David Copperfield – An optimistic, diligent, and persevering character, he is the protagonist.
Clara Copperfield – David's kind mother, described as being innocently childish, who dies while David is at Salem House. She dies just after the birth of her second child, who dies along with her.
Peggotty – The faithful servant of the Copperfield family and a lifelong companion to David (referred to at times as Mrs. Barkis after her marriage to Mr. Barkis). Inherits £3,000—a large sum in the mid-19th century—when Mr. Barkis dies. After his death, she becomes Betsey Trotwood's servant.
Betsey Trotwood – David's eccentric and temperamental yet kindhearted great-aunt; she becomes his guardian after he runs away from Grinby and Murdstone's warehouse in Blackfriars (London). She is present on the night of David's birth but leaves after hearing that Clara Copperfield's child is a boy instead of a girl.
Mr. Chillip – A shy doctor who assists at David's birth and faces the wrath of Betsey Trotwood after he informs her that Clara's baby is a boy instead of a girl.
Mr. Barkis – An aloof carter who declares his intention to marry Peggotty. He says to David: "Tell her, 'Barkis is willin'!' Just so." He is a bit of a miser, and hides his surprisingly vast liquid wealth in a plain box labeled "Old Clothes". He bequeaths to his wife the then astronomical sum of £3,000 when he dies about ten years later.
Edward Murdstone – Young David's cruel stepfather, who canes him for falling behind in his studies. David reacts by biting Mr Murdstone, who then sends him to Salem House, the private school owned by his friend Mr. Creakle. After David's mother dies, Mr Murdstone sends him to work in a factory, where he has to clean wine bottles. He appears at Betsey Trotwood's house after David runs away. Mr Murdstone appears to show signs of repentance when confronted with Copperfield's aunt, but later in the book we hear he has married another young woman and applied his old principles of "firmness."
Jane Murdstone – Mr. Murdstone's equally cruel sister, who moves into the Copperfield house after Mr. Murdstone marries Clara Copperfield. She is the "Confidential Friend" of David's first wife, Dora Spenlow, and encourages many of the problems that occur between David Copperfield and Dora's father, Mr. Spenlow. Later, she rejoins her brother and his new wife in a relationship very much like the one they had with David's mother.
Daniel Peggotty – Peggotty's brother; a humble but generous Yarmouth fisherman who takes his nephew Ham and niece Emily into his custody after each of them has been orphaned. After Emily's departure, he travels around the world in search of her. He eventually finds her in London, and after that they emigrate to Australia.
Emily (Little Em'ly) – A niece of Mr. Peggotty. She is a childhood friend of David Copperfield, who loves her in his childhood days. She leaves her cousin and fiancé, Ham, for Steerforth, but returns after Steerforth deserts her. She emigrates to Australia with Mr. Peggotty after being rescued from a London brothel.
Ham Peggotty – A good-natured nephew of Mr. Peggotty and the fiancé of Emily before she leaves him for Steerforth. He later loses his life while attempting to rescue a sailor, who happens to be Steerforth, from a shipwreck. His death is hidden from his family due to the fact that David does not want them to worry on the brink of their journey.
Mrs. Gummidge – The widow of Daniel Peggotty's partner in a boat. She is a self-described "lone, lorn creetur" who spends much of her time pining for "the old 'un" (her late husband). After Emily runs away from home with Steerforth, she changes her attitude to better comfort everyone around her and tries to be very caring and motherly. She too emigrates to Australia with Dan and the rest of the surviving family.
Mr. Creakle – The harsh headmaster of young David's boarding school, who is assisted by Tungay. Mr. Creakle is a friend of Mr. Murdstone. He singles out David for extra torment. Later he becomes a Middlesex magistrate, and is considered enlightened for his day.
James Steerforth – A close friend of David, he is of a romantic and charming disposition and has known David ever since his first days at Salem House. Although well-liked by most, he proves himself to be lacking in character by seducing and later abandoning Little Em'ly. He eventually drowns at Yarmouth with Ham Peggotty, who had been trying to rescue him.
Tommy Traddles – David's friend from Salem House. They meet again later and become eventual lifelong friends. Traddles works hard but faces great obstacles because of his lack of money and connections. He eventually succeeds in making a name and a career for himself.
Wilkins Micawber – A gentle man who befriends David as a young boy. He suffers from much financial difficulty and even has to spend time in a debtor's prison. Eventually he emigrates to Australia where he enjoys a successful career as a magistrate. He is based on Dickens' father.
Mr. Dick (Richard Babley) – A slightly deranged, rather childish but amiable man who lives with Betsey Trotwood. His madness is amply described in as much as that he claims to have the "trouble" of King Charles I in his head.
Dr. Strong – The headmaster of David's Canterbury school, whom he visits on various occasions.
Anne Strong – The young wife of Dr. Strong. Although she remains loyal to him, she fears that he suspects that she is involved in an affair with Jack Maldon.
Jack Maldon – A cousin and childhood sweetheart of Anne Strong. He continues to bear affection for her and tries to seduce her into leaving Dr. Strong.
Mr. Wickfield – The father of Agnes Wickfield and lawyer to Betsey Trotwood. He is prone to alcoholism.
Agnes Wickfield – Mr. Wickfield's mature and lovely daughter and close friend of David since childhood. She later becomes David's second wife and mother of their children.
Uriah Heep – A wicked young man who serves as partner to Mr. Wickfield. He is finally discovered to have stolen money and is imprisoned as a punishment. He always talks of being "'umble" (humble) and nurtures a deep hatred of David Copperfield and many others.
Mrs. Steerforth – The wealthy widowed mother of James Steerforth. She herself is incredibly like her son.
Miss Dartle – A strange, vitriolic woman who lives with Mrs. Steerforth. She has a secret love for Steerforth and blames others such as Emily and even Steerforth's own mother for corrupting him. She is described as being extremely skinny and displays a visible scar on her lip caused by Steerforth. She is also Steerforth's cousin.
Mr. Spenlow – An employer of David's during his days as a proctor and the father of Dora Spenlow. He dies suddenly of a heart attack while driving his phaeton home.
Dora Spenlow – The delightful but naive daughter of Mr. Spenlow who becomes David's first wife. She is described as being impractical and with many similarities to David's mother. She dies of illness on the same day as her dog, Jip.
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