David Copperfield

David Copperfield Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20

David and Mr. Wickfield go the next day to meet Dr. Strong, who is the master of David's new school. They also meet his wife, Annie, who is much younger than her husband. During the visit, Mr. Wickfield and Dr. Strong discuss a cousin of Annie's, Jack Maldon, and his new job. Dr. Strong wants him to get a job that sends him out of the country, but he offers no particular reason why. Maldon goes to have dinner with Mr. Wickfield later that evening and mentions that he does not find the marriage between Dr. Strong and Annie fair due to the age difference. After that, Mr. Wickfield appears disturbed and treats him civilly but very distantly. Soon after, Maldon leaves for his new job, and as they are seeing him off, David notices that he has Annie's red ribbon in his hand.

David is at first quite behind in his studies and very awkward with his fellow classmates, for it has been a long time since he has interacted with other boys in a school environment. But he soon becomes comfortable and rises to the top of his class. He also finds more and more of a liking for Agnes and her devotion to her father. He finds out that she is being educated at home so that she can stay with him all of the time. Soon, he receives an invitation from Mr. Wickfield to stay with the family permanently, which he gladly accepts. David loves everything about that home except for Uriah, who disturbs him, especially with the way he writhes about when something pleases him.

David soon finds out from Peggotty that Mr. and Miss Murdstone have sold all of the furniture from Blunderstone Rookery and have put the house up for sale. He tells this to his aunt, who visits him very often. Mr. Dick also visits very often and becomes closer not only to David, but also to the boys in the school, Mr. Wickfield, Agnes, and even Uriah. Mr. Dick tells David about a man who has been visiting Miss Betsey and scaring her to the point where she is giving him money. David does not know what to make of this, and Mr. Dick makes him promise not to tell anyone that he knows about the strange man.

One day, Uriah invites David to tea with his mother, and, after hearing about how humble Uriah and his mother are and how pleased they would be to receive attention from David, he agrees. Yet, they make him very uncomfortable, asking about secrets regarding Agnes and Mr. Wickfield and their financial situation. Luckily, David sees Mr. Micawber and is able to escape. Mr. Micawber takes him to see Mrs. Micawber. They are both still in a serious financial situation, but although they cry about it, they recover quickly over a meal. The next day, David receives a letter from Mr. Micawber saying that, since they can no longer pay for their home, the couple will be leaving. David sees them riding away and hopes that they will find a release from their struggles.

David then reminisces about his school years. Despite his doubts, he is able to rise to the top of his class. Along the way, he falls in love with two girls. The first, Miss Shepherd, has blonde hair and a round face. She is a student at Nettingall's establishment. The two like each other for a while and even kiss, but eventually their attractions for one another die away. David also falls in love with the elder Miss Larkins, a thirty-year-old woman with whom he dances. That crush also ends after he finds out that she has married another man. David also recounts a fist fight that he lost against a butcher who used to bully the other kids around.

After David graduates, he and his aunt have many talks to decide what career path he should follow. They cannot come up with anything, and Miss Betsey suggests that he go and visit Peggotty (whose name she dislikes immensely due to its pagan nature) so that he can go out into the world and see what professions catch his eye. David visits Agnes and Mr. Wickfield one more time before he leaves, and they see Dr. Strong and Annie for tea. During this visit, David finds out that Jack Maldon sent a letter to Dr. Strong saying that he is ill and needs to come home. Then, Annie's mother reveals that Maldon sent a letter to Annie saying that he wants to come home because he misses her. David mentions that he trusts Annie much less—especially compared with Agnes.

David then leaves to visit Peggotty in Yarmouth. Despite all of his attempts to look honorable and respectable, he is often mocked and treated badly due to his youth. He is forced to give up the seat of honor in his coach, the waiters make fun of his youth, and the people at the inn at which he stays put him in the worst room available. Fortunately, at the inn David runs into Steerforth, whom he has not seen since Salem House, and he is immediately overwhelmed with joy. Steerforth is studying at Oxford and is very well respected. He tells the people to give David the nicer room, and, upon realizing that they are friends, the staff begins to treat David with much more respect.

Steerforth insists that David come with him to visit his home and his mother. Along the way, he gives David the nickname "Daisy," to which David does not object; he accepts the name eagerly. Steerforth's house is huge and beautiful, occupied by his mother and her companion, Miss Rosa Dartle, who is Steerforth's orphaned cousin. Mrs. Steerforth constantly praises and indulges her son and is like him in many ways. Miss Dartle is also dearly loved by her cousin and Mrs. Steerforth. She has a scar on her lip that David learns was caused by Steerforth when he was young—he threw a hammer that hit her. David has a portrait of her without the scar hanging in the room where he sleeps, and for some reason this greatly disturbs him, even entering his dreams.


In Chapter 16 the readers are introduced to Dr. Strong and Annie, his much younger wife. Dr. Strong is an extremely kind, trusting person and deeply in love with his young, beautiful wife. But we begin to wonder if Dr. Strong is much too trusting for his own good when we see the character of Jack Maldon. Maldon's character does not have much depth, but we do see that he is clearly in love with Annie and is attempting to seduce her into having an affair with him. Luckily for Dr. Strong, Maldon leaves for a job. However, this is not the last that we will see of him, and Dr. Strong's trustworthiness will be called into question once more.

David's love of education and learning also becomes apparent in these chapters. This is likely a reflection of Dickens' own belief in the importance of a good liberal education. Education helps a person understand the world and rise in society. David quickly rises to the top of his class despite the fact that he was behind to begin with. He even falls in love twice along the way, and this is part of his education into maturity as well. Thus, this education is portrayed as a very positive part of David's life.

On the negative side, Uriah Heep is still in the picture, continuing to irritate David with his sliminess and writhing. Foreshadowing continues to hint that Heep has some evil deeds to come. We learn even more from the tea party to which David is invited, during which Uriah and his mother ask uncomfortable questions about the Wickfields' financial situation. This hints at Heep's enormous greed and desire for wealth, which will certainly come back into play later in the novel.

In addition, we see Dickens' attention to social class once more with the reintroduction of Steerforth. His characteristic arrogance is still in place, and he gives David the nickname "Daisy" to mock his naiveté. David does not quite pick up on this slight. Something else about Steerforth is noteworthy here: David is extremely bothered by the scar on Rosa Dartle's lip, which was caused by Steerforth's rage. The tale of the scar presents a whole new side of Steerforth which David had never considered. It shows that Steerforth is capable of being uncontrolled when angry, a trait that does not mesh with the classiness that David had associated with high social standing. This revelation is enough to give David pause, but it is not enough to separate Steerforth from David.

Finally, the selling of David's childhood home, Blunderstone Rookery, by the Murdstones symbolizes the end of that part of David's life. He has been getting a good education, he now lives in a healthy atmosphere, he has loving mentors, and he has even started having more or less serious relationships. By this time he has fully separated himself from the Murdstones. Thus it is appropriate that the house be sold to symbolize the end of the troubles associated with the Murdstones.