David Copperfield Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
But there were some differences between Em'ly's orphanhood and mine, it appeared. She had lost her mother before her father; and where her father's grave was no one knew, except that it was somewhere in the depths of the sea. "Besides," said Em'ly, as she looked about for shells and pebbles, "your father was a gentleman and your mother is a lady; and my father was a fisherman and my mother was a fisherman's daughter, and my uncle Dan is a fisherman." (3.57-8)
Emily is only, like, five years old at this point, but she already knows the important difference between herself and David. And it's not the difference you might expect – it's not gender difference. No, it's that David's father "was a gentleman and [his] mother is a lady," while Emily's father "was a fisherman and [her] mother was a fisherman's daughter." It's at this early stage that we learn what the primary organizing logic of this book is going to be. It's not going to be (mainly) about men and women. The primary divisions in this book are between the working, middle, and upper classes.
"If he is not a beggar himself, his near relation's one," said Steerforth. "It's all the same." (7.71)
From his lofty perspective as the son of an upper-class, wealthy woman, Steerforth can look down on Mr. Mell and his beggared "near relation" – Mrs. Mell. Steerforth's wealth and good birth give him an easy self-confidence and charisma that characters like David and Traddles can't draw on. At the same time, his social position prevents him from sympathizing with the poor. And his energetic nature gets twisted and stunted by having nothing to do or prove. Society destroys Steerforth's moral compass.
The deep remembrance of the sense I had, of being utterly without hope now; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that day by day what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, would pass away from me, little by little, never to be brought back any more; cannot be written. (11.5)
When David works in his factory, he's almost in a more pathetic position than the other boys. Mick Walker and Mealy Potatoes don't expect anything different from their lives. But David has been to school. He has experienced another kind of life. So, this sudden slide into a life with no future fills him with "shame" and "misery" that "cannot be written." Still, we have to wonder – do you think that it's truly worse to be disappointed than to have no hopes at all, ever?