Pip's Aspirations in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

2777 Words6 Pages

Pip's Aspirations in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

Through Great Expectations, Dickens explores the different notions of gentility in the nineteenth century and the implications of upward mobility on the lower class. One of the most radical aspects of the industrial revolution on the everyday life of nineteenth-century England was the effect on the social structure. Prior to the nineteenth century, social stratification was rigid and did not allow individuals to move from one group to another. The scientific advancement coupled with the rise of mercantile capitalism led to the increase in opportunities available for the lower class resulting in the emergence of a middle class. According to Sally Mitchell's Daily Life in Victorian England, "the concept of a distinctly middle class way of life developed early in the Victorian Period" (21). Dickens explores different elements of the virtuous gentleman and the social gentile in his depiction of Pip's search for identity. Pip must decide whether social standing or personal integrity is the more important part of his identity. As Pip achieves emotional and physical maturity, he must decide which social values he will follow and which adult figures in his life he will emulate in order to succeed. When Pip's definition of success changes, he begins to change his role models. As the novel progresses, Pip encounters several individuals that serve as surrogate parents during his development. Dickens subverts the conventional idea of gentility through his representation of these characters in the novel.

In the first chapter of the novel, the reader learns that Pip's parents and older brothers are deceased; his sister, Mrs. Joe, and her husb...

... middle of paper ...

...). Pip is soon reunited with Joe and Biddy. Pip has become a man who values friendship and compassion over fine clothing and social standing. Pip's great expectations have been realized; he has become a gentleman - not by assimilating upper class society's superficial standards, but by embracing the morality and virtuosity upheld by Joe.

Works Cited

Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1996.

Sadoff, Dianne F. Monsters of Affection: Dickens, Eliot, and Bronte on Fatherhood. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982.

Sadrin, Anny. Parentage and Inheritance in the Novels of Charles Dickens. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

Thompson, F.M.L. The Rise of the Respectable: A Social History of Victorian Britain 1830-1900. Harvard UP, 1988.

Open Document