David Copperfield Summary

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David Copperfield Summary: Contrasting Pairs of Characters

How Does Dickens Use Contrasting Pairs of Characters to Illustrate Good and Evil in the Novel?


The author of the novel David Copperfield tells us the story of an aspiring writer. Therefore, the symbols of good and evil are closely associated with the theme of “great expectations.” They are presented through the prism of perception of the protagonist of the story – the future writer, who seeks to comprehend the essence of the nature of good and evil. “We can see how even the opening pages of David Copperfield set up a reciprocal relationship between development and loss” (Vicinus et al. 2008, 47).

Contrasting “Good and Evil” Characters

There is a division of characters into positive and negative in this novel (“good” and “evil”). Dickens always motivated belonging of a character to one of these groups and it was never made randomly. These categories might constitute of persons of different social statuses. And just as the author begins characterizing people with their appearance (face, manner of speech, comportment), he describes various sectors of society starting with their external manifestations. When Dickens divides his characters, in contrast, by the principle of good and evil, he does not forget that a man is complex, and a defining moment for him is not a place of a particular character in the society, but the attitude of each of them towards people around, regardless their exterior features. Among both positive and negative characters, Dickens has noble and beautiful, unremarkable and ugly people. Moreover, in the process of their portraits’ description the nature of characters is disclosed.

Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield reveals positive characters (Peggotty, Betsey Trotwood, Agnes Wickfield, and Mr. Dick) opposed to negative (Merdstone, Steerforth, Uriah Heep, Creakle). “It was naturally followed by the discovery of the duality of good and evil” (Hamby 2014, 187). In addition, he pays not much attention to the portrait of good personalities.


The borderline between good and evil is very precarious. The writer, exploring this theme, is convinced that even positive characters (David, Peggotty, Micawber, Mr. Spenlow and, finally, even Agnes) transcend this vague line. Such notions, as good and evil, are certainly not clear and not easily recognizable. David Copperfield earned the ability to distinguish between them by hard work on the way, called the “lifeline.”

Works Cited

Vicinus, Martha J., Hannoosh, Michele A., Kucich, John Richard, Pinch, Adela N., & Giordano, Caroline. (2008). Developing Character in the Nineteenth-Century Novel.
Hamby, James. (2014). David Copperfield : Victorian hero. Middle Tennessee State University.

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