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SEBASTIAN LEHNER
David Copperfield as an example of the Victorian socio-critical novel
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Page 22

6. Class Conflicts – Steerforth and Em’ly


During the age of industrialism, the whole society was dominated mainly by a two-class system. That is, there was a huge gap between the rich and the poor, a social middle-class was more or less non-existant. As a consequence, a huge contrast developed between the higher and the lower social classes, and this contrast becomes evident in the novel in the Steerforth family and the Peggotty family.

James Steerforth, an acquaintance of David Copperfield from his childhood days, belongs to a higher social class. His family is very wealthy, he is described as “good as his word [and] a great scholar”[25] and “very good-looking”[26]. He had been the only boy at school never to be beaten up and in a whole he can be described as a sort of semi-aristocratic person in the novel.
From these pieces of information one can defer a first point of criticism: people who have money and a higher social standing often enjoy more privileges in society and public life than people from a lower social class do. This is of course very unjust, but not an uncommon phenomenon in the 19th century. On the other side of the coin we have the Peggotties: they are lower-class people, not very far up the social-ladder, simple fishermen and workers. This can also be recognized in their way of speaking, e.g. “Why, sir, his father giv it him”[27], instead of the more clearer “Why do you ask, sir, his father gave it to him”.

[25] Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield, p.87    [26] Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield, p.88
[27] Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield, p.40

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