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David Copperfield | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In David Copperfield, how does the repetition of the words "blind, blind, blind!" in Chapter 35 and in Chapter 40 convey the theme of the importance of making life choices?

After David Copperfield tells Miss Betsey he's in love with Dora Spenlow, he isn't able to answer her question about whether Dora is "silly" or "light-headed." Miss Betsey, discerning that this probably means Dora is silly, comments on how David's "earnestness of affection" reminds her of his mother. She's no doubt thinking of how Clara Copperfield made a poor choice, based on physical attraction, when she married Mr. Murdstone. Miss Betsey advises David to choose a partner with "deep, downright, faithful earnestness." David says Dora is, indeed, earnest, but Miss Betsey knows David's infatuation is overpowering his reason, and says, "blind, blind, blind!" In the remainder of the chapter, David spends a considerable amount of time with Agnes Wickfield, who exhibits deep earnestness and caring as she helps David see a way through the obstacles he's confronting. He leaves the Wickfields' house and hears a beggar echoing Miss Betsey's words. This repetition is a signal that he's blind to the true value of his relationship with Agnes. In Chapter 40, when David has finally acknowledged his love for Agnes, he recalls his aunt's words and realizes how foolish he was to overlook this warning.

In what way is the metaphor of David Copperfield's imagined "forest of difficulty" an appropriate motif to convey the theme of perseverance in Chapters 36–38 of David Copperfield?

David Copperfield must achieve financial success before he can afford to marry Dora Spenlow. In order to earn enough money, he needs to work very hard at several different jobs. He also needs to learn the difficult skill of taking shorthand notes. David inspires himself to tackle these challenges by imagining he is chopping down trees in the forest of difficulty in order to clear a path to happiness with Dora. It's an appropriate motif because it makes David the hero of his own fairy-tale romance. Instead of fighting dragons or performing other typical heroic feats to win his happily-ever-after ending, he is slogging away, doing a mundane job like chopping down trees. The heroism is in the hard work and the persistence, not in the glory of winning a dramatic conflict.

In David Copperfield, what do the narrator's nicknames—Davy, Mas'r Davy, Daisy, Doady, and Trot—suggest about him or about those who use those nicknames for him?

Davy, the name the narrator's mother and Peggotty use for the narrator when he's a young child, suggests an affectionate relationship. It's interesting to note that Mr. Murdstone, even when he became David Copperfield's stepfather, always uses the more formal David. Mr. Peggotty uses Mas'r (Master) Davy to indicate he is in a lower social class than David. Daisy is the name James Steerforth confers on David as a young man in Chapter 19. Steerforth says it's meant to convey David's youth and innocence, and David, with his trusting nature, accepts this. More skeptical readers, however, might infer a hint of derision in the nickname. Doady is Dora's nickname for David. He explains it in Chapter 41 simply as "a corruption of David," but it sounds like baby-talk and is suggestive of Dora's childish ways. Trot is the nickname Miss Betsey gives David in Chapter 15 after she adopts him and renames him Trotwood. The nickname Trot is suggestive of David's eagerness to move forward in life.

In Chapter 41 of David Copperfield, why is it significant that David Copperfield worries about people treating Dora Spenlow too much like a child or a plaything?

David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow are engaged to be married, and he's been thinking ahead to what their married life will be like. She has rejected his first attempt to interest her in learning about housekeeping and cooking, and he's beginning to realize she might not enjoy taking on the responsibilities that go with marriage. He blames her childish behavior on the way other people treat her, only reluctantly admitting to himself that he, too, indulges her like a child. When he tells Dora people should treat her more like an adult, all she needs to do is shed a few tears and pout to prompt David to dote on her again. This is significant because David continues to wear blinders when it comes to Dora, and her childishness will become a major problem in their marriage.

In Chapter 45 of David Copperfield, why is David Copperfield struck by these expressions about marriage: "unsuitability of mind and purpose" and "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart"?

