In “David Copperfield,” Charles Dickens continues to develop the theme of “high hopes.” It is this theme that defines in the novel its symbolism. Two symbols – “the road of life” and “the river, the stream”, are cross-cutting in the narrative of the writer, and both “paths” lead to the sea.
Dickens gives these images-symbols the deepest meaning. And even the “Christmas theme”, which usually in the writer’s novels corresponded to the warmth and comfort of the home, this time sounds victorious in the scene of the sea storm – one of the most symbolic and significant scenes of the novel. Its special significance in the narrative is indicated both by the rhythmic organization of prose, and by the symbolic significance of details.
The sea storm symbolizes in the novel and the real life, in which the hero must stand, and the struggle of good and evil in man himself, and the victory of good over evil, which makes man a Man with a capital letter. During the storm, two enemies die – Steerforth and Ham. Their death is a “purification” from the momentary, selfish in a person, perhaps in the name of the highest Christian truth – love and forgiveness. Ham saves Steerforth like a drowning man, not Emily’s seducer. He saves a person, not an enemy who has caused a sensitive insult. And now Ham is not an offended lover, and Steerforth is not a seducer, but people
“David Copperfield” is a novel about the artist’s becoming, so the symbols of good and evil, closely related to the same theme of “high hopes”, are given through the prism of the perception of the main character of the narrative – the future writer, who seeks to understand the nature of the very nature of good and evil.
The forces of evil in the novel “David Copperfield” are represented in the images of the stepfather of little David, Mr. Merdstone, as well as Steerforth, Uriah Gipom, Littimer. But how dramatically the images of villains in this novel have changed compared to early works. For example, Murdstone is not only a cruel stepfather, but also a loving husband, and his grief for the deceased mother of David is quite sincere. There is nothing fatal and diabolical in the dislike of the stepfather to David. This dislike is psychologically motivated: the stepchild reminds him too much of his late wife.
However, in the novel, the classic symbol of evil scattered in the world is the image of a servant boy. Evil is unnamed. The servant boy is the only image in the novel that does not have a name. It should be specially emphasized that in “David Copperfield” the most terrible and most pernicious evil is embodied in themselves servants. One of their presence in the house of David and Dora creates a constant sense of anxiety.
Evil is anonymous, and therefore unavoidable. This anonymous and all-pervading evil is embodied in the image-symbol of the nameless orphaned boy, whom David took to himself at an unkind time. The boy does not have any relatives, and financially, and emotionally, he depends on David, who “becomes a life-giving force for him.” Hence, evil is contained in David himself, which means that evil and good are connected with each other by invisible threads, and, hence, the victory over evil, first of all, depends on David himself.
In this novel of Dickens, between good and evil, there is already a very unstable edge, exploring which the writer is convinced that even the bearers of good cross this vague trait. Such categories as Evil and Good in the novel are no longer absolutely understandable and easily recognizable, and the ability to distinguish them is earned by David Copperfield by a long and hard work in a way that is called “the road of life”.