By DATo_Diomedies_DATon on
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
I have read 'David Copperfield' three times in my life but it was only in this last reading when things began to emerge which I had previously not noticed. Like most of you I read for entertainment purposes and reading a novel superficially is not uncommon, but in the case of Dickens there is always more, MUCH more, hiding just below the surface.
Part 1 : The omnipresence of death
It is interesting to note the number of people peripheral to the story who do not actually appear in the novel and are deceased. David tells us within the first few pages that he is a "posthumous child" as his father had died prior to the beginning of his narrative, but as we delve deeper into the novel a multitude of people appear who have relatives who are deceased. We soon learn that lil'Emily has lost both her parents, as has Ham, as has Rosa Dartle, as has Traddles, as has David's mother, as has Mrs. McCawber, as has the McCawber's servant. David has lost his father, as has Steerforth, as has Uriah Heep, as has Annie Strong. Dora has lost her mother, as has Agnes. Mrs Gummage has lost her husband, and we are at first led to believe that Aunt Betsy has lost her husband as well.
In the course of the novel David's mother dies, Steerforth dies, Ham dies, Dora dies, Jip dies, Dora's father dies. Barkis dies, Aunt Betsy's estranged husband dies, Traddles' mother-in-law dies.
There are three allusions to a 'death wish'. One on the part of Mr. McCawber as he brandishes his razor and threatens to cut his throat. We do not take him seriously because we know that in five minutes he will be whistling a happy tune and making punch. Martha contemplates suicide as she stands next to the river. Daniel Peggotty tells David that Ham has been taking on dangerous jobs since Emily has left as though Ham does not value his life anymore.
There are numerous symbols of death as well. David constantly refers to the graveyard in which his father is buried. There are references to tombstones (David's father's and Ham's), black crepe mourning cloth, undertakers and coffins, Traddles draws skeletons, Lazarus rising from the dead.
At first I thought I was just imagining things but upon later reflection I feel Dickens was making a point. Death looms menacingly down upon the characters in this novel but there are three examples of Death being defeated by the goodness of human kindness and love. It is certain, and David even makes this point, that he would have perished as a child if Aunt Betsy had not taken him in and rescued him from his plight as a child. Martha saves Emily and is in turn saved by Mr. Peggotty from the possibility of suicide later.
I feel Dickens is trying to say that the evil in this world, despite its power, can be thwarted by love. Death is all OVER this novel and I feel it is by design, to paint in broad brushstrokes the power of what three characters overcome through their goodness.