases of the novel and give editorial commentary about the actions of the main characters. Throughout the novel, secondary characters voice general opinions about the events involving the main characters. Because Dickens goes into such great detail in describing the lives of the main characters, the thoughts and actions of the secondary characters provide welcome breaks from the novel’s main plots.
The secondary characters also alert us to transitions between the novel’s different sections, for they often appear at critical moments when the emotional intensity of the main plot is at its height. Mr. Omer, for example, appears in order to inform David of his mother and sister’s death. Moreover, the Omers’ happy family life serves as a contrast to David’s sorrow at his mother’s death. In this way, secondary characters not only comment on the novel’s main characters but also provide transitions between the novel’s different phases.
In his vanity, egotism, and pride, James Steerforth acts as a foil for David’s naive innocence and wide-eyed trustfulness. David worships Steerforth, but this adoration is undeserved. We see that Steerforth’s support of David originates not from kindness but rather from a desire to increase his own importance and control over the other boys. Steerforth’s willingness to manipulate David both contrasts with and highlights David’s willingness to trust Steerforth. The only clue we have that David might suspect that Steerforth is not what he seems is David’s occasional remark that Steerforth did not bother to save him from Mr.
Creakle’s punishments. It is clear to us, however, that Steerforth is bigoted and self-centered, especially in his interactions with Mr. Mell. This disparity between David’s perception of his world and our perception of it provides dramatic irony that persists throughout much of the novel. Chapters XI–XIV Summary — Chapter XI. I begin Life on my own Account, and don’t like it I wonder what they thought of me! (See Important Quotations Explained) David’s companions at Mr. Murdstone’s business dismay David. They are coarse, uneducated boys whose fathers work in blue-collar professions. David meets Mr.
Micawber, a poor but genteel man who speaks in tremendous phrases and makes a great show of nobility despite his shabby appearance. Through an agreement with Mr. Murdstone, David goes to live with Mr. Micawber, his wife, and four children. The Micawbers befriend David and openly tell him of their financial troubles, each time becoming overwhelmingly upset and then recovering fully over good food and wine. David gets very little pay at his factory job and lives primarily on bread. In retrospect, David wonders what the waiters and shopkeepers must have thought of him, so independent at so young an age.
At the factory, David is known as “the little gent” and gets along fine because he never complains. Eventually, Mr. Micawber’s debts overwhelm him. He is thrown into debtors’ prison, where he becomes a political figure among the inmates, lobbying to eliminate that establishment. Summary — Chapter XII. Liking Life on my own Account no better, I form a great Resolution. Mr. Micawber is released from jail and his debts are resolved. The family decides to move to look for work. David decides he will not stay in London without the Micawbers and resolves to run away to his aunt Betsey.
He borrows some money from Peggotty and hires a young man to help him move his box to the coach station. Along the way, the young man steals David’s money and possessions. Summary — Chapter XIII. The Sequel of my Resolution David sells some of the clothes he is wearing in order to buy food. The shopkeepers who buy the clothes take advantage of him, and travelers abuse him on the road. David arrives at the home of his aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, who initially tries to send him away. When he tells her that he is her nephew, she consults with Mr. Dick, the man who lives upstairs in her home.
Mr. Dick suggests that before she do anything, she give David a bath. Miss Betsey repeatedly compares David to the sister he never had and concludes that his sister would not have done the stupid things David has done. Miss Betsey is a tough, sharp woman obsessed with keeping donkeys off the grass in front of her house. She bathes and feeds David and speaks to Mr. Dick at length about David’s mother, whom she pitied very much. David is nervous about whether his aunt will keep him or will send him away. Summary — Chapter XIV. My Aunt makes up her Mind about me
The next morning, Miss Betsey reveals to David that she has written Mr. Murdstone to tell him where David is. She has invited Mr. Murdstone there to discuss David’s fate. Miss Betsey sends David up to check on Mr. Dick’s progress on his Memorial, an autobiography he is trying to write. But Mr. Dick continually starts his project over from scratch because, each time, he begins to muse in the text about King Charles I, whose demons he believes possess him. Mr. Dick has an enormous kite that he promises to fly with David someday. David returns to Miss Betsey and tells her that Mr. Dick sends his compliments to her.
