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Dickens Autobiographical Elements in

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens novels consequently, seem autobiographical and David Copperfield is the most
autobiographical. It is also said that Dickens often dipped his pen in his own blood. this is true to
a large extent that David Copperfields experiences are Dickens experiences to a large extent.
About this book David Copperfield, Dickens himself wrote:
I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield, and my
interest in it was so recent and strong that I was in danger of wearying the reaseer with personal
confidence and private emotions.
The first factor that makes a novel autobiographical is the identity of the persons who people it.
That David, the hero is Dickens himself is manifest from many incidents and feelings. It is
characteristic that he begins this novel as a narration in the first person.
Moreover, the suffering, struggles and achievements of David and situations and incidents
surrounding him can be traced in many ways to those of Dickens himself.
The novel has the personal experiences of Dickens himself. In a word, David is Dickens. Mr.
Micawber is drawn after his father. The headmaster of Salem House, Creakle very much
resemnles the cruel and inefficient headmater of the Willington House Academy where Dickens
was sent when he was fifteen. Critics have also felt the autobiographical elements predominates
in this novel. This is what Huge Walker has to say about it:
The pen that wrote David Copperfield was often dipped in his (i.e. Charles Dickens) own
blood.
Dora is drawn after his forst love. The idealized memories of Mary Hogarth and of his sister.
Gerogry together help to create Agnes. Of all these the most brillant and true is his portrayal of
Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, drawn very much after his own parents. Mr. Micawber is a pompous,
financially weak and irresponsible person like John Dickens. John Dickens, as we find
Micawber, was pompous in suppch. Angry creditiors demanding payment forced themselves into
the passage and John Dickens oscillatied between despair and hope. He was imprisoned in the
Marshalsea like Micawber in the Kings Bench Prison.
Many of the conditions and incidients in David Copperfield are treaceable to the happenings of
Dickens own life. The childhood of David is almost autobiographical. Davids wicked step
father, Murdstone put him to work, at the age of ten, at a place where he suffered from the
degradation of having to mix with boys who, though of his own age, were disgusting to him.
These were the sufferings of Dickens as a child. When Dickens describes childhood he writes his
own story of childhood.
Davids going to work at ten has autobiographical background. When Dickens was of eleven, he
himself had to earn his own living by labeling and blackening pots in a warehouse.
Micawbers ordeal in the prison is the story of Dickens; father. Mrs. Micawber males
omeffectual plans to establish a girls school. She is drawn from Dickens mother; Elizabeth
Dickens transfers to David his experiences as a shorthand-writer and as a successful novelist.
The love incidents of David, first with Dore and then with Agnes, represent the two phases of
Dickenss love. Davids love for Dora Spenlow is Dickens own love for Maria. The struggles of
youth described in David Copperfield are variations of Dickens; own struggles. The major events

are based upon his infatuation for Maria Beadnell. They show us the emotions and anguish of
Dickens heart.
Dickens did not, however, put down things as they were or had been. He was an artist and put
things in the most effective manner. He was conscious all the time that he was writing a novel
and not as autobiography. So he made use of the material form his own life as best suited his
purpose. He touched up fact with his imagination so that it had the charm of fiction too.
He drew from his own experience and observation nut he presented it with the help of his
imagination. He idealized some incidents of his love and sentimentalized some. He used his
personality with his art so that his novels are autobiographical as well as social documents.
Now, it can be said that while much of the story of David Copperfield is autobiographical it is
not the mere and true story of his life. It is all fiction coloured with Dickens personal experience
and feeling. With the reference to David Copperfield, Baker rightly remarks:
It happens to be in large part his autobiography; and even the reader who is unware of this feels
the warmth and movement and buoyancy.... for it is his life as he would fain have reconstructed
it, not exactly the life of fact.

