How we cite our quotes:
I hand the first book to my mother. Perhaps it is a grammar, perhaps a history, or geography. I take a last drowning look at the page as I give it into her hand, and start off aloud at a racing pace while I have got it fresh. I trip over a word. Mr. Murdstone looks up. I trip over another word. Miss Murdstone looks up. I redden, tumble over half-a-dozen words, and stop. I think my mother would show me the book if she dared, but she does not dare. (4.74)
Before David falls into the hands of the Murdstones, he shows a love of reading – remember Peggotty's crocodile book! But once the Murdstones are watching him like hawks while he recites his lessons, just waiting for him to mess up, suddenly all of David's smarts dry up. This is the most basic lesson of this book: treat a kid cruelly, and you'll get nothing out of him. Treat him kindly, and you'll get a happy and productive kid.
"I tell you, Clara," said Mr. Murdstone, "I have been often flogged myself."
"To be sure; of course," said Miss Murdstone.
"Certainly, my dear Jane," faltered my mother, meekly. "But—but do you think it did Edward good?"
"Do you think it did Edward harm, Clara?" asked Mr. Murdstone, gravely. (4.92-5)
When Mr. Murdstone plans to beat David, he tells David's mother that he has often been beaten as though that is supposed to be a comfort to her. But obviously Mr. Murdstone has learned to be cruel by example; someone was once cruel to Mr. Murdstone. What enables David to escape this cycle of cruelty? Is it just that he gets away from the likes of Mr. Murdstone and Mr. Creakle soon enough? Is it luck? Is it because he's the main character of this novel, and we have to find him appealing?
I gazed upon the schoolroom into which he took me, as the most forlorn and desolate place I had ever seen. I see it now. A long room with three long rows of desks, and six of forms, and bristling all round with pegs for hats and slates. Scraps of old copy-books and exercises litter the dirty floor. Some silkworms' houses, made of the same materials, are scattered over the desks. Two miserable little white mice, left behind by their owner, are running up and down in a fusty castle made of pasteboard and wire, looking in all the corners with their red eyes for anything to eat. A bird, in a cage very little bigger than himself, makes a mournful rattle now and then in hopping on his perch, two inches high, or dropping from it; but neither sings nor chirps. There is a strange unwholesome smell upon the room, like mildewed corduroys, sweet apples wanting air, and rotten books. There could not well be more ink splashed about it, if it had been roofless from its first construction, and the skies had rained, snowed, hailed, and blown ink through the varying seasons of the year. (5.135)
This is David's first encounter with Salem House. This also could not be a more beautiful illustration of the way David uses setting and scenery to establish mood and character development. We know that Salem House is going to be a bad school because it is filled with a "strange unwholesome smell." We know that it is going to be like a restrictive trap for its students because there is a bird "in a cage very little bigger than himself" who won't even sing. We also know that the emphasis of this school sure isn't going to be on learning, because the schoolroom smells of "rotten ink."