SparkNotes: David Copperfield: Plot Overview

ADVANTAGES

There's this boy, a kid from a small town. He's doing his best to grow up in tough circumstances: his father dies before he is even born, and his stepfather is a cold, abusive jerk. And then it gets worse: the boy's mother dies, leaving the kid completely alone in the world. Once his mother is gone, his stepfather doesn't even pretend to care about the kid's fate: he sends the boy to the Big City to get a job and fend for himself. Is this a summary of the latest Liftetime movie? Or of Precious: The Boy's Version? Nope, it's actually the first ten-odd chapters of 's David Copperfield.

Even though this novel was published over 150 years ago, we can't help but be struck by how contemporary David Copperfield feels. Sadly, the challenges of abusive parents and terrible poverty seem to transcend all ages. Dickens's description of the beating David suffers at the hands of his stepfather reaches across the ages to make us shudder, even now. After all, even though we are separated from Dickens by a big gap of time, we share the same human emotions – love, jealousy, resentment, anger, fear, and hope – that drive the plot of David Copperfield.

We're not going to pretend that there aren't some odd details here and there – like, it's tough to take the whole "fallen woman" thing very seriously nowadays. But David's early struggles with a broken home, and his later troubles falling out of love with his wife, seem just as familiar to us now as they would to Dickens's avid fans back in the day. It's a novel about an individual doing his best in bad circumstances. And it doesn't matter if it's 1850 or today: this kind of story never gets old.

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