Miss Betsey reveals that she took in Mr. Dick when his brother tried to have him placed in an asylum. Mr. and Miss Murdstone arrive on donkeys, and Miss Betsey rushes out to chase the donkeys off her lawn. The Murdstones are rude to David during their visit, and Miss Betsey scolds them and forces them to leave. Mr. Murdstone warns her that if David does not come with him immediately, he will never be able to come back again. Miss Betsey asks David what he wants to do, and he says he wants to stay with her. It is resolved that he will do so, and Miss Betsey renames him Trotwood Copperfield.
Analysis — Chapters XI–XIV Dickens uses the Micawbers, who turn up periodically throughout the novel, to comment on the debtors’ prisons common in England in the 1800 s. Debtors were placed in these prisons until they were able to resolve their financial difficulties, which often took years. In the meantime, families were torn apart and suffered hardships as the imprisoned heads of households were unable to earn money to support them. Dickens himself, as a member of a family with enormous financial problems, suffered as a direct result of debtors’ prisons during his youth. Much like Mr.
Micawber, Dickens’s father, for all his financial woes, could not control his spending when it came to dining and drinking. The passages involving Mr. and Mrs. Micawber are based in large part on Dickens’s own experience, as are the descriptions of David’s job at the wine-bottling factory. David’s sympathetic portrayal of Mr. Micawber suggests Dickens’s concern for the underclass and his frustration at the harsh conditions of the debtors’ prisons. The episodic, plot-heavy nature of David Copperfield stems from the fact that it was originally published as a serial, in pieces over time.
Dickens inserted several mini-climaxes and resolutions and deliberately built suspense toward the end of each section in order to compel his readers to buy and read the next installment. The unnatural segmentation of David’s life into separate parts and the heavy-handed foreshadowing add to the novel’s suspense. For example, Dickens’s description of David’s life with his mother and Mr. Murdstone constitutes one self-contained section, which comprised the entire first part of the novel as it was published in serial form.
The change of scene that opens the second section mirrors an internal change in David as he grows older. Because David Copperfield was written as a serial novel, it focuses in large part on plot and rarely stops to describe characters or settings in detail. The characters develop chiefly through their actions, and it is only over time that we get to know them—Dickens never includes any kind of thorough character analysis or description when he introduces a character. The novel’s serial nature also partly explains why the characters’ physical attributes match their internal characteristics.
This correlation made character identification easier for readers who may have waited weeks since reading the previous installment of the novel. Ultimately, although many critics claim that Dickens’s characters are too simple and flat, this simplicity is largely the practical result of Dickens’s desire to gain new readers and keep current readers interested. When David arrives at Miss Betsey’s, the tone of the novel changes to reflect David’s increased tolerance for the harshness of his world. We see that David’s voice has lost some of its naivete and that he seems more prepared to deal with tragedy than in previous chapters.
Miss Betsey plays a significant part in bringing about this change in the novel’s tone, for she both provides David with physical comfort and is herself a quirky, humorous character, which contrasts the tragic drama of the first chapters. The fact that Miss Betsey turns out not to be the imposing character that she seems to be in the opening scenes of the novel brings some relief to the dark tone of the first part of the story. Miss Betsey’s obsession with keeping donkeys off her lawn, for example, is an amusing touch that lightens the mood of the novel.
Her concern about her lawn is inconsequential relative to David’s troubles, yet she takes it as seriously as David takes his struggle to survive. Miss Betsey also introduces Mr. Dick, whose optimistic, simple faith in David and Miss Betsey contrasts with the Murdstones’ dark pessimism. Unlike most of the other men in David Copperfield to this point, Mr. Dick is kind, gentle, and generous toward David—a far cry from the unforgiving Mr. Murdstone and the brutal Mr. Creakle. As we see, then, not only Miss Betsey but also the characters related to her momentarily change the tone of the novel from tragedy to comedy. Chapters XV–XVIII
Summary — Chapter XV. I make another Beginning Miss Betsey proposes that David, whom she has nicknamed “Trot,” be sent to school at Canterbury. They go to Canterbury and visit Mr. Wickfield, a lawyer and a friend of Miss Betsey’s. At Mr. Wickfield’s, they meet Uriah Heep, an unattractive young redhead dressed entirely in black and skeleton-like in appearance. Uriah takes them to Mr. Wickfield, who recommends a school for David but warns that the dorms are full and that David will have to stay elsewhere. The adults agree that David can go to the school and stay with Mr. Wickfield until they find a more suitable arrangement.
