In Great Expectations, a prevailing theme is crime and punishment, and the novel accordingly explores the role of women in the Victorian society. On the one hand, there are a few female characters that are depicted with an innate moral goodness; on the other hand, there are those who are morally depraved. The difference between these doubles is striking and sometimes exaggerated, which creates a clear contrast between the characters who adapt to the imposed morals of Victorian culture, and those who do not. In the novel, it is evident that the characters of Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Molly and Estella are all depicted as committing a moral crime because of them not abiding to the social standard for women of that time. Thus, it is suggested that, in order to be morally good, a woman should embody the Victorian ideals which implies being submissive to men and exhibiting a fixed set of female characteristics. Evidently, these morally corrupt characters all challenge the social norms of Victorian society, and are therefore punished into becoming more feminine.
Mrs. Joe displays undesirable traits in a Victorian woman by being “[…] tall and bony…” (Dickens, p.8 ) and having a “hard and heavy hand” (8). Rather than being compliant and submissive to Joe, Mrs. Joe defies the social hierarchy by being abusive, and thereby positioning herself as being in charge: “[…] she pounced on Joe, and, taking him by the two whiskers, knocked his head for a little while against the wall behind him […]“(11). Therefore, she is described as having traditionally masculine qualities and not being a “good-looking woman” (8). However, according to Victorian standards, such dominant behavior is not morally appro...
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...n her character can be seen in the way she has been reduced to begging: “Master, […] Please!” (183). Thus, Molly likewise becomes a repressed character, having feminine qualities imposed on her.
In conclusion, the theme of crime and punishment in the novel becomes evident in the portrayal of these characters. None of the presently discussed characters fulfill the ideals of a Victorian woman, as they reveal undesirable traits such as being dominant and cold-hearted. Therefore, they are condemned as committing a moral crime by not conforming to Victorian values, and are consequently dehumanized and depicted in a reproachful way. Thus, it is conveyed that women who challenge the Victorian norm are immoral and unfeminine, a crime which seemingly can be reversed by punishment.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1992
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