David Copperfield

by: Charles Dickens

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Sea

The sea represents an unknown and powerful force in the lives of the characters in David Copperfield, and it is almost always connected with death. The sea took Little Em’ly’s father in an unfortunate accident over which she had no control. Likewise, the sea takes both Ham and Steerforth. The sea washes Steerforth up on the shore—a moment that symbolizes Steerforth’s moral emptiness, as the sea treats him like flotsam and jetsam. The storm in the concluding chapters of the novel alerts us to the danger of ignoring the sea’s power and indicates that the novel’s conflicts have reached an uncontrollable level. Like death, the force of the sea is beyond human control. Humans must try to live in harmony with the sea’s mystical power and take precautions to avoid untimely death.

Flowers

Flowers represent simplicity and innocence in David Copperfield. For example, Steerforth nicknames David “Daisy” because David is naïve. David brings Dora flowers on her birthday. Dora forever paints flowers on her little canvas. When David returns to the Wickfields’ house and the Heeps leave, he discovers that the old flowers are in the room, which indicates that the room has been returned to its previous state of simplicity and innocence. In each of these cases, flowers stand as images of rebirth and health—a significance that points to a springlike quality in characters associated with their blossoms. Flowers indicate fresh perspective and thought and often recall moments of frivolity and release.

Mr. Dick’s Kite

Mr. Dick’s enormous kite represents his separation from society. Just as the kite soars above the other characters, Mr. Dick, whom the characters believe to be insane, stands apart from the rest of society. Because Mr. Dick is not a part of the social hierarchies that bind the rest of the characters, he is able to mend the disagreement between Doctor and Mrs. Strong, which none of the other characters can fix. The kite’s carefree simplicity mirrors Mr. Dick’s own childish innocence, and the pleasure the kite offers resembles the honest, unpretentious joy Mr. Dick brings to those around him.