Charles Dickens Views About Class in the Novel “Great Expectations” Essay Sample
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Introduction of TOPIC
The novel, “Great Expectations” is deemed to be one of the greatest English classic novels of the literary heritage. Charles Dickens, the author of Great Expectations is thought to be one of history’s finest writers and has contributed to English literature in many ways. ‘Great Expectations’ is Dickens’ thirteenth novel and is based loosely on his own experiences. He did this with many of his novels, including his partly auto-biographical piece, “David Copperfield” (with Dickens’s own negligent mother and father being closely depicted in his character, David’s parents).
“All the Year Round” was a magazine that Charles Dickens had founded. In late 1860, the sales of the magazine were dropping, and so Dickens began publishing “Great Expectations” in the magazine in December to increase sales.
“Great Expectations” displays many of Dickens’s ideas and views which were the results of experiences in his life. Dickens’s family was never well off and in fact, John Dickens, Charles Dickens’s father, was sent to Marshalsea Debtors Prison when Charles Dickens was only twelve. As was the tradition in those days, Charles Dickens was sent, along with the rest of his family to work in a factory to help repay his father’s debt. This changed the way he viewed poverty and this view is displayed in “Great Expectations”.
The story evolves around the life of Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, who is the protagonist and the narrator. We meet him as a young boy who one day encounters an escaping convict and helps him. He then grows up to have ‘great expectations’ as an unknown benefactor provides him with the luxuries of a gentleman’s life, of which Pip has dreamt, since meeting the beautiful and apparently upper-class Estella.
This story deals with life in the Victorian times; crime and punishment, social status, prejudice and love – all of these issues apply even now. In the Victorian times, there was a lack of social mobility, meaning that it was difficult to move from one class to the next. There were three classes which were determined by parentage. The aristocracy were those with wealth and power. The middle-class were managers, who if they were exceedingly successful, could become rich but it was hard to adapt to the habits and behaviour of the aristocracy. Unfortunately for those who were working class (undertaking manual labour), it was almost a fruitless struggle to try. Pip’s life shows how one individual has moved from the working class to becoming a ‘gentleman’. This essay will be concentrating on the way Dickens portrays class in “Great Expectations”.
The story is a fictional autobiography of Pip who narrates the story of his life when he is an adult. Because of this, there are “two” Pips – Pip the narrator, who tells us the story many years after the events and Pip the child, who acts out the events as they are taking place. We know this, as Pip the narrator often uses adult vocabulary to speak of his childhood. He uses words such as “interlocutor” to describe the convict – it is not the type of word a young child would use. Pip reflects on the way he viewed the small graves for his brothers in chapter one, ‘unreasonably’, which show that he realises now that at the time it was absurd for him to have thought that his brothers were buried ‘on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets’. He now recognises that this was not the case.
I think this is an effective way of telling the story, as Dickens uses the two perspectives to add prophetic remarks and at the same time, to keep vital information from us as the mystery unfolds. Pip, as the adult narrator, knows that the convict, Magwitch is in fact the unknown benefactor, but chooses to hide the truth, until the time when Pip the young man finds out. If he were to reveal to us who the benefactor was, as soon as he receives the money, there would be no mystery to the story.
The book starts with Pip, the narrator, telling us about his family. His father, mother and five younger brothers are deceased and his only living relative and guardian is his older sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who is married to the local blacksmith. The fact that many of his family members are dead suggests to us that he was from a poor family because, in the Victorian times, diseases were easily spread and there was little medical help. It was hard to maintain your health if you did not have sufficient funds.
When Miss Havisham, an “immensely rich” lady bent on revenge towards men after being jilted on her wedding day, invited young Pip to her manor “to play”, Mrs. Joe who was eager to climb the social ladder, as many were in those days, is thrilled at the prospects of mixing with someone higher than her usual circle. She “encourages” (though a more correct term would be “forced”) Pip to go to Satis House to play and prepares Pip as if it were a visit to royalty. She “soaped, and kneaded, and towelled, and thumped, and harrowed and rasped” Pip in preparation for the visit. Mrs. Joe wanted to make a good impression on Miss Havisham.
