Equality in marriage is one of the key themes of David Copperfield. Marriages between equals are celebrated throughout the novel whereas unequal marriages are criticized. Clara Copperfield, David’s warm but impressionable mother, represents what happens when a person attempts to subjugate their spouse. Clara Copperfield married David's father when she was young and was shortly after widowed. As a result, she maintains many of her youthful and girlish tendencies. For example, she is easily seduced into marriage by Mr. Murdstone because he compliments and dotes on her. There’s an echo of her childlike demeanor in Dora Spenlow, David’s first wife, later on in the narrative, indicative of the closeness David shared with his mother and the trauma Clara’s death had on him.

Once they are married, Mr. Murdstone works to mold Clara into his version of the ideal housewife with no regard for Clara’s wishes or feelings—especially in regard to David, who Clara adores and Mr. Murdstone resents. Clara may love her son, but she allows Mr. Murstone to abuse David and send him away because she is not strong-willed enough to stand up to him, and David, though he loves her dearly, is resentful of the wedge Mr. Murdstone successfully drove between them. In spite of this behavior, Dickens paints a sympathetic view of Clara, implying that Mr. Murdstone forced Clara into submission and that his continued cruelty eventually rendered her meek and voiceless.