Character Sketch of Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield

What kind of father was Mr. Murdstone?

Mr. Murdstone plays an important role as David’s step-father as David’s father died before he was born. David has never encountered the company of another man in the house and soon finds out that he hates these arrangements. This is important because in a Victorian household once a man had married a woman all of her possessions would become his by law and he would also have total control over David and Miss Murdstone. We first meet Mr. Murdstone when David’s mother returns home with him and David seems very reluctant in meeting him and buries his head into his mother’s chest, once again Mr. Murdstone tries to approach David and once he buries his head into his mother’s chest.

The book quotes “I didn’t like him or his deep voice, and I was jealous that his hand should touch my mother’s in touching me – which it did” at this point David shows a child’s intuition that Mr. Murdstone is not to be trusted. At the same point the book again quotes “ill omen, black eyes” David glances quickly at Mr. Murdstone and immediately is attracted to his large, dull, lifeless black eyes, which have negative implications because the eyes are said to be the windows to the soul. However, only David can see this and Clara doesn’t she thinks Mr. Murdstone is a kind and caring man.

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At first, Mr. Murdstone is a kind person but he is pretending, somehow only David can see straight through this act and see the real Mr. Murdstone when he first meets David. However, this act is short-lived and soon he is trying to separate David and Clara, this is shown when David is told he has a new father, David is extremely disappointed with his mother’s decision to marry Mr. Murdstone and hates the thought of having him as a father or someone in authority over David and Clara.

David hates the thought of meeting him in the room with him and his mother but soon enters to see his mother. David is delighted to see her and so is Clara who drops her books to hug David. Mr. Murdstone is disgusted at Clara’s actions and shouts, “Recollect! Control yourself, always control yourself! Davy boy how do you do?” This is where we see Mr. Murdstone’s true character in front of both David and Clara. David is surprised at this burst of anger and shows signs of unhappiness.

Mr. Murdstone is very manipulative which is shown as David says to himself “I knew as well that he could mold her pliant nature into any form he chose”. These actions affect David dearly as it is his first experience of discipline from a man. He has always done what he wished and only his mother and Peggoty to correct him, now that Mr. Murdstone is Clara’s husband he is legally the guardian of David and owner of all Clara’s possessions. Mr. Murdstone’s true ways are unleashed when David fails to learn his Latin. As David is being beaten he cannot stand the pain and bites Mr. Murdstone on the finger, breaking the skin causing it to bleed David is reluctant to let go. David is sent away for his actions on Mr. Murdstone to a boarding school. David is there for over 9 months and when he returns he finds his mother holding a baby, who is David’s brother. David is ecstatic at the news and says “I wish I’d died with the good feeling in his heart” saying that he wish he’d died is an extreme thing to say and shows that his life is not worth living anymore.

David is soon sent back to school by Mr. Murdstone because he thinks David should be punished more severely for his actions towards Mr. Murdstone, but is interrupted halfway through the term and is shocked to find his mother and brother have died, David is unbelievably upset and is suddenly rejected by Mr & Miss. Murdstone as they think that David should have died instead and Clara and the baby. David is punished by being deprived of education and is sent to work at a factory sticking labels on bottles. I think this punishment is a lot worse than the beatings because the beatings will stop later on in life, but not having an education will haunt him for the rest of his life as he will not be able to get a job that pays suitable money for his well being.

Miss. Murdstone who is Mr. Murdstone’s sister invites herself the house “A gloomy looking lady she was; dark, like her brother who she greatly resembled in face and voice” “she brought with her two uncompromising hard, black boxes, she took her money out of a hard steel purse and a bag with hard steel chains” these quotes suggest she is less feminine and a cold, hard woman who emulates her brother both physically and emotionally. She emulates her brother because she wants to be a man with power and authority just like her brother. David has been locked in his room and for biting Mr. Murdstone and Miss. Murdstone is given the role of a prison guard and is in charge of David by giving him food every day consisting of bread, milk and meat. “Miss. Murdstone came in with some bread, milk and meat and without saying a word walks back out locking the door behind her” she enjoys the role of prison guard as she is now in control she is also in charge of heavy, cold keys which reflect her personality, very similar to that of Mr. Murdstone.

Miss. Betsey Trotwood is David’s aunt and we first see her when Clara is in labour. Miss. “I have no doubts that it will be a girl” Betsey Trotwood is positive that Clara’s baby will be a girl. She doesn’t want a boy because she has had too many bad experiences with men in the past “He was strongly accused of beating her”, Because of these experiences she now hates men and couldn’t stand the thought of a male in the family. When Clara went into labour Miss. Betsey Trotwood couldn’t stand the screams of pain so closed her ears with cotton wool balls. She may have thought that the screams would have reminded her of her pain when she was beaten. When the baby turned out to be a girl she couldn’t handle the truth “my aunt never said a word, but took her bonnet by the strings, in the manner of a sling, aimed a blow at Mr. Chillip’s (The Doctor) head with it, put it on bent, walked out and never came back. She vanished like a discontented fairy”.

David has never met Miss Betsey Trotwood but goes in search of her, as she is the only family David has got. David finds her and is surprised to realise the she welcomes him into her home. David tells her why he is here and what has happened at home. She decides to arrange for Mr. Murdstone to come down to meet David. This is a different side to Miss Betsey Trotwood as earlier in the story she was disgusted at the fact that her nephew was a boy, but now she accepts David. “I said that I had been more miserable than I thought anybody could” David is expressing his true feelings about Mr & Miss Murdstone.

When they turn up they are willing to take David home but he insists that he wants to stay and Miss. Betsey Trotwood say to them “you can go when you like; I’ll take my chance with the boy” Miss. Betsey Trotwood is telling all of Mr. Murdstone’s faults to his face and is not scared of what he has to say. Mr. Murdstone cannot stand all of this being said to him and walks away, Miss Murdstone stands up to Mr. Murdstone and shows that she is a stronger woman than he is a man. This shows that she has overcome her ‘fear’ of men from earlier in her life.

My conclusion of the book is that Mr. Murdstone has the greatest effect on David’s life as he is the first man he has ever had in his life as his father died before he was born. Now he is feeling the pain and un-comfortableness of another man in the house. Not only this, Mr. Murdstone drove David’s mother in to depression which most probably helped to kill her, David was now on his own and couldn’t stand all of the punishment from Mr. Murdstone and so decided to run away to his aunt’s house. However, if David’s mother met another person things would have turned out differently and David would have led a normal life with his new kind stepfather and his mother and possible more brothers and sisters. This is why I think Mr. Murdstone had the biggest impact on David’s life.

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