David Copperfield is a story of the narrator's youth, as he's struggling to find a place to belong in an often changing, not always welcoming English middle-class society. Still, even though this is a novel all about David's development away from youth, it's also about his nostalgia and disappointment that success has to come at the price of innocence. All of the things that David learns about human nature during the novel – with Mr. Murdstone and Mr. Creakle's abuse, with Steerforth's betrayal, with Uriah Heep's manipulations – give him the added maturity he needs to sympathize with others and succeed in the world. Still, these painful experiences have come at a cost. David remembers the purity of his heart when he was a little boy with Mrs. Copperfield and when he was courting child-like Dora with a pang of sorrow for the good person he used to be.
Questions About Youth
- In his depiction of youth, is there evidence of Dickens's more general view of human nature? Does he think we are born good or bad? How can you tell?
- How does the narrator describe his own younger self? Are his terms emotional? Objective? What effect does the narrator's tone have on our own perception of David as a character?
- There are several examples in the novel of characters who refuse to grow up emotionally. Who are they? What do they share in common?
Chew on This
The narrator's tone of pity and nostalgia towards his own younger self increases our identification with David as a character.
As much as Dickens celebrates the virtues of the young, he criticizes spoiled adult women characters such as Dora Spenlow, who rely on others to protect them as though they were children.