David Copperfield
David Copperfield is the most interesting and lovable character in the gallery of Charles
Dickens. David comes out as a good and courageous young man fighting against odds from the
very beginning and flourishing and triumphant in the end. His life is a source of inspiration to
everyone.
Davids courage and energy, his heroic defiance of difficulty and his lofty character fascinate us.
It has been rightly said that David is a hero drawn after Dickens own heart not as he himself was
but as he would have wished himself to be.
David is composed out of recollections and wishfulfillments by the man of lively imagination
and warm feelings, Dickens.
David Copperfield is the most interesting and lovable character in the gallery of Dickens. The
whole story naturally moves round his character. As we see him in the beginning, David is a slim
and goodlooking boy. Except the Murdstones, who are harsh towards him for their own
reasons, and Creakle who takes sadistic pleasure in beating his students, everybody likes him.
His personal charm and good nature won for him the affection of those who happened to meet
himnurse Peggotty, Steerforth, Pegotty, Ham, Emily, Wickfield, the Micawbers, Traddles,
Agnes, Dora, Bestsy and Dick.
After Davids mother had married Murdstone, he was lonely, and was forced ot pass his time
alone. He naturally grew fond of reading books. Instead of going to play he used to sit and read
the books in the little room upstairs.
This habit was very useful to him in later life in two ways; he could easily learn shorthand and
finally he became a writer. This childhood love for books remained with him all his life.
David is a gifted child. He is sensitive and has a keen observation. He is very much fond of
reading books right from his childhood. David never avoided labour. He worked very hard when

his aunt Bestey was ruined. He worked as secretary to Dr. Strong and at the same time studied
shorthand and worked as a parliamentary reporter. He did extra work in his determination to
work was praise-worthy. He was deeply concerned about his aunts loss and decided to make it
up as far as possible but his own labour.
The one quality that remained with David from first to last was his sensitiveness. This sensitive
child could not bear any hardship or disagreeable person.
If unfortunately he could not like Murdstone; perhaps he was jealous. Murdstones curel
behaviour made him more sensitive. Though fond or reading books he could not read at
Murdstones hands. It is a pity that Murdstone imsunderstood this unability.
Sensitiveness sometimes affected him deeply. When Murdstone treated him very cruelly he bit
his hand. The feeling that his mother must be displeased made him wrethced and he beged
forgiveness. He did not like Steerforth insulting Mell for his poverty. When Mr. Spenlow
returned to him his letters to Dora he felt so deeply that he refused to take them.
He had a sense of gratitude which made him very dutiful. He never forgot the kindness and
affection that he received. He did his utmost to serve his aunt Butsey when she was ruined. He
kept his promise to her to be good and true.
When Peggottys husband Barkis died, David consoled her and helped her ot settle her affairs.
Peggotty had looked after him in his childhood and her love was amply repaid by him. At no
point in his life do we find David lacking in duty.
David was honest, kind and conscientious. Even if he suffered he mever took recourse to
dishonesty. His life was a round of conscintious labour. He was not false in his work even
though the work was disgusting like that of washing bottles, when he had bitten Murdstone, he
suffered from the thought that perhaps he had done work and his mother would be displeased. He
served all honestly and truly.
When David found that he had become poor he considered it his duty to prepare Dora to accept
poverty. He loved Dora deeply. We do not hear of many days of happiness with Dora. It was a
trail almost from the beginning because she was never well.
But at the same time we do not find any faithfully as long as she lived and pined after her death
for quite a long time. He disliked all meanness and hypocrisy.
David had a natural aversion for these qualities. This is why he disliked Murdstone and Heep
from the very beginning of his acquaintance with them.
David was true and sincere everywhere as a nephew, as a friend and as a husband. He proved to
be the most faithful son to his aunt Bestsey.
David was a true friend to everyonefrom Peggotty to Micawber, Traddles and Steerforth. His
friendship was lasting and sincere. When he could not adapt to himself Dora, he looked after her
very faithfully and with all love.
His love for Agnes was constant. He loved for her grace and sweetness of character and for her
devotion to her old and infirm father. Agnes was his good angel and his marriage to her began
happiness in his life. After his marriage with Agnes, David proves himself a very good husband
to her.
He feels it is a great pleasure to be of service to others. And he can never forget any kindness shown to
him. He is grateful to Peggoty for the love and kindness she heaped on him when he most needed them.

David Copperfield as an Autobiographical Novel

It is proverbially said--"It's in vain... to recall the past, unless it works some


influence upon the present." In his biography of Dickens, Edgar Johnson notes
that "Few novelists have ever captured more poignantly the feeling of childhood,
the brightness and magic and terror of the world as seen through the eyes of a
child and colored by his dawning emotions."Norrie Epstein, in The Friendly
Dickens, notes that by writing about his parents and reliving his childhood,
Dickens triumphed over his past and would never again need to make a
neglected child the central focus of a novel. David Copperfield's life was a veiled
image of the author's life, though the novel still maintains the potent themes that
made Dickens legendary.

