A lot of what kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning was spurred by a comment made on this post by Donna. I had pointed out how much I loved the first line of the novel, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show," (5). Her comment basically told me to mull that over as I read further and as I finished. I did, so thank you for pointing that out to me.
In David Copperfield, the young David undergoes many struggles and heartache before he reaches a true sense of happiness at the end. He is born to a young widow who eventually remarries a mean man. She is bullied and eventually passes, leaving David in the care of a man who hates him. Forced to work at a young age, David seems hopeless. In desperation, he runs away to an aunt he has never met, who left him the night of his birth because he wasn't a girl. Thankfully, she agrees to take him in and nurture him. This is where David gets his chance. He begins to thrive. He succeeds. And while there is still plenty of heartache in store for him as he grows older, he survives. He manages. And not because he has the faith in himself to keep going, but because of the people around him.
As I look back at the first statement, I want to change it so it applies to all of us..."Whether we will turn out to be the heroes of our own lives, or whether we will allow those who love us to hold that station, our lives and the result of our work must show."
I neared the end of the novel thinking about that. As David grows older near the end, as he begins to see the impact that others have had on his life, I think he comes to the same conclusion I did. That the people who surround us in our lives are the ones who shape us. True, some might have the drive and power to push above their circumstance, but we are all shaped in some way by those who care for us.
I think a lot of what David becomes is powered by the belief others have in him. Near the end of the novel, he finds that to be true of his best friend and "sister," Agnes. When they were young, she helped push him to believe in himself. He says near the end,
"And I am so grateful to you for it, Agnes, so bound to you, that there is no name for the affection of my heart. I want you to know, yet don't know how to tell you, that all my life long I shall look up to you, and be guided by you, as I have through darkness that is past," (709).
After finishing the novel, I realized that David's observations about Agnes were both correct and incorrect. While she did guide him through much of his life-offered support and inspiration-she is not solely responsible for the man he became. The last chapter touches a little on this, but Dickens doesn't seem to dive into the idea. Instead, he just kinds of holds it out there in hopes his readers will grasp the idea. But in that last chapter, David talks a little about the people who most influenced him. From Peggotty to Mr. Peggotty to Traddles to Steerforth to Uriah Heep to Dora and more, every character and every person mentioned influenced him. Some, like the Murdstones, were there to show him what kind of man he didn't want to be. Others, like his aunt and Peggotty, were there to show him he was of value when his world came crashing down. Others challenged his strength of character, others showed him how to be a man, and others tested his abilities to do the right thing.
In some ways, I don't think the novel is really about David Copperfield. I think it might be about the people around him...who made him who he became. It was only through these interactions and experiences that he succeeded...and that others became the heroes of his life.
Does that idea apply to us? Perhaps. I think we do have the opportunity to make our own way, but you can't argue that no one has had an influence on your life. For me, I can think of many, from my parents, to Matt, to my siblings, and my teachers. All of them, some of them mere characters for a moment, gave me something. They have all altered me in some way, changed me, molded me into who I am today. To claim that I am the hero of my life is silly. I owe my drive and passions to those who have been near me for even a moment's time. Just like David Copperfield.
I don't know how Dickens would feel about my observations on his work, and to be frank, I don't care. :) I do think he would be happy to know that I loved this book and that it will probably remain my favorite Dickens. And that I am thinking of giving Great Expectations another try. I think I "get" him now. I respect him and his work. And we share a favorite. That should mean something.
"It will be easily believed that I am fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I loved them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield," (Charles Dickens).
*Finishing this novel also means a book crossed off on 3 of my challenge lists: 2012 Victorian Challenge, 2012 Chunkster Challenge, and 2012 TBR Challenge. Go me!*