David meets Agnes, Mr. Wickfield’s lovely and charming daughter, who dotes on her father and is his one joy since his wife died. The three dine and have tea together. David rises in the middle of the night and encounters Uriah Heep, whose sliminess so strikes David that he feels the need to rub off Uriah’s touch after shaking his hand. Summary — Chapter XVI. I am a New Boy in more senses than one At school the next day, David meets the headmaster, Doctor Strong, and his young wife, Annie. Mr. Wickfield and Doctor Strong discuss arrangements Mr. Wickfield is trying to make for Annie’s cousin, Jack Maldon. Mr.
Wickfield wants to know whether there is any particular reason that Doctor Strong wants Jack Maldon’s new job to be one that sends him out of the country. Doctor Strong assures him there is not. David is behind in his studies but quickly catches up. He makes friends with the boys at the school. At home, David speaks with Agnes, whom he finds more and more charming in her devotion to her father. One evening, at dinner, Jack Maldon interrupts the family to say that he hopes he can go abroad as soon as possible. Mr. Wickfield treats him politely but distantly and assures him that there will be no delay in getting him sent abroad.
After dinner, Mr. Wickfield drinks heavily, and Agnes and David chat with him and play dominos. Mr. Wickfield offers to let David stay permanently at the house, and David gladly accepts. On his way to bed, David runs into Uriah Heep. Uriah asks him whether he is impressed with Agnes. David notes that whenever he says something that pleases Uriah, Uriah writhes like a snake. David quickly rises to the top of his class and settles in happily. One evening, he, Mr. Wickfield, and Agnes visit Doctor Strong’s home for a farewell party for Jack Maldon.
Annie’s mother is there, and she encourages Doctor Strong to continue to bestow favors on her family members, who are poor and lower-class. Doctor Strong acquiesces to all her demands. When Jack Maldon leaves to depart for India, Annie becomes very emotional. As the coach pulls away, David sees one of her ribbons in Jack Maldon’s hand. Summary — Chapter XVII. Somebody turns up Peggotty writes to David and tells him that the furniture at his old house has been sold, the Murdstones have moved, and the house is for sale. David tells Miss Betsey of all the news in Peggotty’s letters when she visits him at school, as she does frequently.
Mr. Dick visits even more frequently and becomes a favorite of Doctor Strong and the other school boys. Mr. Dick tells David that Miss Betsey recently had a strange nighttime encounter with a man who frightened her so badly that she fainted. Neither Mr. Dick nor David understands the encounter. Mr. Dick reports that the man appeared again the previous night, and that Miss Betsey gave him money. David goes to tea at Uriah Heep’s house, where Uriah and his mother intimidate David into telling them secrets about Agnes, especially about her father’s health and financial situation.
David is very uncomfortable with the Heeps and feels that they are manipulating him. Uriah and his mother both frequently repeat that they are so humble as to be grateful for any attention from David. In the middle of tea, Mr. Micawber walks by the door. On seeing David, he enters. The two of them leave together and visit Mrs. Micawber, who is very glad to see David. The Micawbers are in terrible financial straits again, but they are quite merry over dinner nonetheless. Summary — Chapter XVIII. A Retrospect
In retrospect, the adult David recounts several years in Doctor Strong’s school and his two love interests during his time there—a young girl named Miss Shepherd and an older woman named Miss Larkins. David also recalls a fistfight he had with a young arrogant butcher. Eventually, to his surprise, David rose to be the top boy at the school. When he was seventeen, he graduated. Analysis — Chapters XV–XVIII The retrospective Chapter XVIII marks the end of David’s boyhood and his entrance into the world as a man. Throughout his childhood, David’s character traits remain fairly constant.
Although his life changes radically and frequently, often in cruel ways, David remains for the most part the naive, hopeful boy he is in the first chapters of the novel, when his mother is alive. As David later observes when speaking of Uriah Heep, a miserable childhood can easily turn a boy into a monster. David’s resilience, in contrast, is striking. Nonetheless, for all his pride in his growth, David remains gullible. This innocence lends a freshness to the narrative’s perspective—a freshness that has prompted many critics to label David Copperfield the finest portrayal of childhood ever written.