Dickens portrayed his parents and his attitude towards them in many of the
characters in David Copperfield. Dickens' parents were high-spirited, airy people
who were not, in Dickens' eyes, good parents. In David Copperfield, Dickens'
mother, Elizabeth Dickens, was portrayed as the lovely widow, Clara Copperfield.
Clara was the naive and girlish mother of David. Behind David's back, she
married Edward Murdstone, a cruel, heartless man. Thus, Clara Copperfield
became a "...most unhappy, most unfortunate baby." David felt betrayed by his
mother, just as Dickens felt betrayed by his own mother. After Dickens' father
was arrested because of his debts, his mother sent Charles to work at the terrible
Warren's Blacking Factory, a shoe-making factory. This experience scarred and
alienated Dickens for life and was a theme in many of his books. Dickens never
forgave his mother for sending him away and displayed his disaffection in Clara
Copperfield's death.
Dora Spenlow, David's first wife, was also another image of Elizabeth Dickens,
Charles' mother. Like Mrs. Copperfield, Dora had a blithe personality and was
beautiful, angelic but naive. She enchanted David and he instantaneously loved
her. "I was a captive and a slave. I loved Dora Spenlow to distraction! She was
more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph...I was swallowed up in an
abyss of love in an instant." David becomes obsessed upon knowing her and was

even jealous when he saw her speaking to an elderly gentleman. When they got
married, however, Dora was always preoccupied with her dog, Jip, she would cry
like a child until David could comfort her. When she died, David realized how
childish she was. Both his mother and his wife's death left David with memories
of their fatal innocence.
Although David's father died before the novel began, this did not mean Dickens'
forget about his own father. John Dickens' personality was echoed in many of the
characters in David Copperfield, all showing Dickens' various feelings towards
his father. Mr. Edward Murdstone was the first incarnation of John to be met in
the novel. Murdstone was considered one of the important 'villains' of the novel
because of his cruel and vindictive manner towards the other characters. He,
along with his equally wicked sister Jane, first enchanted and then ruined Mrs.
Copperfield. She died while young David was at Salem House, the ghastly school
to which Murdstone had sent him. As David's aunt Miss Betsy says, "...[Clara] was
a loving baby...and through the best part of her weakness, you [Mr. Murdstone]
gave her the wounds she died of." Miss Betsy had politely implied that Mr.
Murdstone, along with his sister, broke David's mother's spirit and thereby killed
her.
Interestingly, Mr. Murdstone could be broken down to Mr. 'murder' 'stone.' Both
words capture his character perfectly. While John Dickens was never so harsh or
callous, Murdstone represents Charles' hate for his father's failure and his
financial incompetence. "Chief among [David's companions was] the startling
figure... of [Mr.] Macawber..." Mr. Wilkins Macawber was the second character
that was portrayed, though far less evilly, as Dickens' father. Mr. Macawber was
a friend of David's who had a delightful personality and a devoted wife.
Macawber, like John, was imprisoned in the Marshalsea jail, due to debt issues.
Macawber, which sounds like 'macabre,' may have been the well intentioned but
negligent side Dickens saw in his father.
Dickens now had both his mother and father in key positions in his novel.
Dickens did not stop there. His first love, Maria Beadnell, has an incredible
resemblance to the pretty Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield. Beadnell and
Dickens fell in love, but Maria's father disapproved, just as Mr. Spenlow
disapproved of David and Dora's courtship. Each father threatened to send his
daughter away in order to keep the young suitor from courting her. Mr. Spenlow
simply threatened David, but died before he could make good on it. Maria's
father, however, did send her to France. When she returned, Dickens found that

she was not the same pretty woman he had loved. David's failed marriage to the
silly but inefficient Dora Spenlow was Dickens' idea of what might have
happened to him, had he married Maria.

