“Since you expect me, Mr. Creakle, to justify myself… and to say what I mean,—what I have to say is, that his mother lives on charity in an alms-house.”

Here, Steerforth (successfully) attempts to get Mr. Mell fired from his teaching position at Salem House by telling Mr. Creakle that he uses his wages to support his mother who is living in an alms-house. An alms-house or a workhouse was a desolate government-run institution designed to house people who were living well below the poverty line. That fact that Mr. Mell is dismissed after this information comes to light proves that the comfortable often have no sympathy for the needy.

“I have parted with the plate myself… Six tea, two salt, and a pair of sugars, I have at different times borrowed money on, in secret, with my own hands. But the twins are a great tie; and to me, with my recollections, of papa and mama, these transactions are very painful. There are still a few trifles that we could part with. Mr. Micawber’s feelings would never allow him to dispose of them.”

This line is spoken by Mrs. Micawber, who explains to a young David that she has taken to selling their household goods and secretly borrowing money in order to feed her family and appease her husband’s creditors. Tragically for her and her family, these degrading actions were not enough and the Micawbers are eventually forced to move into a debtor’s prison until they can pay off their debts. The Micawbers’s stint in the debtor’s prison is one of the many moments in the text that highlights the plight of the lower classes.

“Why, there’s a pretty wide separation between them and us… They are not to be expected to be as sensitive as we are. Their delicacy is not to be shocked, or hurt easily. They are wonderfully virtuous, I dare say—some people contend for that, at least; and I am sure I don’t want to contradict them—but they have not very fine natures, and they may be thankful that, like their coarse rough skins, they are not easily wounded.”

Here, Steerforth belittles the Peggottys and confidently asserts that there is a large divide between the upper and lower classes. He claims that poor people do not have very refined “natures” when compared to the likes of him or his wealthy family members. This moment is just one example that demonstrates Steerforth’s contempt for the lower classes, as well as his innate cruelty. This moment can be compared to the many instances throughout the text in which poorer characters such as Mr. Peggotty and Ham display a sense of kindness and empathy that Steerforth could never hope to achieve. As a result, Dickens implies that wealth and class have nothing to do with a person’s soul.

“How miserable I was, when I lay down! How I thought and thought about my being poor, in Mr. Spenlow’s eyes; about my not being what I thought I was, when I proposed to Dora; about the chivalrous necessity of telling Dora what my worldly condition was, and releasing her from her engagement if she thought fit; about how I should contrive to live, during the long term of my articles, when I was earning nothing; about doing something to assist my aunt, and seeing no way of doing anything; about coming down to have no money in my pocket, and to wear a shabby coat, and to be able to carry Dora no little presents, and to ride no gallant greys, and to show myself in no agreeable light!”

David spirals into despair after he learns that his family has lost their money and that he will have to assume a humble job in order to support himself, his aunt, and Mr. Dick so that they do not fall into further ruin. More than anything else, he is notably horrified at the prospect of Mr. Spenow discovering his reversal of fortune because he does not think that Mr. Spenlow will consent to his daughter marrying a poor man.

“They are as well, ma’am… as Aliens and Outcasts can ever hope to be.”

This short but powerful line is spoken by Mr. Micawber after Betsey Trotwood enquires after the Micawber family. Mr. Micawber classifies himself and his family members as “Aliens and Outcasts” because their lack of fortune has ostracized them from society. Mr. Micawber’s observation ultimately becomes prophetic because he and his family only obtain security after they emigrate to Australia. This implies that there was no place for them in their home country because England’s class structure is too rigid for poor families to advance their stations.