I think this was a selfish thing to do, as she was only using Pip as a means of getting what she wanted. These days, I think that this attitude can still be found – you still find ambitious people in the world who are just like Mrs. Joe and will use others in order to achieve their desires.
Satis House is the home of Miss Havisham. It was once a thriving beautiful manor with a brewery attached to it, which was her source of wealth. But all this stopped half a decade earlier, when Miss Havisham was abandoned on her wedding day by Compeyson. Since this sorrowful event, she has lived her life in that single moment when she received the news – the clocks remain at twenty-to-nine, she wears her yellowed bridal gown and only one shoe because this was how it was when she learnt of the betrayal. She became obsessed with wreaking vengeance upon the male sex and adopted Estella, to break men’s hearts.
The house itself is enormous and furnished richly (though it is now slipping to decay with cobwebs and dust, due to the Miss Havisham’s desire to stop time) and compared to Pip’s own house, truly a mansion but a dirty one.
Satis House was aptly named by Dickens from the word “enough” in Latin, but could Dickens really have meant the opposite? Is it really “enough” to be rich and grand? The house slowly falls into decay due to the lack of love and care. The house could be a symbol of how life needs more than riches to be satisfactory, which Pip learns later in life. I think this is how Dickens wanted “Satis House” to be interpreted, rather than Miss Havisham’s feeling of having had ‘enough’ of everything.
When Pip is fourteen, Miss Havisham tells Pip that he is to never return, as he is starting his blacksmith apprenticeship. This appears to seal Pip’s fate as a member of the working class, but after a glimpse of life at the upper-class at Miss Havisham’s, Pip has become reluctant to finalize his future as a blacksmith. He had fallen in love with the loveless Estella, and believed that if he were a “gentleman” Estella would be willing to love him in return.
Pip continues with his apprenticeship for a couple of years, until one day, an unknown benefactor provides him with the wealth and the chance to achieve his dream of becoming a gentleman. The definition of a “gentleman” is, “a man of chivalrous and fine feelings”, but when Pip goes to London to become one, his kind nature fades, and he becomes snobbish and arrogant, as he confesses openly.
In the Victorian times, the term “gentleman” was indeed a difficult one to decipher. An aristocrat was a “gentlemen” by right of birth, though being born rich does not necessarily make one benevolent. Others were “made” by growth of wealth and power through trades. But becoming rich isn’t what makes a “gentleman”, in its true sense. Was it fair that those (like Joe Gargery) who were truly “gentlemen” by nature were not recognised if they were poor, but those who were rich, yet maybe not as compassionate as the others were actually labelled a “gentleman”? When Pip was in London, his attitude was that of a “gentleman” of wealth, not by nature.
Pip is reunited in London with a past face from Miss Havisham’s, Herbert Pocket (“the pale young gentleman”) and the two become very close friends. Herbert, like Pip, wants to become rich in order to achieve his desires and so he plays an important part in Pip’s transformation into a “gentleman”. They both act the way they think rich people act.
After a while in London, Joe visits Pip to deliver a message from Miss Havisham. By this stage, Pip has lost his true “gentleman” like self and is embarrassed by Joe’s presence. Pip the narrator realises his snootiness, but Pip the young man, who is acting out the event, felt that Joe was not “proper” for London, and felt uncomfortable with this representative of the past he wanted hidden. Pip the narrator tells us that at the moment, “if I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money” which shows how his views have changed since living in London. The adult Pip displays himself in a very negative way at this point and there is a lot of honesty and confession. This suggests that the adult Pip understands that he was horrible at this point and is mature enough to admit it and feel regret. Joe, who attempted to dress up for Pip (quite like the way Pip for Miss Havisham), felt awkward in the clothes and senses Pip’s embarrassment. As a true gentleman, Joe dismisses himself, and wishes the hostile Pip blessings. At this point, we feel that Pip is incredibly rude and selfish. He is embarrassed by his roots, and our sympathy goes towards Joe.
