Life and Career of Mr. Micawber in Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’: Great Comic Character Second Only to Shakespeare’s Falstaff

Mr. Micawber, one of the outstanding characters in Dickens’David Copperfield is a man of kindly, genial nature. Some critics say that he is a pen-portrait of Dickens’ own father. However it may be, there can be no denying the fact that he “is the type of a whole race of men who will not vanish from the earth as long as the hope which lives eternal in the human breast is only temporarily suspended by the laws of debtors and creditors.” A kindlier and merrier a more humorous and more generous character was never conceived than this.

He is one of these optimistic souls who are always waiting for something to turn up, and who are able to maintain their cheerfulness and good spirits despite poverty, debt and imprisonment. Mr. Micawber is typical of those good-for-nothing fellows who are never able to make anything in life, but still manage to live, largely as result of the bounty and generosity of friends, secured for them by their genial and generous temperament.

Mr. Micawber is an immense figure of fun, a great comic character second only to Shakespeare’s Falstaff. As G. K Chesterton says, “If Falstaff is the greatest comic character in literature, Mr. Micawber is the best but one.” One cannot help laughing at the way in which he would make motions at himself, when some creditor would abuse and threaten him, but a moment later would go out cheerfully whistling a merry tune, with an air of greater respectability than ever’ before. The comicality of his character is further heightened by the wife of his bosom, always with a twin at her breast, and always determined never to desert her husband. His sense of humour comes to his rescue even in most trying circumstances. He never loses hope and cheerfulness and radiates joy and happiness around. He carries with him a perpetual sunshine and all those who come in contact with him, bask in it.

Mr. Micawber is a man kindly, sympathetic, and helpful. During his first meeting with David at the warehouse of Murdstone and Grimsby, he offers to come again and take David to his residence, for he knows that David has not been long in London and might forget his way. It is the company of Mr. Micawber, and that of his family, which makes David bear his wretched life in London. Even though he was himself in great financial difficulties, he tried to make David comfort bid in every possible way, and while shifting to prison, took care to make suitable arrangements for lodging.

Charles Dickens by Daniel Maclise
Mr. Micawber is honest to the core and he retains his honesty, despite grinding poverty and crushing weight of debt. Though he lives on debt and borrows money whenever he can— he borrows even from David— he tries his best to repay his creditors. There is never an attempt on his part to cheat them, or to deny his debts. He could unearth all the wicked schemes of Uriah Heep, he could find out that he had cheated Betsy Trotwood by forging the signatures of Mr. Wickfield on certain documents. Had he liked, he could have packed cards with Uriah Heep and thus make much profit for himself, but he does never think in these terms. No thought of personal aggrandizement ever crosses his mind. Rather, he comes to the aid of Betsy Trotwood, exposes Uriah Heep and has him brought to book. He acts nobly, selflessly, and brings hope and comfort not only to Miss Trotwood, but also to Agnes and her wretched father — all helpless victims of the poisonous Heep.

In the end, Mr. Micawber’s virtue and goodness is suitably rewarded and he becomes a successful Magistrate in Australia. Critic after critic has criticized this sudden conversion of Micawber as inconsistent with his previous character and, therefore unconvincing and a serious fault. There is no doubt that till now he had been a lazy, good for nothing fellow who could not earn an honest penny. But this was largely owing to the fact that he never got a suitable opening in life. That he had the necessary intelligence and resourcefulness is clearly shown, by the clever way in which he precedes in the Uriah Heep affairs. He goes through the documents and collects all the relevant evidence under the very nose of Heep, without exciting the least suspicion. He denounces him with great tact and boldness, does not permit him sent to the lock-up. No wonder that he could become successful as a magistrate in Australia.


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