As David grows older, he does remain somewhat simple-hearted and maintains a startling faith in humanity, but his narrative perspective does mature alongside him. David gradually leaves his childhood romanticism behind and looks at the world in more realistic terms, and the novel’s narrative tone reflects this change. Mr. Dick, who is both a man and a boy, contrasts with the other adult male characters in the novel, who tend to be harsh and gruff. In a story focused on the process of maturation, Mr. Dick is a model of a mature adult who is not jaded by the cruelties of the world.
Like Miss Mowcher, who appears later in the novel, Mr. Dick might be described as a young mind in an adult body. Like a boy, he is unable to control his impulses or order his thoughts. Furthermore, as an innocent character, Mr. Dick demonstrates the power of love over cruelty within the moral framework of the novel. Mr. Dick’s love for David and Miss Betsey gives his character moral credibility throughout the novel. In the closing chapters of David Copperfield, Mr. Dick becomes heroic in his own right, demonstrating the supremacy of simplicity and gentleness over cunning and violence.
In this way, he shows that craftiness does not signify maturity or adulthood—an important lesson for David as he becomes a man. At one point or another, each of the admirable adult characters in the story becomes slightly crazy, allowing Dickens to explore the relationship between intelligence and insanity. Miss Betsey’s obsession with donkeys makes her eccentric to the point of madness. Most of the characters consider Doctor Strong’s faith in Annie to be lunatic. Later, Mr. Peggotty’s faith in Little Em’ly leads some to consider him a raving madman travelling the countryside in search of his niece.
Although the outside world would dismiss many of Dickens’s characters as insane, within David Copperfield, characters who are crazy are often of high moral quality. This contrast emphasizes Dickens’s rejection of the logic of the external world, which he sees as flawed. In the same way that Dickens rejects class as a marker of a good heart, he likewise rejects sanity as a marker of maturity. Instead, he focuses on the purity of his characters’ intentions and their willingness to follow their convictions. Chapters XIX–XXII Summary — Chapter XIX.
I look about me, and make a Discovery David sets off on a monthlong journey to Yarmouth, to the home of Peggotty and her family, to decide what profession to pursue. He takes his leave of Agnes and Mr. Wickfield, and Doctor Strong throws a going-away party in David’s honor. At the party, Annie’s mother reveals that Jack Maldon has sent Doctor Strong a letter in which he claims that he is ill and likely to return soon on sick leave. But Annie has received another letter from Jack Maldon indicating that he wants to return because he misses her. The next morning, David leaves on the London coach and tries to appear as manly as possible.
Nonetheless, the coachman asks him to resign his seat of honor to an older man. David spends the evening at an inn, where the waiter pokes fun at his youthfulness and the chambermaid gives him a pitiful room. David attends a play, returns to the inn, and discovers Steerforth in a sitting room. Steerforth is now attending Oxford but is bored by his studies and is on his way home to see his mother. David and Steerforth are happily reunited, and the inn staff immediately treat David with respect. Summary — Chapter XX. Steerforth’s Home. Steerforth persuades David to stay a few days with him at his mother’s house before going to Yarmouth.
Steerforth nicknames David “Daisy,” and the two of them spend the day sightseeing before going to Steerforth’s home. There, David meets Mrs. Steerforth, Steerforth’s widowed mother, and Rosa Dartle, Steerforth’s orphaned distant cousin whom Mrs. Steerforth took in when Miss Dartle’s mother died. Mrs. Steerforth is an imposing, older, more feminine version of Steerforth, and she dotes on her son ceaselessly. Miss Dartle has a scar above her lip from a time when Steerforth, as a child, threw a hammer at her in anger. Miss Dartle views Steerforth’s and David’s words and actions with sarcasm, but both young men are drawn to her.
Summary — Chapter XXI. Little Em’ly. If anyone had told me, then, that all this was a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment . . . in the thoughtless love of superiority . . . I wonder in what manner of receiving it my indignation would have found a vent! (See Important Quotations Explained) At Steerforth’s, David meets Littimer, Steerforth’s servant, who frightens David because he is so haughty and respectable. David persuades Steerforth to accompany him to Yarmouth to see Ham and Mr. Peggotty again and to meet Peggotty and Little Em’ly. On his way to Peggotty’s, David stops at Mr.