Later on in the story, Pip learns that Abel Magwitch, the convict he helped in the past, is in fact his benefactor, having made money from years of hard work in Australia. Pip’s reaction to this news is not positive. On the contrary, he felt that he had been cheated. Pip had thought that the secret benefactor was Miss Havisham (helped by the false hints from Miss Havisham herself) and with this, he had no problems. It would have been fine if it had been Miss Havisham, as Pip had t
hought it was a plan of hers to prepare him to end up with Estella, but to have Magwitch, a convict,
But this was the first step to Pip’s elevation towards a true “gentleman”. He gradually warms to Magwitch and changes. He admires Magwitch’s kind and generous self and learns to behave in a similar way.
The way Pip changed so quickly and easily after becoming “nouveau riche” (newly rich) is the way Dickens suggests many would act upon the receipt of money. When someone suddenly becomes rich, it is difficult to remain the same and the change (if only temporary) is almost inevitable. Nowadays, I think that the same does not apply as much as it did back then. It really depends on the individual, but in general, people were more eager to climb up in society back then and so money would have changed them a lot, whereas these days, the ambitions of the individual would determine whether or not to choose to stay where they are, or to move into a different society.
Magwitch was a transported to Australia, which meant that if he were to return to England again, he would be executed. Pip, after warming to Magwitch, does not want this to happen, and so he tries to help the convict escape. Unfortunately, Compeyson, Miss Havisham’s ex-fiancï¿½ and an old enemy of Magwitch points him out to the police and Magwitch is caught and sentenced to death. I think Pip’s change of heart was caused by his realisation of Magwitch’s generosity over the past years but it was more than that. Pip may have realised that his reaction toward Magwitch as his benefactor was unfair (like he realises with his other childhood speculations) and understands that Magwitch did genuinely love him.
Magwitch dies before the hanging and, soon after his death; Pip falls ill and is taken back to the marshes to the care of Joe and Biddy. Pip recovers and is the changed man who tells the story.
Pip realised that one’s social position is not as important as he thought. He recognized that his attitude as a wealthy “gentleman” caused him to reject those who loved him the most. Once Pip learns these lessons, he becomes the Pip who is narrating the story.
Miss Havisham is a wealthy lady whose success came from the brewery attached to Satis House. The house itself is in decay, since the day Miss Havisham was forsaken on her wedding day, by Compeyson, a man who only used her for her wealth. The fact that she was able to “stop time” in the manor is a sign of her fortune. She is able to afford to keep the house the same as it was.
Miss Havisham is from the upper-class, though she was not born into aristocracy. Her decaying house perhaps mirrors her own gradual destruction.
After being jilted, Miss Havisham sought to wreak revenge upon all men by adopting and using Estella as a tool. She raised Estella out of her own selfish desires to hurt the men who fall in love with her beauty. She encourages Estella to “break men’s hearts” and Pip was just someone for Estella to practise on. Her plan was extremely cruel and ruined various lives, including her own.
Though I understand that she may have felt hostile towards men, there was no reason to involve others and destroy their lives, for her own feelings. Being left at the altar on her wedding day must have been a traumatic experience, and though I believe no-one should go through that shame, I do not believe that influencing someone to grow up to have the same views as her is at all right. I do not feel sorry for Miss Havisham, as she has done too much damage to others, as well as to her own life to be able to repent until it’s too late. Once Pip tells Miss Havisham that she has succeeded, she cries, “What have I done?” She understands that she was extremely wrong, but I don’t think this confession is enough to forgive her.
Bentley Drummle is of the aristocracy, ‘next in line to baronetcy’. He is everything a stereo-typical aristocrat is – “idle, proud, niggardly, reserved, suspicious and a blockhead.” Though he is a minor character in the novel, Drummle represents a key factor – class distinction. He is a “gentleman” by wealth, but not by nature. Drummle wants to marry Estella for her beauty and riches, which is to say that he is a very shallow man. He does not truly love Estella, and the marriage is not a happy one, as he mistreats her and they are miserable. The marriage fails in the end, due to Estella’s mission to break men’s hearts and because Drummle found out whose Estella’s real parents were – a convict and a murderess. After discovering this, Drummle abandons Estella because of his shallowness, and does not want others to know of his association to a criminal class. In the end, he dies in a riding accident because he mistreated a horse.
