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David Copperfield

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

Society and Class Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

'Oh, indeed you must excuse me, Master Copperfield! I am greatly obliged, and I should like it of all things, I assure you; but I am far too umble. There are people enough to tread upon me in my lowly state, without my doing outrage to their feelings by possessing learning. Learning ain't for me. A person like myself had better not aspire. If he is to get on in life, he must get on umbly, Master Copperfield!' (17.54)

When David first arrives at the Wickfield house and finds Uriah Heep working hard to become a lawyer, he offers to teach Latin to Uriah. And Heep thanks him but claims that he is "far too umble" to learn. But when Uriah Heep says he "had better not aspire," we think he means that he sees no hope in improving his life strictly through professional achievement. He feels that, to get on in life, "he must get on umbly" – by conniving and deceit. But if Uriah Heep thinks the only way he'll get ahead is through manipulation, why does he bother with law books at all? What do you think Uriah Heep's goals really are – what kind of future is he building by undermining Mr. Wickfield?

Quote #5

'Ah, Steerforth! It's well for you to joke about the poor! You may skirmish with Miss Dartle, or try to hide your sympathies in jest from me, but I know better. When I see how perfectly you understand them, how exquisitely you can enter into happiness like this plain fisherman's, or humour a love like my old nurse's, I know that there is not a joy or sorrow, not an emotion, of such people, that can be indifferent to you. And I admire and love you for it, Steerforth, twenty times the more!' (21.159)

David cannot imagine that Steerforth could "enter into happiness" with Mr. Peggotty or "humour a love like" Peggotty's without feeling something for them. He doesn't see how a person can understand another without sympathizing with them. Yet, Steerforth does recognize their "joy" and "sorrow" and he still decides to destroy the Peggotty family by seducing away Emily. What do you make of this link between understanding and sympathy? Do you agree that to know someone intellectually is to understand them emotionally? In a way, this logic is the whole basis of David Copperfield's style of storytelling: Dickens is asking his readers to get to know David so that we will feel for him and, by extension, the novel as a whole.

Quote #6

"[Uriah Heep's] ascendancy over papa," said Agnes, "is very great. He professes humility and gratitude—with truth, perhaps: I hope so—but his position is really one of power, and I fear he makes a hard use of his power." (25.49)

Uriah Heep may pretend to be low, but he really dominates Mr. Wickfield more and more throughout the novel. Are there other examples in this book in which appearances are truly deceiving? Do we as readers always know when the characters are being deceived? Or are there plot lines in which we are kept in suspense along with the characters?

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