The Way Women are Portrayed in “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens Essay Sample

The Way Women are Portrayed in “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens Pages
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The women in the story and in the 19th century were perceived in a totally different way from the way they are perceived nowadays. There are several women in this 19th century book, Miss Havisham, Estella, Mrs. Joe Gargery and Biddy to name but a few. These are the four main females in the story with the most significance, there are also less important woman included within the story such as, Molly, Miss Skiffins and Clara. Most of these women are perceived and portrayed in slightly different ways, Miss Havisham, Estella, and Mrs. Joe Gargery are all cold, bitter and spiteful in some way or another. Their attitude toward people of a lower class, Miss Havisham’s especially, would be taken very differently today from how it was taken in the 19th century. In the 19th century her attitude was accepted and takes as normal due to her wealth. There was some contrast between the main female’s characters, as biddy was a warm hearted, kind and loving woman.

In the time of Charles Dickens the expected behaviour and actions of the women were much different to the independent “new woman” we have in the 21st century today. They were given less independence and had no real significance in the working lives of their husbands. They were however treated with the most respect by the gentlemen, as it was their job to care for the women. They had no jobs, little credit and they were mainly just wives to their husbands. Not all of the women were warm hearted family wives who cared dearly for their besotted husbands, for example Mrs. Joe Gargery was far from this. The women in the 19th century could also be rather toffee-nosed, snobby and pompous. They would look down on people of a lower class to them, and they did not treat them with the respect they deserved. A perfect example of this looking down on people would be Miss Havisham. She is rude and offensive to most people of a lower class than herself. Miss Havisham also teaches Estella, her fostered daughter, to be this way too.

Miss Havisham is one of the main characters in this story. She is portrayed as one of the rude and snobby women in the story. She in particular looked down on the other people of a lower class that did not have the riches she had. If she were around nowadays she would be seen much differently from how she was seen then. In the world we live in today, social classes and conceited behaviour is virtually non-existent. She is seen as a particularly cold character in this story and is shown to be heart broken. I feel her astringent, bitter, spiteful and cold natured behaviour all stems from her heart broken past. She was left standing at the church alter on her wedding day, which was also her 21st birthday, by her groom to be. Never since this mass disappointment in her life has she changed her clothes, or changed the decoration of her house which is still laid out for the marriage ceremony. This frail past makes Miss Havisham a bitter person and she tries to bring Estella up in a similar way. Many times throughout the story traces of Miss Havisham appear in the youthful Estella. At Pip’s first arrival at Miss Havisham’s house she treats him like he is not there and teaches Estella to do the same toward him. When Pip returns to Miss Havisham, after he has grown up, Miss Havisham seems to be happy about how Estella used to act, “She was proud and insulting, and you wanted to go away from her.” Miss Havisham asks Estella what Pip is now like and Miss Havisham’s first question is, “Less course and common?” This implies that the most important thing about a person is their wealth and not the type of person they are inside. It implies that when she used to see Pip when he was younger she used to look down on him and classed him as common. If Miss Havisham were alive now I feel she would definitely be peculiar as she has never really recovered from that day she still lives in hope of and dreams of. I do feel sorry for Miss Havisham as she still seems to be living in hope of her dream wedding, which has turned into a nightmare and ripped her life apart. She appears to want to take some revenge on men and to do this she used Estella, with who she teachers to project her spiteful ways. I think that deep inside Miss Havisham she has a good heart and at times it appears to be unlocked for a certain amount of time. An example of this, is when Pip is singing to Miss Havisham and Estella. Miss Havisham seems to relax and she joins in with Pip rather than mocking him like it seemed was first planned. I think the people of the 19th century saw Miss Havisham as a typical strange yet wealthy and upper class lady. She obviously did not leave the house at all, so I do not think she would have had much in the way of friends or associates and she would have been most likely socially inactive.

Mrs. Joe Gargery, was another of the main characters in this story. She is portrayed as evil, butch and a poor excuse for a lady. She was known to be evil to her husband, Mr. Joe Gargery too. She actually went as far as to hit him and physically attack him. As Pip’s parents has both died, he was looked after by his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, she was also cruel to him and like her husband, she would often get physical with Pip too. If she were alive nowadays I am sure she would not have had the respect and patience that she had from Mr. Joe Gargery. He seemed to be rather afraid of Mrs. Joe Gargery and because she was a woman he treated her with the utmost respect. Mrs. Joe Gargery was not womanly though, she was an arrogant bully who treated her respectful husband like dirt, and she would beat him and Pip and at one point the book tells us, “…she pounced on Joe, and, taking him by the two whiskers, knocked his head for a little while against the wall behind him.” A woman like this needs standing up to and Joe was obviously not man enough to do this. In the 19th century, I think she would have been feared by most, the women would have been fearful of her and also the gentleman had too much respect for the women to stand up to them and they thought it was wrong to treat a woman with a physical and brutal presence. If she was living in the world today, I do not think she would last without someone firmly standing up to her to stop the aggressive schemes she uses to get her own way. Any decent male would jolt her aggressive, attention seeking ways into touch. Mrs. Joe Gargery holds a large and powerful image and I believe she has become frustrated at her lot in life and because of this she has became embittered. Her embitterment leads to her taking her anger out on those around her. I see no gentle characteristics which would be regarded as soft or warm. Unlike Miss Havisham, Mrs. Joe Gargery has no excuse for her cold and bitter actions. She is just an evil woman, not once throughout the story does she seem to be happy, show any of her better nature, if she has one at all and be satisfied with her lot in life. She is definitely the character I dislike the most in the story, she shows pure evil and a constant aggressive streak, which I do not like to see.

Biddie is the final character I have chosen to write about. Biddie’s general personality, appearance and overall attitude contrasts with the other colder characters. She was portrayed as a warm-hearted, kind, attractive young woman. I feel she would have been well liked, popular and attractive lady, these are characteristics that none of the other characters mentioned, really possess. She showed kindness by teaching Pip to read and write. She was proposed to, by both Pip and Mr. Joe Gargery which is a fine example of her high popularity. I think if she were alive now she would fit in quite well, she was the type of person who I feel would adapt well to most situations. I am sure the people would have had the most respect for her in the 19th century and makes quite a good match to Mr. Joe Gargery. In my personal view Biddie was my favourite woman selected from the story, she seemed constantly happy and not to have any major negative characteristics. I feel Charles Dickens purposely portrayed Biddie to be as nice as she was to show that not all the women showed malevolence bitterness and nastiness as some of the women did in the story. Biddie brought the book the little extra bit of contrast it needed between the different types of women in the tale.

Our perceptions of women now compared to the ways in which women are perceived in the story are totally different. Women now have their own independence, their own jobs and are not just insignificant housewives anymore. The way the people were classed by their wealth and riches has also changed. In those days money did speak, nobody questioned Miss Havisham like the law could nowadays. Her social status and wealth ruled above everyone and everything else. Due to her riches she could be as rude as she felt was right without any questions from social services or similar groups, like would happen today. Her actions were permitted because of her wealth, in today’s world she would not have been able to raise Estella in the way which she did. Miss Havisham and other characters from the book could not have gained the respect and independence through wealth, today, as they did in the 19th century.

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