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David Copperfield : The importance of a Liberal and Moral Education

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House  

Page 2

Dickens' views on education are conveyed best through the contrast he draws between Betsey Trotwood's firmness and Mr Murdstone's. Murdstone's firmness overwhelms David, whereas Betsey's firmness lays a sound moral foundation for his freedom -- "never... be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid these three vices... and I can always be hopeful of you". David's epic journey from London to Dover and his emancipation from the imprisonment of the Murdstone and Grinby factory shows the consequences of these educational methods in a more literal way; David is literally escaping the moral, physical and financial imprisonment of the factory for the freedom to explore and develop his interests.

Dickens further emphasises David's imprisonment and freedom by the decision-making power he is given by Betsey and Murdstone. Murdstone gives David no choices; he is sent to boarding school, to the factory and the Micawbers' without consent. Murdstone gives David no credit and no choice in what happens to him. Miss Betsey on the other hand never forces anything upon David, beyond her sound moral rules. She helps him to choose his school, where he will live and where he will work. Betsey gives David the freedom to explore and develop his interests. This final product of each school shows the benefits of a liberal education. If David had not left the factory, he would have remained nothing more than a bottle cleaner for the rest of his life. With Betsey however, David has the choice and freedom to become whatever he wants.

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Cf. Dickens on schools, Dickens on Teaching and Learning  * Chapter Summary of David Copperfield
David Copperfield as a socio-critical novel * Dickens Biography and Works * More
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