David Copperfield heard Annie Strong use these expressions to explain that her relationship with Jack Maldon had ended long ago. Before her marriage, there had been an attraction between them, which she described as "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart." She had rejected Jack Maldon, knowing they had nothing in common. Annie explains that it would have been a big mistake to marry Jack and says she's very happy she married Doctor Strong. Annie Strong's comments strike a chord with David because he has been struggling for some time with a feeling of disappointment in his marriage. He's beginning to realize he married Dora based on a "mistaken impulse," without truly understanding her. Their marriage is hampered by an "unsuitability of mind and purpose," which prevents the kind of true companionship and mutual understanding he craves.

In Chapter 46 of David Copperfield, what is the significance of the image of the mist rising on the terrace around Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle?

The two women sit and wait, seeming to expect that eventually James Steerforth will come to his senses and come home to ask for their forgiveness. David Copperfield describes the mist rising around Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle as "rising like a sea ... as if the gathering waters would encompass them." Before he sees them again, he says, "a stormy sea had risen to their feet." This image foreshadows the death of Steerforth by drowning. It conveys the idea that grief and loss are creeping up on the two women who are unaware of the looming event that will change their lives forever.

In Chapter 47 of David Copperfield, how does Charles Dickens use Martha Endell and the symbol of the sea to illustrate how harshly society treats "fallen women"?

Charles Dickens creates a nightmare image in his description of the riverside neighborhood where Martha Endell stands, talking to herself. The dark, unpleasant setting of abandoned buildings, prison walls, and putrid drainage ditches littered with decaying trash reflects the depressed, disordered state of Martha's mind. Dickens is suggesting that because of the mistake she made, society has thrown away and abandoned Martha, and she might as well be surrounded by prison walls, for the way she's treated as an outcast. Martha's comparison of herself to the river emphasizes how much she has suffered: "It comes from country places, where there was once no harm in it—and it creeps through the dismal streets, defiled and miserable—and it goes away, like my life, to a great sea, that is always troubled—and I feel that I must go with it!" Here, the sea can be seen as a symbol of redemption; it's "troubled," but its huge expanse is somehow freeing. This foreshadows the fact that Martha will redeem herself and find a new life across the sea.

In Chapter 48 of David Copperfield, how does David Copperfield's attempt to "form Dora's mind" provide insights into his character?

David Copperfield's idea that he might "form Dora's mind" shows his basic optimism: he believes difficult tasks can be accomplished with enough hard effort. But after persevering for months with no results, his practicality leads him to conclude that Dora's mind is formed as much as it ever will be. He gives up hope of transforming her into a companion with whom he can have an equal partnership, sharing deep ideas and discussing intellectual topics. Instead of blaming Dora for her childishness, David shows his selflessness by throwing himself wholeheartedly into cherishing Dora simply for what she is—his beautiful, affectionate "child-wife."

In Chapter 52 of David Copperfield, what surprising aspect of Mr. Micawber's character is revealed when he exposes Uriah Heep's fraudulent activities?

Until Mr. Micawber exposes Uriah Heep's fraud, he is primarily a comic element in the novel. Even David Copperfield, in all his innocence, has come to believe that Mr. Micawber, despite Mrs. Micawber's expectations, will never really make anything of himself. He has never kept a job for very long, which suggests he probably isn't a hard worker. And his propensity for writing long, bombastic letters on every occasion suggests he may be just a blowhard. However, when Micawber becomes aware of Uriah Heep's manipulation of Mr. Wickfield to gain control of his business, he applies himself to methodically documenting Heep's activity, and he gathers the necessary evidence against him. Mr. Micawber's success in this endeavor suggests he has finally found his niche.

In Chapter 53 of David Copperfield, how does Dora Spenlow's death help move the plot forward?

Dora Spenlow's death occurs at a point where the love story between David Copperfield and Dora has run its course. David has realized he allowed his undisciplined heart to lead him into a less than fulfilling marriage. He's making the best of it by shouldering the role of adult in the marriage and continuing to affectionately cater to Dora's childish needs, so there's no longer any tension or suspense in this story line. Charles Dickens has been planting hints that Agnes Wickfield is David's true love, but there can be no movement along this story line while David is married to Dora. Divorce isn't an option in Victorian England, so Dora's death allows the plot to move in the direction of the David–Agnes love story. As she is dying, Dora eases the transition by giving her blessing to the marriage of Agnes and David.

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