I think that Dickens had a negative view of money and those with status. Almost all the characters with wealth and social status in this novel end up destroyed. This could relate to the fact that Dickens, himself was initially subject to a life of poverty.
Joe Gargery is a character who is always represented by Pip in a positive light. Joe is loving and kind to Pip from the moment he is introduced; to the time when he nurses Pip back to health. He constantly gives out his love to his brother-in-law, even when he is not receiving any in return. Joe Gargery is a blacksmith, which places him in the working-class. But though he is of a lower-class, he is truly a “gentleman” by nature.
When he visits Pip in London, he realises that he is out of place. Joe knows that Pip is embarrassed by his presence and leaves telling Pip that they will never meet in London again. Unlike Mrs. Joe (who, by this time has died), Joe does not want to climb up the social ladder, which shows that he understands that there is more to life than mere ambition. Whilst in London, Joe feels that the gap between Pip and himself has grown further apart and Joe does not how to act towards Pip anymore. Joe actually calls Pip, “sir” as he is unaware of how he should act and behave in front of one who is socially higher than him.
Pip falls ill after Magwitch’s death and Joe, who has never stopped caring for Pip, brings him back to the marshes to care for him. We can see Joe has high morals and this can be linked to Eva Smith from “An Inspector Calls” – J.B Priestley, who was, like Joe, one of the working-class but with clearer morals than those belonging to others of higher-class.
Pip narrates this story and shows Joe in a favourable light, as if he were confessing his treatment towards Joe. Pip realises now that Joe had always been there and had always loved him and by writing Joe in such a positive way, he is trying to admit and atone for his mistakes.
I think this is an important aspect in life to recognise and to act upon, even today. People should not be judged on their class, money or even looks but on criteria other than these attributes. A person’s true self is only expressed through their compassion and personality, and Pip realises this through Magwitch and Joe.
Abel Magwitch, the convict and Pip’s secret benefactor is also the father of Estella (though we do not find this out until Magwitch is soon to die, which another example of the two perspectives and withholding information). Both these characters, father and daughter, try to escape their roots. Magwitch’s childhood was one of danger, poverty and loneliness. He was orphaned as a child and was forced into a life of crime. His description of his life was, “in jail and out of jail.” He became independent and I think this helped him choose whether or not to go and risk his life to see Pip in England.
I believe his experiences did partly shape the man he became, yet with all that loneliness, one would have thought that Magwitch would grow up to be bitter and aloof. But perhaps company was all that was needed to show his good side and generosity. His life of loneliness must have caused him to care affectionately for those he did happen to meet.
We meet Magwitch in chapter one, after he had escaped from “the Hulk” (the prison ship moored in the Thames) and encountered Pip as a young boy. By the use of his harsh and broken language, we can tell he was not properly educated, indicating that he was from the lower-class.
He was on trial with Compeyson, Magwitch’s former partner in crime and the man Miss Havisham was to marry, but because of certain inequalities, each received a different sentence. Compeyson, a gentleman who had influenced Magwitch into crime, received a shorter sentence than Magwitch. On the day of the trial, Compeyson had dressed up in a suit and looked very much like a “gentleman”, whereas Magwitch had looked like a “common wretch”. The courts were biased against Magwitch and judged the two men chiefly on their appearance and their upbringing. This was the type of superficiality Dickens was concerned about. He disliked the way society based judgements on something such as appearances. I agree with Dickens’, as this is not a just way to try someone. Nowadays, this practice has been stopped, and the justice system judges more fairly. But though the courts and justice system have changed, society, I think, still has some prejudices against those who look different or were brought up in a different way.
