David Copperfield: Character Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:00 Plot Summary
  • 0:56 Character Analysis
  • 3:45 Themes
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
This article discusses characters and plot points in Charles Dickens's novel, 'David Copperfield'. It also analyzes themes found within the novel. Read the lesson, and take the quiz!

Plot Summary

David goes from a happy, carefree existence to one of oppression when his mother marries again. He's sent to school, where he meets his friends. When his mother dies, David is made to work in a wine factory, until he runs away to his aunt, who sends him to another school to learn how to become a gentleman. He makes more friends and falls in love, but hard times fall on those he loves. His aunt and his friends lose their money to a slimy fraud who also interferes in the business of his headmaster. His nanny Peggotty's family, whom David has always loved, is being torn apart by one of his school friends. David's wife dies as a result of a miscarriage.

In the end, everything is resolved. The money is returned; Peggotty's family sets out on a new adventure; David remarries, to his friend Agnes, and begins his new career as a writer.

Character Analysis

David, the main character, is kind-hearted and believes the best in everyone. However, he tends to run away from his problems. He lets others, such as his Aunt Betsey, solve his troubles for him. He makes friends, but doesn't always see their dangerous characteristics, such as his friend Steerforth's selfish nature, or his wife Dora's immaturity. David is devoted to the people in his life and is devastated when Dora dies. He again runs away, but when he returns, he realizes that he loves Agnes and marries her. They have a family and David becomes a successful writer.

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

Steerforth is one of the friends that David meets at school, along with Tommy Traddles. Despite David believing the best of him, Steerforth is, at his core, selfish and elitist. He tears apart Peggotty's family when he runs off with Emily. He drowns at sea with Ham when a sudden storm swamps his boat at Yarmouth.

Aunt Betsey is another maternal figure in David's life. She takes him in and sends him to school, providing for all his needs. Aunt Betsey encourages David to be a proctor (lawyer), and she comes to David when all of her money is stolen. She eventually gets it back.

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