Omer’s shop and sees Mr. Omer and his daughter, who is now married to her sweetheart. Mr. Omer tells David that Little Em’ly now works in his shop. She is a good and diligent worker, but some of the girls in town say she has earned a reputation for putting on airs and wanting to be a lady. David decides not to see Little Em’ly until later, so he continues on to Barkis’s house to find Peggotty. Peggotty does not recognize David at first, but when she does, she sobs over him for a long time. Mr. Barkis, ill but glad to see David, opens his cherished money box and gives Peggotty some money to prepare dinner for David.
Steerforth arrives and entertains Peggotty and David. In retrospect, the adult David muses that if anyone had told him that night that Steerforth’s joviality and manners were all part of a game to him, born from his sense of superiority, David would have dismissed such an idea as a lie. When Steerforth and David arrive at Mr. Peggotty’s house, they find everyone, including Mrs. Gummidge, in a state of high excitement because Little Em’ly has just announced that she intends to marry Ham. After they leave, David delights in the good news, but Steerforth becomes momentarily and inexplicably sullen.
Summary — Chapter XXII. Some old Scenes, and Some new People While in Yarmouth, David visits his old home and feels both pleasure and sorrow at seeing the old places. When he returns late from one such visit, he finds Steerforth alone and in a bad mood, angry that he has not had a father all these years and that he is unable to guide himself better. Steerforth tells David that he would rather even be the wretched Ham than be himself, richer and wiser. After they leave, Steerforth reveals to David that he has bought a boat to be manned by Mr. Peggotty in his absence, and he has named it “The Little Em’ly. At the inn, David and Steerforth meet Miss Mowcher, a loud and brash dwarf who cuts Steerforth’s hair as they gossip and talk of Mr. Peggotty, Ham, and Little Em’ly. When David arrives at Peggotty’s, where he is to stay for the night, he discovers Little Em’ly and Ham with Martha, a woman who used to work at Mr. Omer’s with Little Em’ly but fell into disgrace and came back to beg help from Little Em’ly. After Martha leaves, Little Em’ly becomes very upset and cries that she is not nearly as good a girl as she ought to be. Analysis — Chapters XIX–XXII
The simple life at Yarmouth contrasts starkly with the sophisticated life at Steerforth’s home. At Steerforth’s, characters use their words and actions strategically to produce a desired effect. Littimer, for example, speaks in such a convoluted manner as to be completely opaque, while every one of Mrs. Steerforth’s actions is motivated by her sense of propriety and self-possession. At Yarmouth, on the other hand, characters say exactly what they mean and act out of a desire for harmony with each other. The contrast highlights the class distinction between the two families.
The description of the families contributes to Dickens’s overall message that wealth and power do not correlate with good character, and that poverty does not necessarily indicate bad character. At home, Steerforth reveals that, at heart, he is slick, egotistical, and vain, even though David still continues to deny these tendencies in him. Mrs. Steerforth’s constant doting on her son reinforces these tendencies in Steerforth and make his self-centered nature understandable, if not justified. Though David is unaware of Steerforth’s snobbery, Steerforth belittles David from the moment they meet.
Steerforth further demeans David by giving him the nickname “Daisy,” but David still is too caught up in his worship of Steerforth to see anything but his good qualities. Although Steerforth does demonstrate some thoughtfulness at Yarmouth, as when he tells David that he wishes he could be more focused, his self-reflective mood passes as quickly as it appears. David ignores Steerforth’s insults, as well as the fact that Mrs. Steerforth likes David only because he adores her son. Even when Steerforth begins to confide in David about his own insecurities, David views him as a superior being in whom all faults are positive attributes.
David’s idolization of Steerforth makes him incapable of seeing the true nature of his false friend, even when Steerforth’s bad side is most exposed. David attains greater consciousness of romantic love as his character develops. At this stage, David’s feelings of love are still impetuous and adolescent. His frivolous infatuations mirror many of the romantic relationships he sees in his life around him, like that between Annie Strong and Jack Maldon. Although David’s experience of love is not yet as deep as it is later in the novel, he is increasingly aware of others’ romantic relationships.
He observes the affair between Jack Maldon and Annie Strong, as well as the unfolding of the love affair between Mr. Orem’s daughter and her sweetheart. As David awakens to romantic love, his narrative focuses more and more on the emotional relationships between characters. Chapters XXIII–XXVI Summary — Chapter XXIII. I corroborate Mr. Dick, and choose a Profession David determines not to tell Steerforth about Little Em’ly’s outburst the night before because he loves Little Em’ly and believes that she did not mean to reveal to him so much about herself.
