In 1861, Charles Dickens was at the height of his fame and wrote what is said to be, “Dickens finest novel” the book he wrote is called “Great Expectations.”
The hero of the story is Phillip Pirrip, better known as “Pip.” The book is set in Victorian England and goes on to trace Pip from being a small boy, to a grown man with “Great Expectations.” Pip wishes to much better off because of infatuation with a middle class girl “Estella.”
Pip is an orphan, both parents tragically passed away, along with seven brothers. This suggests that his family were not too well off, dying from maybe disease or under nourishment. (Lack of medical care)
Joe Gargery and Pip’s only sister, Mrs Joe Gargery, bring up Pip. Mrs Joe Gargery is very bitter about having to bring her younger brother up (Pip) by hand. They all live together in a forge; this is attached to Joe Gargery’s business, the blacksmith. As Joe Gargery is of a “working class” this means that he is bringing in enough money for clothes and food. Although they have enough money for clothes and food they do not spend excessive amounts, they try to save as much money as possible. Their clothes and food are not posh, but sufficient, “thick boots.”
In a bleak churchyard, set in the marshlands of Thames estuary, stands Pip, contemplating his family’s graves, when a desperately hungry, violent convict “Magwitch” terrorises him “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!” Pip promises Magwitch that he will return next morning with food, drink and a file to cut his chains. “The graves” suggests that his family were well off enough to pay for tombstones and a mason.
When Magwitch startled Pip in such a scary encounter it gave Pip a very negative view of people belonging to the lower class. Pip stereotypes all lower class people and begins to believe that all poor lower class people act in this way.
Pip is then invited to go and play with Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter, Estella. Estella is brought up in a large home “Satis house” in a controlled environment. After Miss Havisham’s groom never showed up on her wedding day she begins to teach Estella to break men’s hearts. Miss Havisham sees this as revenge on the male sex. Estella hurts Pip’s feelings from the first day that she plays with him. Estella calls Pip for his appearance and for the type of clothing he wears. “What coarse hands he’s got and thick boots!” she also picks on him for the way he calls “knaves, Jacks.” Compared to the clothes and home Estella has, this gave Pip a very negative view of his own class.
After Pip met Estella he realised how different he was compared to people of the “middle class.” This makes Pip jealous, and he decides he wants to become a gentleman and live a wealthy life. Pip thinks that being in the “higher class” (social status) and greater wealth (economic status) are important.
After Pip has finished going to visit Miss Havisham and Estella he is visited by Jaggers, who he has already met at Statis house (Estella’s and Miss Havisham’s home). Jaggers brings Pip a large sum of money, but Jaggers also tells Pip that the wealthy person who adopted him would like to remain unknown. Although the money he receives is off Magwitch, Pip assumes that Miss Havisham has given the money to him. This large amount of money allows Pip to become snobbish, as now he can look down on the lower class people.
Pip became so snobbish that he starts to neglect and look down on the people who have loved and cared for him during his life, (Joe and Biddy.) Joe provides food and clothes for Pip and Biddy tutors Pip, helping him with reading and writing, as he is not very literate. Pip even sometimes looks down on Herbert Pocket and despises Magwitch. Pip abuses his status and talks to Jaggers about getting Orlick sacked from his job at Satis House.
In Victorian England there was a huge range of socio-economic status, ranging from the urban poor at the bottom the heap to Bentley Drummle at the top.
Magwitch is first shown starving, dirty, with broken shoes, and heading for the gallows (the gibbet image at the end of chapter one).
Later we find that Magwitch got most of the blame for Conpeyson’s crimes, this is because people with a “higher status” are better treated by the law than people with a lower status such as Magwich, and the blame would be shifted onto him.
Even when Magwitch is rich, it still isn’t enough to raise him higher up the “social status” ladder and he still remains at the bottom. This shows that once you are at the bottom of the social status there is no escape from the powerless class.
Magwitch has very crude manners when it comes to eating and speaking. “Tell us your name!” “Quick!” Magwitch demands Pip to tell him his name fast. “Tell” “Quick!”
