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78 pages 2 hours read

Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1850

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Symbols & Motifs

Aquatic Imagery and Drowning

David Copperfield is filled with aquatic imagery. When David is born with a caul—a cap-like piece of fetal membrane around his head—his mother auctions it off to superstitious locals who believe a caul will protect them from drowning. This foreshadows the climactic deaths of David’s friends Steerforth and Ham, who both perish as the result of drowning.

 

The Peggotty family lives in a symbolically suggestive house fashioned from an old boat. This house sits right at the edge of the sea, in the space between land and water (and, metaphorically, between life and death). As David narrates his childhood experiences playing near this boat home with Little Em’ly, he muses that it might have been better for the sea to sweep Little Em’ly away when she was a girl, saving her from future hardship. As an adult, after escaping Littimer, Little Em’ly wanders deliriously along a beach in France, believing her family houseboat is just beyond the horizon. In this moment, Little Em’ly’s present and past merge.

 

Water is a symbol for death, or a pathway “to the other side.” When Mr. Barkis passes away. Mr. Peggotty remarks that Mr.

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