Author: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was born in Portsmouth England. His family later moved to London where he was raised in extreme poverty and sent off to work at a young age. He quickly achieved popularity after publishing The Pickwick Papers (1836) and soon Dickens’s characters became the center of a popular cult. By 1839 Dickens was the most popular novelist in England. Dickens is best remembered for his life’s great work of fourteen finished novels.
Setting: Dickens calls David Copperfield his ‘favorite child’ and the novel itself is the most autobiographical of all his novels. The story follows the life of David Copperfield from early childhood to maturity. It takes place in England. David Copperfield is born to a young widow who marries the grim Mr. Edward Murdstone. After his mother’s death Mr. Murdstone sends David off to work at a factory in London where he finds a friend in the perpetually debt-ridden Mr. Wilkins Micawber. After Mr. Micawber is sent to debtors’ prison David decides to run away. He sets off to find his only known relative – his grudge-bearing Aunt Betsy Trotwood – who agrees to take him in despite his stepfather’s disapproval. The story continues on as David grows to adulthood and becomes acquainted with the many unforgettable characters who enter, leave and reenter his life. Among these are the lovable but dim-witted Mr. Dick, David’s loyal housekeeper Peggoty, her family, and her orphaned niece Little Em’ly, his landlord’s angelic daughter Agnes Wickfield, his treacherous and self-absorbed schoolfriend Steerforth whose misdeeds result in the story’s greatest tragedy; and Uriah Heep, a manipulative and fraudulent clerk whose wrongdoings are eventually discovered with the assistance of Mr. Micawber. David’s first wife is the lovely and sweet but naïve Dora Spenlow who dies young after failing to recover from a miscarriage. David later discovers that his old confidante the beautiful Agnes Wickfield had secretly always loved him. He eventually marries her and finds true happiness.
Themes: Some of the main themes that are pursued in David Copperfield are the abuse of power and the necessity of equality in marriage besides being a critique on the society at the time. Throughout David Copperfield those with authority abuse their power over the weak and helpless. The most extreme example in the story is the case of Uriah Heep who conceals his true self in order to manipulate others and extend his power over them. By emphasizes the injustice of abusing power Dickens emphasizes the importance of kindness and charity in dealing with others. The necessity of equality in marriage is another very important and often occurring theme in David Copperfield. Inequality in marriage is one of the major problems that some of the characters face in the novel including David and his first wife Dora Spenlow. Suitability of mind and purpose is what should be aimed for in marriage claims one of the characters in the story.
Throughout the novel Dickens critiques the society at the time. Dickens criticizes his society’s view of wealth and class as measures of a person’s value. It was a popular belief among the upper and middle classes in Dickens’s time that poverty was a symptom of moral degeneracy and that those who were poor deserved their state due to their inherent deficiencies. Dickens shows the injustice of this belief and sympathizes with the poor throughout the story and eventually, though there are many ups and downs in the novel, all the characters get what they deserve and the story ends on a happy note.