The use of reverse characters made it possible for Dickens to employ his 'evil'
characters to show his hero's true virtues. For Uriah Heep, who served to thwart
David, his bitterness and corruption was contrary to David's honorable kindness.
Both were brought up in a harsh environment, but, unlike the innocence and
compassion David showed, Heep was bitter and vengeful. David's character
development juxtaposed this because his was a process of self-knowledge and
understanding. Mr. Murdstone is another villain who could be contrasted to the
hero David and benevolent Dr. Strong. Dickens employed the vivid use of
description, just as he did for Uriah, to give this character an evil appearance.
"He had that kind of shallow black eye – I want a better word to express
an eye that has no depth in it..." Dickens gave Edward and Jane Murdstone the
stereotypical villainous appearance. Black hair and eyes, a stern dark face, and
brutal attitude. The treatment of David under Mr. Murdstone was abusive and
cruel. When Murdstone tried to beat David with a cane for being a 'bad boy,' the
child bit his stepfather in self-defense. Murdstone, enraged, sent David away to
the terrible Salem House, where David was made to wear a sign that said, "Take
care of him. He bites." This meant, plainly, to stay away. The theme of alienation
was one that Dickens drew from his own experience at the Factory.
Dickens combined his vivid imagination and the people he knew, and drew from
his own life to complete David Copperfield. He used various images of those he
knew to give his characters specific traits and meaning. Although Dickens never
acknowledged David Copperfield as an autobiography, it was the only novel he
wrote that came close to emulating his own life. "And now, as I close my task,
subduing my desire to linger yet, theses faces fade away..." Near the end of his
life, Dickens, describing the characters he had created as his children, said "...like
many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name
is David Copperfield." The words of the great English critic G. K. Chesterton
perhaps best summarize the experience of reading it: "In this book of David
Copperfield, [Dickens] has created creatures who cling to us and tyrannise over
us, creatures whom we would not forget if we could, creatures whom we could
not forget if we would, creatures who are more actual than the man who made
them."

David Copperfield: Essay Q&A


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1. How does Dickens use pairs of characters in David Copperfield?
Dickens frequently uses pairs of characters, or characters in parallel situations, to draw out
contrasts between the two. Where characters are paired, they have some similarities, but it is in
the differences that Dickens makes his point. For example, Uriah Heep is from a similar poor
background to David's, and both boys and their mothers had to struggle to achieve success. Both
train in law, and both desire Agnes. But there, the similarity ends. David maintains his loving
heart and integrity and achieves success through hard work and the occasional helping hand from
friends such as Betsey and Agnes. Uriah, in contrast, becomes bitter, conniving and corrupt, and
resorts to underhand behavior and fraud to achieve his ends. It is true that Uriah lacks a Betsey to
finance his schooling and training, and an Agnes to point him towards a job as Dr. Strong's
secretary, but David's good nature will always attract loving friends, whereas Uriah repulses
honest people. When Uriah accuses David of always going against him, David counters, "it is
you who have always been, in your greed and cunning, against all the world."
In his role as David's friend, Steerforth is paired with Agnes and Traddles. But whereas Agnes
and Traddles are true friends, being loyal and always ready to help David and his friends and
loved ones, Steerforth is a false friend. He belittles David and exploits his closeness to Mr.
Peggotty by seducing Little Em'ly. Where Agnes and Traddles are selfless, Steerforth is selfish.
Another character pair is formed by the authority figures who look after David as a boy. David's
loving, gentle mother and nurse, Clara Copperfield and Clara Peggotty, are contrasted with the
cruel and brutal Mr. and Miss Murdstone. David's wives are also contrasted: the frivolous,
childlike Dora is set against the mature, wise Agnes.
Dickens's point in creating these pairs of characters and parallel situations is to show that people
have a choice as to how they behave and what they are. A poverty-stricken child can choose to
become a David or a Uriah Heep. A parent or guardian of a child can choose to be a gentle Clara
Copperfield or a cruel Mr. Murdstone. A friend can be true, like Agnes and Traddles, or false,
like Steerforth. While Dora cannot change her nature and become an Agnes, David is certainly
free to exercise good judgment in his choice of wife; this he fails to do with his first marriage,
but succeeds with the second.
2. In telling the story of her marriage, Annie Strong says that she is grateful to her husband for
saving her from "the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart." How does this phrase
apply to the novel as a whole?