David also tells Steerforth, as they are on their way home by coach, about a letter he has received from Miss Betsey suggesting that he become a proctor (a kind of attorney). Steerforth thinks that the profession of proctor would suit David well, and David agrees. When David arrives in London, he meets up with Miss Betsey, who has traveled to London to see him. She is very concerned that Mr. Dick, whom she has left behind at home, will not be able to keep the donkeys off her yard. Miss Betsey and David eventually resolve that David will become a proctor, despite his protestations that it is expensive to do so.
On their way to establish David at the Doctors’ Commons (the place where the proctors hold court and offices), a man who looks like a beggar approaches them, and Miss Betsey jumps into a cab with him. When she returns, David notices that she has given the man most of her money. David is very disturbed, but Miss Betsey makes him swear never to mention the event again. They go to the offices of Spenlow and Jorkins, where Mr. Spenlow agrees to engage David as a clerk. Afterward, they find lodgings for David with Mrs. Crupp, an old landlady who promises to take care of David as though he were her own son. Summary — Chapter XXIV.
My first Dissipation Although David is thrilled with his new accommodations, he gets lonely at night, and Steerforth is away at Oxford with his friends. David goes to Steerforth’s home and visits Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle, who talk glowingly about Steerforth all day. Finally, Steerforth returns. He and David plan to have a dinner party in David’s rooms with two of Steerforth’s friends. David goes overboard in preparing for the party and then drinks himself into illness. While very drunk, he goes with Steerforth and company to the theater, where he runs into Agnes, who makes him go home. The next day he is hungover and humiliated.
Summary — Chapter XXV. Good and bad Angels Agnes sends for David, and he goes to visit her where she is staying in London. She warns him that Steerforth is his “bad Angel,” that he should avoid Steerforth and be cautious of Steerforth’s influence. David disagrees, but the idea rankles him and disturbs his image of Steerforth. Agnes also delivers the bad news that Uriah Heep has insinuated himself into a partnership with her father, Mr. Wickfield. Both she and David are very distressed over this occurrence. At a dinner party at the home where Agnes is staying, David runs into Tommy Traddles, his friend from Salem House, and Uriah Heep.
Uriah attaches himself to David and accompanies him home. In an unpleasant conversation, Uriah reveals to David his intention to marry Agnes. Uriah insists on sleeping the night on the floor in front of David’s fire. David gets no sleep with Uriah’s evil presence in his apartment. Summary — Chapter XXVI. I fall into Captivity Mr. Spenlow, David’s supervisor at the Doctors’ Commons, invites David to his home for the weekend. There, David meets Dora, Mr. Spenlow’s daughter, and falls in love with her. David also runs into Miss Murdstone, whom Mr. Spenlow has retained as a companion for his daughter ever since her mother died.
Miss Murdstone pulls David aside and suggests they forget their difficult past relationship with each other. David agrees. One morning, he meets Dora out in the garden, where she is walking with her little dog. They have a conversation that cements David’s romantic obsession with her. When David returns home, Mrs. Crupp immediately suspects that he has fallen in love. She tells him to cheer up and go out and think of other things. Analysis — Chapters XXIII–XXVI Of all the characters in the novel, Agnes and Steerforth have the greatest influence over David, but their influences pull in opposite directions.
While Agnes represents David’s “good Angel,” his conscience and his dependability, Steerforth urges David to take risks, drink too much, and be critical of the people around him. Agnes represents calm, considered reflection. Her energy is always directed, peaceful, and quiet. Steerforth, by contrast, is noisy, brash, and idle. While Agnes stays at home because her father needs her assistance, Steerforth gallivants all over the countryside pleasing himself. Whereas Agnes encourages David to take the correct path for the sake of morality, Steerforth insists on spending money and commanding servants around at his will.
In this manner, Agnes and Steerforth pull David in different directions throughout the novel, forcing him to choose between good and bad. David experiences his first moral dilemma when Agnes’s influence comes into direct conflict with Steerforth’s. After seeing David drunk at the theater, Agnes suggests that he should shun Steerforth’s company because it makes him do foolish things. This suggestion throws David into a conundrum about which person he should trust. He is not yet mature enough to reject Steerforth’s seductive charisma in favor of Agnes’s quiet, contemplative love.
