The Class struggle in Society in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield
Charles Dickens criticizes the struggles between classes in society of the Victorian era through the characters and behaviors of these characters in his book David Copperfield. Social structure is the organized instruction of social relationships and social institutions that compose a society and social classes are important when reading and analyzing Dicken’s David Copperfield. Charles Dickens presents bunch of characters from all classes of Victorian society to make the reader comprehend how cruel, dysfunctional and corrupted society was in Victorian era by distinguishing differences between social classes. Social class in Victorian period is strictly divided into two classes which are rich and poor. Steerforth family is represented as rich people in David Copperfield and the poor people represented by David Copperfield and Mr. Micawber. Dickens criticizes his society’s view of wealth and class as measures of a person’s value. Charles Dickens reflects his dissatisfaction on society and social classes through the eyes of his characters in Victorian era by showing the lifestyles of high and low-class people.
Poverty is one of the crucial factors for understanding struggles of classes in Victorian era society. Poverty distinguishes classes in society and their lifestyle because upper-class people did not have problems like shelter and food while lower-class people were fighting for survival and “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” This line by Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield shows that if a person has low amount of money he or she can not live a happy life.” (187). This applies for David as well because he had to work when he was just a child and he had gone through hard times just because of being poor. It is clearly seen that Charles Dickens as a writer who lived his childhood in poverty as Tomalin states in her book Charles Dickens: A Life “Charles Dickens had been observing the world about him since he was a child, and reporting on what he saw for the past six years, as a journalist and then as a novelist. Much of it amused him, but more of it upset him: the poverty, the hunger, the ignorance and squalor he saw in London, and the indifference of the rich and powerful to the condition of the poor and ignorant. Through his own energy and exceptional gifts he had raised himself out of poverty. (356) But he neither forgot it, nor turned aside from the poverty about him.” Shows that Dickens thought poverty was a major problem in society and the struggles between the classes in society.
Family was also an important concept regarding the struggles among classes in Victorian era society because the family a person born into effect his or her future in a big way because being born in a rich and known family makes a person’s life so much easier than being born in a poor family in pretty much every aspect in life like education, social intercourses, living conditions and how you are and will be treated in society. Charles Dickens criticizes this by using the characters in his book such as a making a high-class born character named Steerforth as a villain, liar and a deceptive man while writing poor characters like Mr. Peggoty and Ham as helpful, generous and innocent. Dickens also criticizes upper-class citizens view on lower-class citizens in lines of David Copperfield like “They have not very fine natures, and they may be thankful that, like their coarse rough skins, they are not easily wounded.” (309). It is understood in Victorian England as Mitchell states in Daily Life in Victorian England “in Victorian England it did not depend on the amount of money people had, although it did rest partly on the source of their income, as well as on birth and family connections” (17). This is the reason Dickens defended lower class people and upper-class people in David Copperfield. Dickens was deeply affected by this and as McDowall states in An Illustrated History of Britain “Charles Dickens attacked the rich and powerful for their cruelty towards the weak and unfortunate in society” (155) and for that reason in Dicken’s eyes lower-class citizens were most of just and moral characters belonged to.
Another interesting aspect regarding class differences in Victorian era society were the accents of people in David Copperfield because Dickens use diversified accents to identify the difference between upper-class and lower-class people. Because in Victorian England people’s accents was locally and regionally differed and it was an identifying factor in understanding whose upper-class or lower-class citizen by the way they speak and to make a preconception about people. Charles Dickens also defended lower-class people in David Copperfield by using lower-class accent for Mr. Peggoty to show how genuine, loyal, and modesty lower-class people are, and high-class accent can not determine the morality of a character in David Copperfield.
To conclude, In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens harshly criticizes class struggles in Victorian era society through the eyes of his characters in his book by showing how lower-class and upper-class people were treated in society regarding the poverty, family, education, social intercourses. He shows his dissatisfaction against upper-class people and how society is by making upper-class people immoral and evil while defending lower-class people by writing them as humble, genuine, loyal and moral. Dickens was also a lower-class child while he was growing up, so he was disgusted by society and he wanted to express how bad the high-class citizens treat low-class citizens and what upper-class people think of lower class people. Also, how bad the conditions as a lower-class citizen living in England in Victorian era society through harsh conditions of life. In a sense he was like a champion of the lower-class and by some of the lower-class citizens themselves he was characterized as the spokesman of lower-class people.
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.
McDowall, David. An Illustrated History of Britain, Harlow: Pearson, 1989. Print.
Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England, Westport: Abc-Clio, 2008. Print.
Tomalin, Claire. Charles Dickens: A Life. London: Penguin 2011. Print