David Copperfield is a bildungsroman, the dictionary definition of which is "a novel whose
principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful
main character. As such, its major theme is the disciplining of David's emotions and morals. He
learns not to trust "the first mistaken impulse of [the] undisciplined heart."
This theme is extended to many characters and relationships in the novel. The characters fall into
three groups: those who have always had disciplined hearts, those who lack them, and those who
develop them over the course of the novel. Characters in the first group include Agnes, who is
always selfless, mature, and loving; Mr. Peggotty, who never fails in his love and devotion to
Little Em'ly; and Traddles, who is a loyal friend to David and uses wise judgment in choosing
his wife, to whom he remains constant during a frustratingly long engagement.
Characters in the second group include Uriah Heep, whose downfall is his greed; the vain and
selfish Steerforth, who ruins the happiness of an entire family while gratifying a whimsical
desire for Little Em'ly; and Mrs. Steerforth and Rosa Dartle, who spoil Steerforth with an
indiscriminate adulation and who remain forever embittered by his loss.
Characters in the third group include David. He first marries the unsuitable Dora, and must learn
through an unsatisfactory and unequal marriage to make wiser choices in future. Once he
acquires a disciplined heart, he is able to appreciate the more settled love between himself and
Agnes, and marries her. Another character who learns discipline is Little Em'ly, who, after her
undisciplined escapade with Steerforth, repents. In her new life in Australia, she devotes herself
to hard work and acts of charity, refusing offers of marriage. A third character in this group is
Betsey, who made an unwise marriage when she was young and paid for it long afterwards.
Thereafter, she is concerned that other characters should not make the same mistakes as she did,
and has reservations about David's marrying Dora. Betsey also learns greater tolerance and
compassion as the novel progresses: at the start, she expresses contempt and impatience for
weak-minded women like Clara Copperfield and Dora, but later, she grows to love Dora.
3. In what ways does David Copperfield operate as social comment?
Several social problems are highlighted in the novel, on many of which Dickens actively
campaigned for reform. These include the plight of women who have fallen into prostitution like Martha. Prostitution in cities was one of the effects of the Industrial Revolution, which
involved thousands of people moving from the country into urban areas. The fate of these people
rose and fell with the state of the manufacturing economy and levels of wages at any one time,
and in Dickens's time, extreme poverty and poor housing conditions (such as he portrays when
David goes to Martha's house) was widespread. Dickens shows the poverty, shame, and
desperation that many of these women must have felt, and presents the dirty, overcrowded and
run-down areas of town where they lived and worked. The story of Martha acts as a
foreshadowing of what may have been Little Em'ly's story, too, had not the kind foreigners and
Mr. Peggotty rescued her.
Dickens was concerned about the plight of prostitutes, took care to paint an accurate picture of
the problem in David Copperfield, and in his life, worked actively to help such women into safer
and more socially acceptable occupations. Nevertheless, he shares something of the shame that
was felt about prostitution by the society of his time. When David and Mr. Peggotty resolve to
question Martha about Little Em'ly, they take great care not to approach her in a place where
people can see them, instead following her to an isolated spot. This can hardly be to protect
Martha, since being approached by men in public is a part of her job; it is to protect David and
Mr. Peggotty from public disapproval. Dickens's shame also comes over in the story of Little
Em'ly after she is returned to Mr. Peggotty. Though Little Em'ly does not have to resort to

prostitution, there is a strong sense of her being permanently sullied by her sexual relationship
with Steerforth. Neither Ham nor David ever speak directly to her again, and David only sees her
through a doorway and amongst the crowd on a ship.
Other social problems portrayed in the novel include the injustice of the debtors' prison; poverty
and society's attitudes to the poor; the question of how the insane should be treated (Mr. Dick's
brother wanted to put him in an asylum for life, which would have been a loss to society); the
injustice of child labor; prison reform; the plight of the homeless (portrayed in David's punishing
journey from London to Betsey's house in Dover after his escape from the factory); and the
abuse of children in schools.
4. Discuss the role of memory in David Copperfield.
David Copperfield has been called first and foremost a novel about memory. It is David's
autobiography, which he constructs from memory. The process links the past to the present, and
brings continuity to his life, in that it shows how a series of past incidents build on each other
and help to create the David of the present.
Memory can reawaken a blissful experience from the past, as in Chapter XLIII, when David
describes the day of his wedding to Dora. The chapter stands out because it is written in the
present tense, as if David has re-entered that moment of the past and is re-living it as he tells it to
the reader. This sense of immediacy is reinforced by the usually vivid descriptions of tiny details
of the sort that people only tend to recall if they are accompanied by extreme joy or extreme
horror. For example, David describes the new marital home: "Such a beautiful little house as it
is, with everything so bright and new; with the flowers on the carpets looking as if freshly
gathered, and the green leaves on the paper as if they had just come out...and Dora's garden hat
with the blue ribbon ."
Equally, memory can be a source of suffering. In Chapter X, David introduces his time working
at the factory with the words: "I now approach a period of my life, which I can never lose the
remembrance of, while I remember anything; and the recollection of which has often, without
my invocation, come before me like a ghost, and haunted happier times." The act of
remembering makes him re-live the trauma.
In Chapter LVIII, in contrast, the act of writing about recent traumatic events - the deaths of
Dora and Steerforth and the emigration of the Micawbers, Mr. Peggotty and Little Em'ly - is
therapeutic and cathartic for David. It rouses his depressed energies and marks the end of his
need to live abroad. When he has finished, he makes plans to return to England.
Though memory usually provides continuity for David, on some occasions it brings the shock of
cutting him off from his past. In Chapter XXII, David returns to his childhood home to find that
it is lived in by a lunatic and his carers. As he looks up at the window of his old room, the lunatic
gazes back, as David were looking in a mirror. On one hand, the lunatic is shockingly different
from David, but on the other hand, David sees him as a distorted version of himself, and wonders
if the lunatic has the same thoughts as he did when he looked out of that window. As Jeremy
Tambling points out in his Introduction to the Penguin edition of David Copperfield (2004), the
lunatic is also reminiscent of Mr. Dick, who, like David, is engaged in writing his autobiography.
Mr. Dick is hampered in his work by overwhelming thoughts of King Charles's head, which
Betsey describes as "his allegorical way of expressing" disturbing memories. Thus, as Tambling
says, "Memory, which for David Copperfield seems accessible, for Mr. Dick is blocked by other
memories, historical and traumatic."
That memory which translates into long-standing tradition is one of the elements that, in David's
view, makes England in general, and the law in particular, "an arduous place to rise in." (Chapter

