David's mother--caring/loving but incapable of protecting him (scene holding up her baby). Other mothers/substitute mothers--Peggotty, Aunt Betsy, Mrs. Micawber, Mrs. Steerforth, Mrs. Heep, Mrs. Markleham
David's father--not practical--rookery. Other fathers/substitute fathers--Mr. Murdstone, Mr. Micawber, Mr. Peggotty
What is the effect of incapable/incompetent parents? David's (Dickens's) desire to change his parents?
The novel presents a fully realized "world" jammed with details--senses
Individual can shape his own fate--based on hard work and determination
Individual experience rather than general patterns/types (Fielding)
Characters/Naming--Individuals defined by time and place//inner life and psychology
Creating the self through writing; writer as parent who gives birth to himself. (Dickens's statement about DC as his favorite child.) Interplay of memory and imagination--ordering and interpreting the past to make it congruent with the present and future.
Family & Childhood
How is family defined? The Peggottys, Aunt Betsy and Mr. Dick?
Shared hardship and mutual love/concerns
Romantic/Victorian conceptions of the child (natural innocence/innate sinfulness)/child's view of the world--injustice, tyranny of adults, imagination, guilt, fear
Social History & Criticism
Food--denying it/food as a moral register
Prison reform--Mr. Creakle/Heep/Littimer
Law--Doctor's Commons--legal system as a game/language of legal documents/writing
Gender roles (domesticity)
Colonialism--Murdstone and Grinby's (trading)/Jack Maldon (India)
Language & Representation
Tyranny of language (758)--how effectively does language represent the world/ideas it describes? Words rebel, meaning is uncertain. Gaps occur in David's narrative that question its appearance of coherence and closure. (See Handout)
Steerforth, Littimer, Heep, Emily, Mr. Mell/David's assumptions about his own position and his views of others. Is class necessary for society to function? In the novel?
Position of Women
Little Em'ly--transcending class and repressed sexuality--elope with Steerforth--freedom/Aunt Betsy--bad marriage--abuse/Agnes--domestic angel--cares for father/Dora--"trained" to be charming and pretty/David's mother
"a wax doll"/Annie Strong--marriage market
How is marriage presented in the novel? Aunt Betsy? David's mother and father? The Micawbers?
Peggotty and Barkis? David and Dora?
Annie and Dr. Strong? Think of Annie's comment about marriage (Emma). Are these marriages of unequals or incompatible partners?
Do we see change or growth in some?
Then, there is Traddles and Sophia, David and Agnes. Is David's marriage a convenient way to try to close his narrative? To affirm what it has been moving towards from the opening of the novel? Is Agnes a real person (Dora?) or an idealized angel who fulfills the domestic role that defines her as wife/mother? Is Dickens's view of women limited?
What difference does gender make in a text? How does a text represent the social construction of gender? Does the text support and/or challenge that construction?
Sex--biology//Gender--socially constructed (even this division is open to scrutiny)
Traditional literary canons--men writing about women/female authorship--"anxiety of influence"
Gynocriticism--women's literature in its own right