Miserable little propitiators of a remorseless Idol, how abject we were to him!

Category: Mind | Type: Discussion | Title: David Copperfield (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens | Ch: My 'First Half' at Salem House

The succinct statement describes the micro-world of a wretched little school that reinforces the humiliations of the English class system. The boys learn servility just as the poor and working classes pull their forelocks and doff their hats before their "betters."  

Dickens notes that subjugation and fear do not make a child view compassionately the sufferings of one's fellows. A sentence in the next paragraph records David's morbid interest in his schoolmate's punishment:  "I don't watch his eye in idleness, but because I am morbidly attracted to it, in a dread desire to know what he will do next...." Dickens may be drawing on his horror at the crowd and perhaps at himself when he was a spectator at an execution. 

Why did parents send their children to such a place? Did they not know? Yet a good many of the fathers must have had a similar experience. Murdstone supplies an insight. He defends his beating of David by saying how he too was beaten. Abuse spawns abuse.

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