David Copperfield

by: Charles Dickens

Uriah Heep

Uriah serves a foil to David and contrasts David’s qualities of innocence and compassion with his own corruption. Though Uriah is raised in a cruel environment similar to David’s, Uriah’s upbringing causes him to become bitter and vengeful rather than honest and hopeful. Dickens’s physical description of Uriah marks Uriah as a demonic character. He refers to Uriah’s movements as snakelike and gives Uriah red hair and red eyes. Uriah and David not only have opposing characteristics but also operate at cross-purposes. For example, whereas Uriah wishes to marry Agnes only in order to hurt David, David’s marriages are both motivated by love. The frequent contrast between Uriah’s and David’s sentiments emphasizes David’s kindness and moral integrity.

While David’s character development is a process of increased self-understanding, Uriah grows in his desire to exercise control over himself and other characters. As Uriah gains more power over Mr. Wickfield, his sense of entitlement grows and he becomes more and more power-hungry. The final scenes of the novel, in which Uriah praises his jail cell because it helps him know what he should do, show Uriah’s need to exert control even when he is a helpless prisoner. But imprisonment does not redeem his evil—if anything, it compounds his flaws. To the end, Uriah plots strategies to increase his control. Because he deploys his strategies to selfish purposes that bring harm to others, he stands out as the novel’s greatest villain.