The novel is a clear example of a Bildungsroman, or novel of development. A Bildungsroman most often features a male protagonist over a number of years as he comes of age, builds his character, and learns how to craft a successful life for himself, usually among the middle class. A novel in this genre typically ends with professional success, marriage, or both. There were plenty of Bildungsromans in English and in other languages before Dickens wrote David Copperfield, but this novel fits into the genre extraordinarily well. It not only tells the story of David Copperfield's life from birth through professional success and marriage, but it also spins each life event into a narrative of growth: even moments when things go badly, the adult narrator finds a way to justify how his entire life has prepared him for his literary career and marriage to Agnes.
As with many Bildungsromans, one of the chief concerns of the novel is money, both how to amass it, and how to spend it. David is surrounded by examples of people who have bad relationships to money. For instance, he learns from Mr. Micawber that it is important to make more money than he spends. He learns from Uriah Heep that it is a mistake to seek money at the expense of personal relationships. He learns from the Peggottys that poverty can make one's life very difficult. He learns from Dora that using money as an excuse not to work can lead to learned helplessness. On the other hand, he learns to follow the examples of other characters with positive relationships to money. Aunt Betsey teaches him to use money for the opportunities it offers but not let it make him complacent about the need to make something of himself. Traddles, meanwhile, teaches him that happiness doesn't directly correlate to wealth; rather, having just enough wealth for a few comforts is where happiness can best be achieved.
The novel is semi-autobiographical and is considered the most autobiographical of Dickens's novels. However, because the novel is so focused on the development narrative, there are clear places where Dickens deviates from his own life for the sake of the story. The novel is more inspired by the events of his life than faithful to them, and its focus is less on reporting real events than on conveying Dickens's personal ideas about class and social status.