Although Agnes wins his heart in the end, it takes her a long time, and it is difficult for David to free himself from Steerforth’s hold. Only when David gains control of his own emotions does he fully appreciate Agnes and choose her over Steerforth. As we see, Agnes and Steerforth not only exert opposite effects on David but also require him to assert his identity by choosing between them. Although David has grown since the start of the novel, he continues to be immature, naive, and unable to control his emotions as he takes his first steps into the adult world.
David’s tendency to become obsessed with young women, along with his drunkenness at Steerforth’s dinner party, demonstrate that he does not yet have power over his emotional side. Perhaps the most telling mark of David’s fickle nature is his love affair with Dora, which starts the moment he sees her, quickly develops into an obsession, and remains with him, even though he knows that she is too foolish and frivolous ever to make an appropriate wife. The love affair has many moments of tension, for every time David tries to persuade Dora to be reasonable, she accuses him of being cruel or naughty and makes him leave her alone.
Despite these barriers and warning signs, David loves Dora desperately. His willingness to throw himself into such an unrealistic love affair reveals that his emotions are still naive. Chapters XXVII–XXX Summary — Chapter XXVII. Tommy Traddles David decides to visit Tommy Traddles, who, he discovers when he arrives, lives in the same building as the Micawbers. Traddles is studying for the bar. His apartment and furniture are extremely shabby, and he is struggling to earn enough money to marry his true love, who has sworn to wait for him to save the money.
In the meantime, Traddles has collected two pieces of furniture, a flowerpot, and a small table. Mr. Micawber, meanwhile, is in dire financial trouble again, although he still hopes to find work soon. Mrs. Micawber is pregnant again. Summary — Chapter XXVIII. Mr. Micawber’s Gauntlet “Ride over all obstacles, and win the race! ” (See Important Quotations Explained) Mr. and Mrs. Micawber and Traddles come to dinner at David’s apartment. Mrs. Crupp agrees, after a good deal of argument, to cook dinner for them. The dinner is terribly undercooked, but Mrs.
Micawber directs them all in re-cooking the meat. They enjoy themselves as they cook and eat. Steerforth’s servant, Littimer, arrives and asks David whether he has seen Steerforth. David replies that he has not. Littimer will not tell David why he thought Steerforth might be at his house, nor will he tell him where Steerforth has been. However, Littimer insists on serving the remainder of the meal, which makes everyone uncomfortable. After Littimer leaves, the guests continue to have a merry time. They discuss Mr. Micawber’s prospects in the brewing business and conclude that they are very good.
As his friends leave, David suggests to Traddles that he neither lend anything to Mr. Micawber nor allow Micawber to use Traddles’s name to take out more credit. Traddles says he has already lent Mr. Micawber his name and adds that Mr. Micawber says that the bill is taken care of. Skeptical, David reflects that he is very glad Mr. Micawber never asked him for any money. Steerforth appears in David’s apartment immediately after the others leave, and David tells him Traddles has just left. Steerforth does not speak highly of Traddles, and David is slightly offended.
Steerforth reveals that he has been seafaring at Yarmouth. David tells him that Littimer has just been at the apartment looking for him. Steerforth says that Mr. Barkis is quite ill and delivers a letter from Peggotty to David. Steerforth remarks that it is too bad that Mr. Barkis is dying, but says that above all, a man must “[r]ide over all obstacles, and win the race! ” avid resolves to go visit Peggotty, but Steerforth persuades David to accompany him to his mother’s house before going to Yarmouth. As David undresses, he discovers a letter Mr. Micawber gave him as he left. It says that Mr.
Micawber has not taken care of the debt he secured in Traddles’s name. Summary — Chapter XXIX. I visit Steerforth at his Home, again At Steerforth’s home, David spends the day with Miss Dartle and Mrs. Steerforth. Miss Dartle asks David why he has been keeping Steerforth away from his mother. David assures her that he has not been with Steerforth in the past several weeks. Miss Dartle seems very disturbed at this news. At dinner, Miss Dartle says that if Steerforth and his mother were ever to quarrel, their fight would be especially bitter because neither of them would want to give in to the other.
