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David Copperfield


Realism in Dickens’ novels

  • The cruel life of poor children in workhouses and orphanages;
  • The injustices of the legal system;
  • The ruthless materialism of the industrial age;
  • The living conditions of the poor people living in urban areas;
  • Varieties of human character;
  • Characters portrayed with irony – caricatures;
  • Objective narrations;
  • The actual speech of individuals belonging to certain social groups is reproduced.

DAVID COPPERFIELD (published 1850)


  • Genre: autobiographical novel (Bildungsroman)


  • Early Victorian England;
  • Yarmouth, Dover, Canterbury, and London.


Main theme: Coming of age, personal development. The novel follows the main character’s life from childhood to marriage and fatherhood. The events and the stages of David’s life prove that the character grows and develops because of these experiences in his life.

Secondary themes:

  • Suffering and poverty;
  • Wealth and class;
  • Family and education.


David Copperfield is a young boy who is orphaned early in his life and has to endure countless hardships to make a life for himself. Resourceful, he manages to go to school and make a living and always finds kind people who are willing to help him. He finds a job, builds a career, and gets married, but is unhappy in the relationship. After his wife dies, he travels abroad and when he returns marries again and starts a family.


Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.

The characters are depicted realistically, presented with all their faces, grimaces, gestures, and obsessions.

Characterisation techniques:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Physical description (use of the physical traits of the character to convey information about the identity)
  • Grotesque caricatures: exaggerated physical traits that reveal personality traits.


  • David Copperfield – protagonist and narrator of the novel. He is innocent and trusting, even though he suffers abuse as a child. He is sympathetic, but not portrayed as perfect, as he often has chauvinistic attitudes toward the lower classes and sometimes makes foolish decisions.
  • Uriah Heep – the foil character to David Copperfield. He contrasts David’s qualities with his flaws, as he is corrupt, bitter, and vengeful. He also grows up in a cruel environment but is influenced by this in the exact opposite way than David.
  • James Steerforth  – an egotistical, wealthy young man. He uses David to make friends and gain status, but David doesn’t understand that he is taking advantage of him.


  • First-person point of view.
  • A fictional autobiography of David Copperfield. The point of view is limited to this perspective and the reader is allowed to see things from the child’s eyes. The events that are unknown to David also remain unknown to the reader.


  • The narrator is emotionally involved in the story, the tone is melodramatic and emotional.


  • Dense description of setting and characters;
  • Realistic style combined with the narrator’s impressions and judgments;
  • Long descriptive passages allow the narrator to move between description and commentary, which sometimes is so subtle that it seems part of the description;
  • The descriptive passages are vividly presented and paint a picture that unveils in front of the reader’s eyes;
  • The narration is often based on memories of the protagonist.