The protagonist and narrator of the novel. David is innocent, trusting, and naïve even though he suffers abuse as a child. He is idealistic and impulsive and remains honest and loving. Though David’s troubled childhood renders him sympathetic, he is not perfect. He often exhibits chauvinistic attitudes toward the lower classes. In some instances, foolhardy decisions mar David’s good intentions.
David’s true love and second wife, the daughter of Mr. Wickfield. The calm and gentle Agnes admires her father and David. She suffers patiently through David’s other romances, and although she loves David, she is not overcome by jealousy. Agnes always comforts David with kind words or advice when he needs support.
A condescending, self-centered villain. From his boyhood, Steerforth possesses a restless energy that he can neither satisfy nor divert. He charms both women and men for the feeling of power it gives him. He also abuses David, although David is too enraptured with him and too grateful for his patronage to notice.
David’s nanny and caretaker. Peggotty is gentle and selfless, opening herself and her family to David whenever he is in need. She is faithful to David and his family all her life, never abandoning David, his mother, or Miss Betsey. In her kind motherliness, Peggotty contrasts with the cruel and unloving Miss Murdstone.
Peggotty’s unfaithful niece, who is sweet but also coy and vain. Little Em’ly’s desire to be a lady causes her to disgrace herself by running away from her family.
A two-faced, conniving villain who puts on a false show of humility and meekness to disguise his evil intentions. Uriah is motivated by his belief that the world owes him something for all the humiliations he suffered as a young man. Ultimately, Uriah’s veneer of humility proves as empty as his morals.
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David’s eccentric, kind-hearted aunt. Although Miss Betsey’s intentions are mysterious at the beginning of the novel, her generosity toward David soon becomes clear, and she acts as David’s second mother.
David’s first wife and first real love. Dora is foolish and giddy, more interested in playing with her dog, Jip, than in keeping house with David. Because David cannot bear to displease Dora, he permits her to retain the pouty habits of a spoiled child.
An unlucky couple crippled by constantly precarious finances. Although Mr. Micawber never succeeds at supporting his own family, he is generous and industrious in serving others. Mrs. Micawber stands by her husband despite his flaws and regardless of the hardships they suffer.
Young David’s simple, goodhearted schoolmate. Traddles works hard but faces great obstacles because of his lack of money and connections. He eventually succeeds in making a name and a career for himself.
David’s mother. The kind, generous, and goodhearted Clara embodies maternal caring until her death, which occurs early in the novel. David remembers his mother as an angel whose independent spirit was destroyed by Mr. Murdstone’s cruelty.
The cruel second husband of David’s mother, and Murdstone’s sister. The Murdstones are strict and brutal not only toward David, but to his mother as well. Together, they crush David’s mother’s spirit.
Steerforth’s mother and her ward, the orphan child of her husband’s cousin. Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle are cruel and bitter toward the world and also haughty and proud, as evidenced by their overwhelming fondness for Steerforth and their disdain of David.
The simple relatives of David’s nurse, Clara Peggotty. Mr. Peggotty, Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge represent the virtues of simple people. Mr. Peggotty and Ham are sailors, Mrs. Gummidge a sailor’s widow. They are devoted and loving to each other and David.
A man and woman who exemplify the best of married life. Doctor Strong and Annie are faithful and selfless, each concerned more about the other than about himself or herself. Their deep love for each other enables them to survive Uriah’s attempts to disrupt their bliss.