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David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 21 of David Copperfield, how does Charles Dickens foreshadow James Steerforth's future actions and his ultimate fate?

Charles Dickens foreshadows James Steerforth's betrayal by having the narrator—the more mature David Copperfield—interject a comment about the possibility that Steerforth might have been playing "a brilliant game" with all of them. He presents the suggestion that Steerforth was toying with him and with the Peggottys as a diversion, simply to amuse himself, with no more thought about it than to exercise power. As David and Steerforth walk toward Mr. Peggotty's boat, the wind whips up and Steerforth says, "the sea roars as if it were hungry for us." This comment chillingly foreshadows Steerforth's death by drowning along that very stretch of beach.

In David Copperfield, how does Charles Dickens use Mr. Omer as a narrative device in Chapters 21, 30, and 51?

In Chapters 21, 30, and 51, David Copperfield returns to Yarmouth to visit the Peggottys. Each time he visits, the first thing he does is stop to say hello to Mr. Omer. In the course of their pleasantries and conversation, Mr. Omer shares news and gossip about friends and family with David. News about the growth and changes in Mr. Omer's family and business help readers appreciate the passage of time since David's last visit. Mr. Omer also shares news and observations about the Peggottys, filling in both David and the readers about changes that have occurred related to them. Dickens uses Mr. Omer as a way to provide exposition within the story, thus avoiding the intrusiveness of using the narrator to provide information.

In Chapter 22 of David Copperfield, how does Martha Endell's situation foreshadow a life choice Emily is about to make?

Martha Endell has made a disastrous life choice, and now she's known to everyone in town as a disgraced, "fallen" woman. Because life in Yarmouth has become intolerable for her, she'll need to leave her home and go to London where she'll be alone but where people won't know of her past. Emily and Ham Peggotty generously help Martha by giving her money, but after Martha leaves, Emily is overcome by feelings of grief and remorse, constantly repeating that she's not as good a girl as she ought to be. She says she wants "to feel more, what a blessed thing it is to be the wife of a good man, and to lead a peaceful life." Emily is on the verge of making an important life choice. She is being tempted to run away with James Steerforth and is balancing the hope that he will marry her and make her a lady versus the possibility that she might end up in the same situation as Martha.

In David Copperfield, what does David Copperfield's "first dissipation" in Chapter 24 add to Charles Dickens's characterization of his narrator?

In Chapter 24, Charles Dickens uses the first-person point of view to put the reader in David Copperfield's shoes, making the experience of his tipsy perceptions come alive in all its comic glory. David, as narrator, for once views himself with wry humor instead of earnest criticism. In striving to please his aunt and achieve his goals, David has been an earnest, innocent, upright character. As such, he runs the danger of becoming too boring and predictable. This episode provides a necessary dose of humor to balance out the seriousness of David's character. The result of David's "first dissipation" is that it presents him in a more likable and sympathetic light.

In Chapter 25 of David Copperfield, what is Charles Dickens's attitude toward the aristocracy, and how does he express it?

In Chapter 25, Charles Dickens uses the Waterbrooks' dinner party to expresses his negative attitude toward the aristocracy. David Copperfield's descriptions of the aristocratic guests subtly poke fun at them: "a very awful lady in a black velvet dress and a great black velvet hat ... looking like a near relation of Hamlet's—say his aunt ... her husband was there too: so cold a man, that his head, instead of being grey, seemed to be sprinkled with hoar-frost." The dinner conversation highlights the absurdity of the value given to having aristocratic "blood": the guests generally agree with the proposition that it would be better to be knocked down by a man who is an aristocrat than to be picked up by a man who is not an aristocrat. Dickens further embellishes his negative portrait of aristocrats by portraying a long, boring conversation between Mr. Spiker and Mr. Gulpidge. The point of the conversation, which rudely excludes the other guests, is to impress the other guests by showing off inside knowledge of the dealings of high-ranking members of the aristocracy.

