To completely understand and interpret David Copperfields relationships with Uriah Heep and James Steerforth in the novel, David Copperfield, it is essential to look to his childhood. David Copperfields childhood was filled with intense mixtures of pain and agony and love and care. He was born to only a very loving mother, his father having passed away before his birth. Davids relationship with his dear mother and maid, Peggoty, build his foundation of life on love and happiness.
Unfortunately his wonderful childhood is interrupted by the introduction of a new character to his life. David has a new and dreadful father, Mr. Murdstone. Soon after their introduction into Davids life, the Murdstones take over Mrs. Copperfield both physiologically and physically. David is sent away, at a very young age to harsh living environments smashing his childhood to pieces. His childhood memories altered every relationship he had from then forth.
As David approached the Wickfields residence for the first time he noticed the strange figure of Uriah Heep first peering through the window and then observed his character first hand soon after. Uriah was depicted as a serpent-like man, with uncanny features to his person. David at first became attracted to Uriah, intrigued by his mysteriousness. Soon David could see through Uriahs umble scheme of making others feel pity for him, and then stabbing them in the back. David became disgusted with Uriahs character and nearly found him unbearable.
David waited for every moment to justly criticize Uriah. In one scene in a time of great pressure, Uriah opened himself to the Wickfields and David telling them of his secret love for Agnes and his intention to marry her. With this David became enraged and furious at the thought of Uriah repulsive fingers touching Agnes, his sister-like friend and following other comments from Heep he hit him. Heeps character is fully revealed, as he is caught red-handed stealing money from Ms. Trotwood. He is sent to jail where he can be among his umble people.
David visits him in jail and speaks with him in front of Mr. Creakle, the superintendent. Uriah centers the conversation around his now not so umble self, claiming he is a better person and, in fact, better than his former employer and his family, the Wickfields. But David is far too understanding of Uriahs nature and can see through him like glass. He realizes that Uriahs scheme is to convince the warden to release him and to suggest that the Wickfields be omitted to be purified.
Uriah also mentions his quarrels with David, suggesting that he was the victim and he gives David his forgiveness. Uriahs character is one that deceitfully makes a person to feel sorry for his background and situation, gaining that persons sympathy, but soon after his true motives and personality are discovered. This was the exact case with David and the entire Wickfield family and their relations find, as Dickens himself describes, he is nothing more than a snake.
Heroes is a major theme of the novel, almost every character has a hero of some significance, each in their own respects. David has many, but as a child he has but one, that is Steerforth. David meets Steerforth in his new school, Salem House. Steerforth, an older boy whom is very wealth in held in high respect among the students, immediately takes David under his wing. With the consent of David he receives privileges over his spending money and uses it to throw a party for David, to help David fit in. David looks up to Steerforth seeing him as an idol and he becomes very attracted to Steerforths overwhelming charm and handsome face.
Steerforth is quite significantly the opposite of the repressed and timid people David had previously grown up with. Throughout the book, Davids love for Steerforth grows, which is noteworthy considering Davids rather shy personality and relatively few loves. Likewise with Uriah, David can see and recognize all of Steerforths flaws in character. He views Steerforth as being egocentric but his greatest flaw is his amazing record of ruining lives.
After David leaves the Salem House their relationship is suspended until they, almost by destiny, run into each other. They make plans and immediately become as close as they were back in the Salem House, as if they had never left. David invites him to meet the Pegottys in Yarmouth. When they arrive Steerforth immediately falls for Emily, who is previously engaged in marriage to Ham. David, knowing Steerforths other personality, predicts his actions with Emily. Steerforth and Emily did indeed runaway together fulfilling Davids expectation. Just before the two left, Steerforth told David of his horrible flaws.
He shared a great intimacy with David opening his shameful side to him. Soon after their running away, Steerforth is caught in a great storm in his yacht just off the Yarmouth coast. During the storm a rescue operation is conducted to try and save the yachts passengers. While the whole town gazed in astonishment and wondered who it was, David already knew, he could feel it inside his heart. The following day, after the storm had passed, Steerforths body washed ashore.
As David was called to the shore to identify the body he recognized Steerforth, and despite all the troubles and hardships he had caused he stilled loved Steerforth deeply. But he led me to the shore. And on that part of it where she and I had looked for shells, two children – on that part of it where some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down last night, had been scattered by the wind – among the ruins of the home he had wronged – I saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school. (Dickens p. 790) David reminisced about his childhood with Steerforth, remembering all that Steerforth was and his love was immediately reestablished.
Steerforth and Uriah masked many of their true personalities to attempt to lead people away from them, but both were as transparent as glass to David. David was able to weed through their false faces and recognize the truth in their life.