LIX). One practical solution to this problem of stifling tradition in the nineteenth century was
emigration. The Micawbers, Mr. Peggotty, Little Em'ly and Martha are able to take advantage of
this solution. In doing so, they escape the societal memory of their past disgraces and failures in
England. They are free to start again with a clean slate.
5. How does Dickens present the idea of redemption through different characters?
In David Copperfield, some characters are redeemed, while others are not. The difference lies in
whether or not they have a conscience and are driven by it to repent. Little Em'ly is so ashamed
of her elopement with Steerforth that she cannot bear to return home and face her uncle. She is
rewarded for her penitence with a new life in Australia, where no one knows about her past.
However, Dickens does not allow her to be totally forgiven. Ham and David do not speak to her
between her rescue and her leaving England, and the reader only sees her clinging to her uncle
with her head hanging low, suggesting that she is still partially in disgrace. This continues in
Australia, where she is shown refusing all offers of marriage and absorbing herself in hard work
on the land and acts of charity - a penitential, though no doubt rewarding, existence.
Martha also repents of her life as a prostitute, though, unlike Little Em'ly, she is allowed to
describe the shame she feels. Her penitence is devoting herself to the search for Little Em'ly for
no pay. She is rewarded by Mr. Peggotty when he takes her to Australia with him and Little
Em'ly. Unlike Little Em'ly, Martha is allowed to marry, perhaps because, as a minor character of
whom the reader knows very little before she became a prostitute, the reader has no image of her
in her purity. Thus her fall into disgrace is less shocking than Little Em'ly's, and the sense of
innocence defiled less striking.
In the cases of both Little Em'ly and Martha, the purifying value of hard work on the land is
emphasized. There is an echo of Adam and Eve, who, after they disobeyed God and fell from
grace, were sentenced to do everlasting penance by tilling the soil to glean a living. Dickens
shared the notion prevalent in Victorian England that honest hard work was improving to the
soul. The adult David reflects that he has always achieved his goals due to his "steady, plain,
hard-working qualities."
These qualities are notably lacking in a character who is not redeemed, Steerforth. Steerforth's
life is frivolous, and David finds himself wishing that he had something useful to do. More
importantly, however, Steerforth does not repent. He does have a conscience, as is revealed by
his comment in Chapter XXI that David is a good person, to which he adds, "I wish we all
were!" and his request to David in Chapter XXIX that David remember him at his best. He
knows what is right and what is wrong, but he still persists in doing what is wrong, in taking
Little Em'ly away and then abandoning her. He even seems arrogant in the manner of his death,
clinging to his boat's mast when the other men have drowned, and waving his red cap at the
onlookers. Thus there is no redemption for Steerforth, and it is fitting that he is not rewarded, but
is swallowed by the sea.
Uriah and Littimer are even less redeemable than Steerforth, since they have no conscience at all.
Uriah preserves a shocking sense of self-righteousness even in prison. Though he claims to
repent of his "follies," he has resumed his old fraudulent act of being "umble." At the same time,
he shows he is far from humble by making a point of forgiving David for striking him in the
face: a truly humble person would not assume enough superiority over David to forgive him for a
relatively small