In London the situation for girls was also very bad. There were around thirty thousand child prostitutes.
Magwitch had a woman called “Molly.” She too was violent just like her man, Magwitch. She strangled another woman to her death in a jealous rage over Magwitch; she also threatened to kill hers and Magwitch’s daughter, “Estella.” This shows just how desperate she was. She was so desperate she would even go as far as killing her own child.
By chance Jaggers defended her in her murder trial, and because Jaggers was such a good lawyer Molly was found not guilty. But although Molly got away with the murder of an innocent women, all is not as good as it seems, as in return of Jaggers getting Molly off with murder she is now Jaggers housewife. Jaggers also likes show Molly off like some sort of trophy or side show freak, “Molly, show them your wrists.”
There is no real escape from that powerless class without help but Estella did receive help, and did manage to escape, this was when Jaggers rescued Estella from a life of crime and an awful future by handing Estella over to Miss Havisham when she asked Jaggers to bring her a little girl.
It is tragic irony that rich people adopted both Pip and Estella. When Pip was adopted by Magwitch and received a lot of money he became very snobbish. Pip was harmed psychologically by believing he was something he was not.
When Miss Havisham adopted Estella, she was brought up to hurt the male sex. Estella was very cold hearted and was both emotionally and psychologically harmed from this.
A person like Orlick, who was a trained journeyman, had very basic things; he wore the most basic clothes and ate the most basic food. But in order to live with the most basic things he still had to work very hard. People like Joe Gargery, who owned his own business (the blacksmith), were comfortably safe from poverty but they still didn’t wear the nicest clothes or eat the nicest food, they still lived quite basic.
Orlick was at the mercy of better-off people. First Mrs Joe then Pip gets him fired.
In factories, on farms, down mines, or as servants like Matthew Pocket, such people worked very long hours for such low pay.
Perhaps it is not surprising that if they got the chance servants (like Matthew Pocket) would cheat on their employers. In this case Herbert Pocket and Pip. Matthew Pocket told the police that Herbert and Pip were trying to help Magwitch escape from them.
Some trades were of a higher status, such as Wemmick, a skilled legal clerk. Wemmick earns enough to live a respectable lifestyle. He can even afford to own a “whole” house in London.
Gargery, Pumblechook and Wopsle are better off. These families own their own businesses; this means they live a respectable lifestyle compared to the poorer people.
The people who belong to middle class live very different lives to the lower class and the working class people.
Herbert Pocket – Herbert Pocket is waiting for a business opportunity “looking” but would be poor if it wasn’t for Pip’s secret help. [Magwitch]
Jaggers – Jaggers is a top class lawyer with lots of clients, he is middle class but well off. [Like MEDICINE, the CHURCH or an OFFICER in the Army or Navy].
Jaggers has a fairly large London house and a servant. [Molly] He has rich meals served with wine.
Matthew Pocket – Matthew Pocket inherited some wealth and now he makes a living training young men in finance.
Miss Havisham – Miss Havisham is a respectable middle class lady, who is rich but eccentric – she lives in a mansion with her adopted daughter Estella. Miss Havisham inherited wealth from the family business, the brewery.
Mrs Matthew Pocket and Bentley Drummle – Mrs Matthew Pocket and Bentley Drummle are of the highest status but are also awfully snobbish. [Quote]
It is only at the end of the story when Pip finds out just how generous Magwitch was to him. Estella works her way up the socio-economic status ladder end by the end of the novel she is almost at the top. When Estella was born she was “rock bottom” of the socio-economic status ladder, and then when she was adopted by Miss Havisham she worked her way to middle of socio-economic ladder. Then when she eventually becomes at the top of the ladder it is through marriage to Bentley Drummel.
Pip realises who his true friends are, Joe and Biddy. He helps Herbert Pocket to set up a business and is no longer a snob.
The moral of the story is that His “Great Expectations” were a curse, not a blessing, and socio-economic status is not real human worth.