Mr. Micawber is a kind, well-spoken, and generally optimistic man whose character often serves a comedic purpose. David first meets him and his large family as a young boy but their acquaintance stretches all the way into David’s adulthood. Mr. Micawber is constantly in debt, owing to a certain carelessness with money, and he is eventually sentenced to a debtors’ prison until he can meet his creditor’s demands. As a result, Mr. Micawber’s story highlights David Copperfield’s thematic emphasis on wealth, class, and the plight of the less fortunate. 

Mr. Micawber’s character contributes to the semi-autobiographical nature of the text. It is generally understood by Dickens scholars that Mr. Micawber is based on Charles Dickens’s own father, John Dickens. The two men bear a striking resemblance to each other. Indeed, Dickens’s own assertion that his father was a “a jovial opportunist with no money sense” could equally be applied to the fictional Mr. Micawber. John Dickens was sent to the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison under the Insolvent Debtors Act of 1813 in February of 1824 because he owed forty pounds and ten shillings to a man named James Kerr. John Dickens’s wife and their four youngest children eventually moved into the prison with him, and they were only released because John Dickens’s mother died and left him some money. Dickens was greatly disturbed by the ordeal and even had to drop out of school at the age of twelve so that he could work in a factory to support his family while his father was imprisoned. Research into Dickens’s life reveals that this was a traumatic event for a young Dickens which is why he chose to critique England’s harsh debt policies in his fiction.