Biddy as the Anti-Feminist Feminine Ideal
Charles Dickens’ portrayal of the female gender in the novel Great Expectations is generally one of disdain. Pip typically encounters women who are mean-spirited, self-centered, and unsympathetic. Throughout the novel Pip is in conflict with women who treat him poorly. He is the subject of Mrs. Joe’s tyrant-like upbringing “by hand.” He is the tool of Ms. Havisham’s warped education of Estella. Most of all, Pip must endure the total disregard of his strongest emotions by his great love, the cold Estella. For the most part, Dickens does not intend the reader to have much sympathy for these characters when a tragedy has befallen them. At their roots, they are not good people and deserve what they get. It seems as though Dickens generalizes the entire female population as being corrupt and impure at the core. There is only one major exception to this trend of evil women. She is Pip’s friend and teacher, Biddy.
In the novel, Dickens displays Biddy as the feminine ideal. Biddy is the right girl for Pip. The reader can sense this early in the novel but Pip only realizes it until the very end. She is kind, sympathetic, and nurturing towards Pip and Joe. She is helpful, intelligent, and rather innocent. She is the only woman that is pure and genuine. Dickens gives Biddy understanding and a strong intuition. She is also the only woman that can provide for herself and think of others at the same time. Yet, with all these virtues, Biddy is seen as a plain, ordinary girl. Pip thinks of her before he left for London, “She was not beautiful – she was common and could not be like Estella – but she was pleasant and wholesome and sweet-tempered”. She lives a hum...
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...ndicates that people don’t have to be rich and proper to be happy. These two are better people than most of the wealthy and “superior” people in the novel. The only reason why Joe does not present the male ideal is because there are other admirable male characters of all different societal stature. Examples of these men would be Wemmick, Herbert, and Magwitch.
Dickens may not have had the malicious intentions of disparaging all women. Furthermore, his mindset can be considered a product of the time he had written in. There is though, an overall attitude of resentment towards women. Dickens was most likely using his personal experiences as a model for the women in Great Expectations and wasn’t very conscious of the sexist point that the novel appears to make.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Boston: Bedford Books, 1996.
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