In Chapter 26 of David Copperfield, how does David Copperfield's infatuation with Dora Spenlow reflect the theme of naïveté versus maturity, and compare with his earlier infatuation with Miss Larkins?

The first time David Copperfield sees Dora Spenlow, he is "swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant." Before they even exchange words, he says, "there was no pausing on the brink; no looking down, or looking back; I was gone, headlong." David's naïveté, when it comes to falling in love, doesn't seem to have made any progress toward maturity. His love for Dora Spenlow is as instantaneous as his love for Miss Larkins was. Like his earlier infatuation, this one seems to be based solely on physical attraction. Also like his earlier infatuation, David's interest in Dora becomes obsessive. His romantic imagination takes over, and before he even knows Dora for more than a few days, he's imagining her father consenting to their engagement.

In Chapter 27 of David Copperfield, how does Tommy Traddles convey the themes of the importance of life choices and perseverance?

Tommy Traddles, like David Copperfield, was an orphan who had to make his own way in the world. But while David was taken in by Miss Betsey who supported him and guided him in his career choice, Traddles was on his own. Based on a clear understanding of his capabilities and limitations, Traddles has made solid, smart choices in determining a career path for himself. He's applying hard work and perseverance in order to stay on that path. Traddles and his "dear girl," Sophy Crewler, may have to wait a long time before they can afford to marry, but their motto, "wait and hope," indicates that they're both prepared to persevere.

How does Charles Dickens use Miss Dartle to build tension in Chapter 29 of David Copperfield?

In Chapter 29, Miss Dartle is more on edge than ever. James Steerforth hasn't been visiting his mother as much as usual, and she suspects it's because he's planning something underhanded with Littimer's help. When Miss Dartle questions David about Steerforth's activities, the scar on her lip seems to come alive in an ominous way, suggesting uncontrolled passion and rage. Tension builds all day: Miss Dartle seems to be lurking and lying in wait as she watches David and Steerforth with an intense "piercing look." Then at dinner, she hints at conflict that will soon arise between Mrs. Steerforth and her son. When Steerforth, in an effort to distract Miss Dartle from her suspicions, attempts to charm her, she slaps him and breaks away from him in a fury. Her behavior helps to confirm what the reader already suspects—Steerforth is, indeed, up to something underhanded. His plan to run away with Emily is well underway, and David is oblivious to it.

In Chapter 31 of David Copperfield, why does Charles Dickens have Mr. Peggotty talk about putting a candle in the window for Emily, and how does this express his feelings?

In explaining why he puts a candle in the window every night, Mr. Peggotty reminisces about raising Emily. He fondly recalls the time he'd spent playing with Emily when she was a child, and talks about how much she means to him and will mean to him, even after she marries Ham Peggotty. This uncharacteristic expression of his feelings builds sympathy for Mr. Peggotty's attachment to Emily, and lends credibility to the grief and pain he feels when she runs away with James Steerforth. It heightens the drama of her loss, and explains why Mr. Peggotty devotes himself to searching for Emily in order to forgive her and bring her back home.

How does Mrs. Steerforth's "undisciplined heart" affect the life of her son and others in David Copperfield?

Mrs. Steerforth's obsessive attachment to her son is a destructive force in their relationship. Miss Dartle blames Mrs. Steerforth for pampering her son's "pride and passion." As a result, James Steerforth lacks values and self-control in his relations with others. His lack of control once led him to throw a hammer at Rosa Dartle in a fit of passion, disfiguring her for life. Mrs. Steerforth has smothered her son with the pride she has in him and with selfish demands for his attention. Her neglect of his moral development has led him to become a capricious, haughty, selfish young man. Steerforth himself, in a rare moment of insight in Chapter 22, tells David he wishes he'd had a "judicious father" to guide him. In his self-centered desire to amuse himself and exercise his power over others, Steerforth creates havoc and heartache in the lives of Emily and the Peggottys and he betrays whatever friendship he might have had with David.

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