However, Mrs. Steerforth assures Miss Dartle that she and her son are too conscious of their duty to each other ever to quarrel. At the end of the day, Steerforth begs David to promise that if anything ever separates them, David will remember him at his best. David promises. As he leaves, he looks in on the sleeping Steerforth. In retrospect, the adult David muses that he wishes he could have kept Steerforth just as he was at that moment, so that none of what was to come ever would have happened. Summary — Chapter XXX. A Loss When David arrives at Yarmouth, he visits Mr.
Omer, who tells him that Little Em’ly has not seemed herself recently. Mr. Omer also says that Martha, a friend of Little Em’ly’s, has been missing since David was last in Yarmouth. David goes to Peggotty’s house, where Mr. Peggotty and Little Em’ly are sitting in the kitchen, helping Peggotty. David learns that Mr. Barkis is unconscious and expected to die very soon. Mr. Peggotty says that Mr. Barkis will die with the receding tide. Little Em’ly seems unusually upset and hardly raises her eyes to say hello to David. Mr. Barkis dies as the tide recedes. Analysis — Chapters XXVII–XXX
In this section, Dickens builds suspense about Steerforth’s future by conveying secondary characters’ speculations about Steerforth’s mysterious absence and by using David’s narrative voice to imply that their friendship will soon reach a crucial point. The suspense is heightened by the fact that we take note of Steerforth’s conspicuous absence far more than David, who is too busy with his new life in London and his love for Dora to notice that Steerforth has been gone. Littimer’s appearance at the dinner party highlights Steerforth’s absence and raises questions about him.
Moreover, Steerforth himself behaves secretively and does not indicate why he is agitated. Finally, the adult David’s reflection on his last moments with Steerforth is particularly effective in creating suspense because the adult David has full knowledge of what has happened between himself and Steerforth but deliberately chooses not to reveal this information to us. The suspenseful mood of these chapters contrasts with the young David’s ignorance of coming events and with his jovial comportment with his friends. Dickens uses sea imagery in connection with Mr.
Peggotty to imply that Mr. Peggotty has mystical, unknown powers. In addition to spending much of his time fishing at sea, Mr. Peggotty lives in a boat near the water with Little Em’ly and Ham, two children whose parents lost their lives to the sea. For Mr. Peggotty, the sea both provides sustenance for life and represents a force that can take life away. His correct prediction that Mr. Barkis will die with the outgoing tide suggests that Mr. Peggotty gleans information from the sea that other characters cannot access. In this section of the novel, it seems that the sea allows Mr.
Peggotty to understand and deal with death, unlike less mystical characters such as David, who feel confused and upset upon the death of Mr. Barkis. The contrast between Traddles and Steerforth in this section underscores Steerforth’s fickle nature. The two young men are physical and emotional opposites: Traddles is the fat and wimpy boy at school while Steerforth is beautiful and heroic. Yet the true nature of these characters lies beneath the contrasting exteriors. Traddles, despite his shabby appearance, is generous and loyal, both at Salem House and here, when he encounters David in London.
In contrast, Steerforth, though handsome, is self-centered and disloyal. Although earlier Steerforth supports Traddles and David equally at Salem House, his derision of Traddles now raises questions about the sincerity of his friendship with David. Dickens draws out the contrast between Traddles and Steerforth in subsequent chapters, always to Traddles’s advantage. By doing so, he forces us to question Steerforth’s character and David’s relationship with him. David’s defense of Traddles in the face of Steerforth’s insults represents a major step in David’s coming of age.
David has long seen Steerforth as a hero and has esteemed Steerforth’s every word and action while blinding himself to Steerforth’s faults. Now, however, David’s willingness to defend Traddles against Steerforth indicates that he is beginning to form opinions independently of Steerforth. David has also begun to see the good in the poverty-stricken and somewhat ridiculous Traddles. This new independence of thought and this ability to see beyond class and convention to the real good in people are crucial elements of David’s maturation.
Though it eventually takes a traumatic event to make David see the bad in Steerforth, his ability to see the good in Traddles is an important first step. Chapters XXXI–XXXIV Summary — Chapter XXXI. A greater Loss After Mr. Barkis’s death, David stays in Yarmouth to help Peggotty arrange her affairs. He discovers that Mr. Barkis has left Peggotty a sizable inheritance and has also left money for Mr. Peg