Study Guide

David Copperfield Three Act Plot Analysis

By Charles Dickens

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Three Act Plot Analysis

Act I

David starts out his life by being born. Which seems reasonable. His mother is a widow of about 20; she is mostly alone in the world. The only person who supports her is her housekeeper, Peggotty. So, when a handsome man starts coming around the house, charming and flattering her, who can blame her for being thrilled? Unfortunately, this handsome guy is the brutal Mr. Murdstone. Once Mrs. Copperfield marries Mr. Murdstone, he shows another side of his character: he scolds and emotionally abuses both Mrs. Copperfield and her son until Mrs. Copperfield's health fails and David is shoved out of the house and into a London factory.

Act II

At this point, we're about as far from resolution as it is possible to get. David has been sent to London by himself. He has no relations willing to help him, little education, and no future. So, David takes his fate into his own hands. He walks all the way from London to Dover to ask his great-aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, for help. Miss Betsey adopts David and sends him to school. With this support, David completely transforms his life: he becomes a successful writer and journalist able to support not only himself, but also Miss Betsey, her ward Mr. Dick, and David's own new wife Dora. Still, things are up in the air: David is married, yes, but as time goes on, he realizes that he has married the wrong woman. His perfect wife would be steady, dependable, efficient, and patient – hmm. That sounds a lot like his old friend, Agnes Wickfield!


This is the moment in the plot when everything gets solved. We hate to say this, because this is obviously a painful moment for David, but the primary solution to his marriage troubles is that Dora dies after a long sickness. Dora is generous and loyal to the last, and she actually asks her primary rival, Agnes, to marry David after Dora dies. So that makes it okay, we guess? Anyway, so David and Agnes marry three years after Dora has passed away. Agnes bears David many children and builds a happy home for him.

David Copperfield Three Act Plot Analysis Study Group

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