David Copperfield Model Paper
Social Status and Uriah Heep’s Intentional Misnaming of David Copperfield
Naming is important in defining identities, as a name is not merely a word but it indicates the person himself. David has a lot of different names, such as ‘Copperfull’, ‘Doady’, ‘Daisy’ and more. Each character has his or her own way of calling him, which suggests the relationship with him. For example, Peggotty calls him ‘Master Davy’. This shows her affection for David by calling him by the diminutive, ‘Davy’, and her respect for him by calling him with a title, ‘Master’. As for Uriah Heep, his way of addressing David seems somewhat different from the usual rule of naming. His confusion about calling David ‘Mister’ and ‘Master’ seems to be intentional, as he used to call him ‘Master Copperfield’ when they first met each other, but he pretends to be unable to adapt to calling him ‘Mister’ now that he has grown up. Uriah’s intentional misnaming of David suggests that he sees David’s social status rather than David himself. This can be seen from how Uriah is conscious of David’s social class from an early period, when he says that he has always thought of David as an ‘upstart’ (p. 645). His consciousness of David’s successful life brings him to see his own life circumstances as inferior. Therefore, Uriah seeks for something that can belittle David, which is his remembrance of David as a boy. Even though David grows up, he is hesitant to call him ‘Mister Copperfield’. In addition, Uriah’s misnaming of David brings a form of ironic mockery, which makes him feel he controls David by seeing David agitated. Uriah’s misnaming suggests his consciousness of David’s social status, and is an effort to make him feel that he can be superior to David in maturity.
Uriah never feels good about David since they meet for the first time. Uriah tells him that Uriah has ‘always hated’ him and ‘always been against’ him (p. 645). Even though David has not done anything wrong, his presence is not pleasant for Uriah. It can be assumed that his hatred does not stem from David himself, but from his social status. This is because David has a prestigious vocation and a wife, without making much effort. As Uriah suffered when he was at school, he learnt ‘umbleness’ is a way to become successful in society. He does have a profession as a clerk, but compared to a proctor it is not so prestigious. As for David, he is young but has a career. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that Uriah dislikes David. The difference of life circumstances between them makes Uriah realize that he is not rewarded for his ‘umble’ attitude. When they meet each other for the first time David is still immature, because he is still a boy.
By calling the grown-up David ‘Master Copperfield’ instead of ‘Mister Copperfield’ Uriah tries to make David inadequate, because David possesses most of the things to maintain his social status. If he changes to calling David ‘Mister Copperfield’, it means that he admits that David is mature. This would result in recognizing David as a complete gentleman in society. As Uriah is already inferior to him in social status, at least he wants to be superior to him in maturity. This is the reason why he pretends to be confused in calling David when using a title. In fact, he knows that it is inappropriate to use ‘Master’. His pretense of confusion is shown when he stays at David’s apartment, and says ‘Master Copperfield --- I mean Mister Copperfield’ several times (p. 322). In addition, his misnaming makes David feel agitated by his mocking irony. Uriah is trying to be ‘umble’ by being obedient to him, but his misnaming David and the repetition of calling him ‘Master Copperfield’ are persistent. In fact, David ‘disliked him intensely’ (p. 322), and his emotion is somewhat controlled by Uriah’s trick. He makes fun of him, and he likes to see him agitated, as he feels that he is controlling him. In addition, names in Victorian English suggest social status and affection of rank and sentiment. Therefore, it is reasonable for him to become conscious of how to call David in order not to feel his inferiority in society. It is interesting that when the conversation draws to an end, Uriah no longer even attempts to call him ‘Mister Copperfield’ but simply calls him ‘Master Copperfield’ without correcting himself. He gradually does it, and controls David’s feelings.
In conclusion, Uriah’s intentional misnaming of David suggests how he feels inferior to David in social status. By calling the mature David ‘Master Copperfield’, he can indicate that David is inexperienced even though he is an adult. As Carmichael suggests that every character has ‘a particular relationship to language’, Uriah tries to degrade him by misnaming him ‘Master Copperfield’. His consciousness of David’s social status allows him to compare it with his own, and to feel how unfair life is. Looking at the reaction of David after he is misnamed, his agitation suggested in his aversion to Uriah shows that he is actually controlled by him. Uriah’s attempt to misname David indicates his awareness of inferiority in society through looking at David’s social status, and he tries to maintain his superiority over David by addressing him as if he were still immature.
COMMENT: This is good, though I would like to see more reference to a
wider variety of research sources. There are just one or two points I’d
like to make. Just before David physically attacks David (chapter 42)
Uriah has (as usual) called him “Master Copperfield”. Just after the
attack he calls him plain “Copperfield” four times. They don’t meet
again until the occasion when Mr. Micawber denounces Uriah, and again
he calls him plain “Copperfield” several times, the last one being when
he tells him that he has always hated him. The next time David sees
Uriah is when Uriah is in prison, and now he addresses David as “Mr.
Copperfield”. If you use the Gutenberg online text and search through
it using the “Find” function you can find out this kind of thing quite
There are thus four stages in Uriah’s manner of addressing David. He calls him “Master Copperfield” when he is a child, and continues to call him “Master Copperfield”, apologizing for not using “Mister”, while he is a young man. When their enmity is at its height he shows his true nature, just calling him “Copperfield” and then at the end calls him “Mr. Copperfield”.
The second stage coincides with the period when David himself feels insecure in his adult status, something which can also be seen from the way Littimer makes him feel so young. The fact that Uriah calls David “Mr.” at the end shows that now David really is an adult, and cannot be made to feel inferior or callow any more. And, after all, that is what the story is all about; it is a Bildungsroman.
・Bottum, Joseph, ‘The Gentleman’s True Name: David Copperfield and the Philosophy of Naming’, in Nineteenth-Century Literature, 49.4 (1995)
・Carmichael, Virginia, ‘Nom/Non du Pere in David Copperfield’, in ELH, 54.3, (1987) <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2873225>
・Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 2000)
TEACHER COMMENT: You really need more research sources than this for a 1000-word paper. Aim for about 6 secondary sources in a paper of this length.
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