by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Guilt and Blame Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
[Mr. Murdstone] beat me then, as if he would have beaten me to death. Above all the noise we made, I heard them running up the stairs, and crying out—I heard my mother crying out—and Peggotty. Then he was gone; and the door was locked outside; and I was lying, fevered and hot, and torn, and sore, and raging in my puny way, upon the floor.
How well I recollect, when I became quiet, what an unnatural stillness seemed to reign through the whole house! How well I remember, when my smart and passion began to cool, how wicked I began to feel! (4.111-2)
This scene is awful. We have to admit that this is probably the most painful part of the novel for us, when Mr. Murdstone takes a switch and whips his poor, defenseless eight-year-old stepson for the "fault" of not having learned his lessons properly. It's just disgusting. The worst thing about this moment might be that, as David recovers from his beating, he feels "wicked." Beating makes its victim feel evil, as though the only way David can handle being whipped is to try and find ways to blame himself – as though that would make it justified or fair.
What I suffered from that placard, nobody can imagine. Whether it was possible for people to see me or not, I always fancied that somebody was reading it. It was no relief to turn round and find nobody; for wherever my back was, there I imagined somebody always to be. That cruel man with the wooden leg aggravated my sufferings. He was in authority; and if he ever saw me leaning against a tree, or a wall, or the house, he roared out from his lodge door in a stupendous voice, 'Hallo, you sir! You Copperfield! Show that badge conspicuous, or I'll report you!' The playground was a bare gravelled yard, open to all the back of the house and the offices; and I knew that the servants read it, and the butcher read it, and the baker read it; that everybody, in a word, who came backwards and forwards to the house, of a morning when I was ordered to walk there, read that I was to be taken care of, for I bit, I recollect that I positively began to have a dread of myself, as a kind of wild boy who did bite. (5.145)
The experience of having the whole world looking at David's sign – "Take care of him. He bites." – inspires David with this morbid sensitivity about the whole world's interest in him. He suddenly becomes horribly aware that he is seen by many strangers throughout the day. This awareness of social judgment makes David feel unfounded guilt "as a kind of wild boy who did bite." This sense that social judgment increases a sense of guilt gets repeated in the episode of poor Mrs. Annie Strong, who is so aware that the world thinks she is cheating on Doctor Strong.
We thought this intention [of finding the fired Mr. Mell a job] very noble in Steerforth, whose mother was a widow, and rich, and would do almost anything, it was said, that he asked her. [...] But I must say that when I was going on with a story in the dark that night, Mr. Mell's old flute seemed more than once to sound mournfully in my ears; and that when at last Steerforth was tired, and I lay down in my bed, I fancied it playing so sorrowfully somewhere, that I was quite wretched. (7.95)
After Steerforth gets Mr. Mell fired, he convinces the other boys that he plans to find Mr. Mell another job so they'll feel better about the whole thing. But at night, when David is alone, even this comfort can't make his sorrow for Mr. Mell go away. Being alone makes David's guilt and sadness worse, which is perhaps one reason why he values family life and community above all other achievements.