Discipline in Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield"

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  • Topic: David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, James Steerforth
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  • Published : June 1, 2008
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In "David Copperfield", Charles Dickens reveals that discipline is like a weapon: those who misuse it are cruel, unjust, and a danger to everyone around them, while those who fail to use it at all endanger themselves and lower their defenses. Only those who use discipline properly can mature and live contentedly in this world. Extremists of any kind are unsuccessful, and never achieve fulfillment. As David embarks on his quest to maturity, he sees many different types of people, and learns through his experiences that balance is a necessary prerequisite for success. This need for balance and discipline can be observed in the names Dickens chooses for his characters, in his choice of wives for David, and also in his writing style.

In many of his novels, Dickens suggests the personal qualities of his characters using their names. The name Micawber plays on the word "macabre". True to his name, Mr. Micawber is "deathly" and "gloomy" as a consequence of his impoverished lifestyle. Mr. Micawber does not even show a glimmer of hope for success until the very end of the novel, when he decides to alter his lifestyle and move to the middle class. He no longer avoids creditors, and stops changing his name; finally, he finds happiness through self-discipline and responsibility.

Another one of Dickens' characters whose name reveals his significance is James Steerforth. James "steers forth" others to do his bidding in such a charming way that no one knows that his true motives are selfish. Steerforth is selfish and deceiving, but does not exhibit any discipline in his own life: he is always thinking of himself, and never about how others may be affected by his decisions. Due to Steerforth's undisciplined manner, his is fated to meet an early death.

Mr. Murdstone's name is also significant, because it blends together the words "murder" and "stone". Mr. Murdstone can be thought of as the cause behind Mrs. Copperfield's death, and is a perfect example of misuse of...
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