“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.” 

This is the opening line to David Copperfield. Right from the start, Dickens establishes a conversational tone, indicative of the relationship David will have with the reader going forward as he continues to address us directly. This moment is significant; David essentially asks the reader to play an active rather than passive role in the storytelling experience, allowing them their own interpretations. David’s uncertainty at this point about his hero-status, and his insistence that the reader must make this determination themselves, reveals his humble and unassuming nature. 

“When my thoughts go back, now, to that slow agony of my youth, I wonder how much of the histories I invented for such people hangs like a mist of fancy over well-remembered facts! When I tread the old ground, I do not wonder that I seem to see and pity, going on before me, an innocent romantic boy, making his imaginative world out of such strange experiences and sordid things!”

This passage is located towards the beginning of the novel during one of the many moments throughout the text in which David breaks from his narrative to make an observation to the reader. Here, a middle-aged David reflects on the nature of memory. He acknowledges that the trauma he experienced as a young boy likely colored his memory, and he wonders which of his recollections are true and which have been embellished by his own imagination. 

“But the agony of mind, the remorse, and shame I felt when I became conscious next day! My horror of having committed a thousand offences I had forgotten, and which nothing could ever expiate—my recollection of that indelible look which Agnes had given me—the torturing impossibility of communicating with her, not knowing, Beast that I was, how she came to be in London, or where she stayed—my disgust of the very sight of the room where the revel had been held—my racking head—the smell of smoke, the sight of glasses, the impossibility of going out, or even getting up! Oh, what a day it was!”

Here, David panics after a night spent drinking and reveling with Steerforth. He is embarrassed by his conduct and he is especially ashamed that Agnes witnessed his drunken stupor. This moment reveals the strength of David’s character, and that he is mature enough to acknowledge when he has made an error, and it highlights David’s capacity for growth and personal betterment. Additionally, it is significant that David is especially distressed that he both mistreated and embarrassed himself in front of Agnes because it reveals the depth to which David admires and values her. 

“As I think I told you once before… it is you who have been, in your greed and cunning, against all the world. It may be profitable to you to reflect, in future, that there never were greed and cunning in the world yet, that did not do too much, and overreach themselves. It is as certain as death.”

David’s rumination about the corrupting power of greed emphasizes both his strong moral code and his worldly knowledge. David delivers this piece of wisdom to Uriah Heep after he helps Mr. Micawber expose Uriah’s schemes to take control of Mr. Wickfield’s finances. It is a heroic moment for David because he finally manages to triumph over the man he has detested and distrusted since childhood. It’s notable that David, himself, has experienced periods of extreme poverty. However, David, unlike Uriah, never gave in to greed or sought to improve his station by ruining someone else.

“And now, as I close my task, subduing my desire to linger yet, these faces fade away. But one face, shining on me like a Heavenly light by which I see all other objects, is above them and beyond them all. And that remains… O Agnes, O my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life indeed; so may I, when realities are melting from me, like the shadows which I now dismiss, still find thee near me, pointing upward!”

The above passage concludes David Copperfield. It is noteworthy that Dickens has David end the lengthy account of his “personal history and experience” by exalting Agnes. Given that the novel is an account of David’s life, it would not have been unusual for him to end his narrative with a reflection about himself. Instead, he praises Agnes one final time and acknowledges that she is the guiding force in his bildungsroman. His rhapsody reveals the deep love and appreciation that David has for Agnes and illustrates the fact that he views Agnes as the true heroine of his life.