Guilt and Corruption in Great Expectations

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Guilt and Corruption in Great Expectations

The Victorian era is often cited as England’s golden age; however, beneath the trappings of silk and gold lay a society of greed and corruption. The rich lived a lifestyle of luxury and indulgence by exploiting the labor of the poor. Charles Dickens saw the injustice of the class system in Victorian society and worked to highlight the immorality of the upper class through his literature. Because Dickens himself had experienced both poverty and wealth, he recognized the inequality prevalent within the established class system and sought to expose the truth to others through Pip’s journey towards becoming a gentleman. In his novel Great Expectations, Dickens uses symbolism and imagery to develop the theme of guilt and corruption in order to explore the limitations of social class and the meaning of being a gentleman during the Victorian era.

Dickens establishes the theme of corruption early on by forging a link between Pip’s actions and his feelings of guilt. At the beginning of the novel, Pip’s innocence is shown through his excessive feelings of guilt when he is forced to steal for the convict Magwitch (Dickens). By exposing Pip to crime and corruption at such a young age, Dickens seeks to highlight the path that leads to Pip’s lifelong entanglement with guilt. In addition, those around him treat Pip as if he has committed a crime and is deserving of punishment, which is demonstrated when Pip describes his clothing as “a kind of Reformatory,” which “on no account [lets him] have the free use of [his] limbs” (Dickens). Dickens purposely links Pip’s clothing to the idea of prison and criminality, and in doing so, further cements Pip’s connection with guilt.

Dickens’ use of animalistic...

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