1. Family Conflicts – The Copperfields and Murdstones
Thinking of “Social Criticism”, huge institutions in society, like workhouses,
industrialized cities or even certain governmental systems might occure to one’s
mind in the first place. But many people forget that the smallest “institution”
in society is the family. And the first socio-critical element in “David
Copperfield” to begin with shall be the family itself.
Therefore one has to know that families in the 19th century, especially in
higher social classes, were organized completely differently than families are
today. Usually the husband was the “big boss” in the house, whereas the woman
had to be the “good housewife and mother” who had to obey to her husband. And
the children, above all boys, normally were educated very strictly, and
once out of the age in which they had to be cared for by their mother, they were
completely under their father’s control and influence. Dickens’ now wants to
criticize this more or less “old-fashioned position” in his novel, but therefore
he has to set up the right situation. So when David Copperfield is born, his
father is already dead and he leads a very happy and comfortable life with his
mother and their housekeeper Peggotty. He himself states that they “were all
excellent friends”. Now Dickens draws a sharp contrast,
by letting Mr Murdstone break into this happy world, and makes up a criticism,
by showing how conflicts in a formerly conflict-less family can evolve.
Therefore he uses the widely acknowledged image of the cruel stepfather and Mr
Murdstone as a symbol for the typical behaviour of many higher-class men towards
their wives and children.