When we see Magwitch again, he has changed from the rough, ravenous scary man on the marshes and is shown as Pip’s secret benefactor. We are, as Pip was, shocked at the revelation of this information and we wonder how he earned all that money to give to Pip. It also does seem very far-fetched for a man to give so much of what he earned to a young boy who he had met only three times. We also did not assume that he would be alive after the soldiers caught him, as it was frequent in those days for a criminal to be hanged. We find out, however, that he had been “transported” to Australia. This meant that he was able to work as a sheep-farmer and earn his fortune, so long as he never returned to England. The fact that a convict was able to earn money, suggests that Australia was less class-conscious and provided more opportunities to succeed than England. Magwitch risked his life to return to London to see the gentleman he had made with his fortune.
I think that Magwitch made a very hard choice in choosing to come to England to visit Pip. To risk your life to see someone is a foolhardy thing to do, yet Magwitch, who is full of compassion towards Pip and is strong from his experiences, did not mind risking everything to see Pip. If I were in the same situation, it would be a very difficult choice to make and I don’t think I would be able to choose. I think I would postpone the meeting for a few decades, before I had enough courage to see Pip. But as I feel strongly for Pip, I know for a fact that I would risk it someday.
We find out that Magwitch had “lost” his own child, who we find out is Estella. Could this have contributed to his generosity to Pip? Magwitch became a wealthy man and chose to spend his awards on raising another child to replace the child he “lost”.
When Pip was twenty three, Magwitch returns to London, risking his own life to see Pip. He is overjoyed with the results and in the end, died knowing he had shared his happiness and wealth with Pip.
In spite of Magwitch’s criminal past, we know him as a kind and generous man. Dickens presents this character as having high morals to show that even a convict can be a good person at heart. He also uses Magwitch to portray the crime and punishment system in Victorian England. Many of the poorer citizens ended up doing criminal deeds, as they could not afford to support themselves.
Magwitch, like all these other poor people, were victims of society, in my opinions. They were forced into these criminal ways mainly because society ignored their needs and there was no safety net to fall back on. I think that if society paid more attention to these needy people, their lives would have not been as bad. Dickens is showing us the bad side of society, which was not commonly done in those days.
Estella is the daughter of Abel Magwitch and Molly, an accused murderer, though when we first meet Estella, through Pip keeping the information from us, we are unaware of her real parentage. We believe her to be an upper-class girl, as her speech and company is those of the upper middle class. We find out however that this was because Miss Havisham chose to bring up the girl, and so her upbringing and education was good to the standards of rich people. But even though Estella was educated and never went hungry, she has grown up to be incapable of love, due to Miss Havisham’s obsession with revenge, leaving Estella lonelier than she should have been.
Dickens teaches us many lessons through this character. We learn that love is not something to be played around with, and that simply being rich cannot make you happy. I think Estella is a sympathetic character in the book. Though she is heartless and cannot feel love, I feel very sad for her, as a life without ever feeling love or giving it out may lead to a gloomy end, as it did with Miss Havisham’s. Dickens is also telling us that money can mislead us. Money cannot earn the real things that matter in life. Real love, friendship and happiness can’t be bought by any amount of money one can produce and this message applies to us today as much as it did back then.
Dickens wrote a very powerful novel about love, social class and morality. He demonstrates the complexity of love and the arbitrary nature of class. Love is a difficult thing to understand and social class should have little importance in life.
In Dickens’s time, many people saw that the only way to succeed in life was to climb up the social ladder. He displayed this ambition in characters such as Pip, Mrs. Joe and Herbert Pocket. Dickens wanted to show people that this was not the case, as Joe, who did not believe this idea, ends up the happiest but has remained in the same class throughout the novel.
The current and previous Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and John Major sought to create a ‘class-less’ society. This would mean that everyone would be able to socialise with each other and that no form of prejudice against money and background would exist. This is a difficult goal to obtain, as it is part of human nature to have prejudice in some form, though some may argue that it is taught. I think that some prejudice is natural, though most is actually taught. A person may believe that they are superior to another because of wealth, and it is difficult to change the beliefs of a person. Even if the Prime Ministers abolished the term ‘class’, the actual behaviour would still exist because the money is still there.
I do agree with Dickens’s message on class, as I feel that class is not an important feature in life. I think we should not be separated by something as petty as class, but even though many may share my views, there will always be those who believe in superiority and that alone can divide us into classes.