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Social class played a major role in the society depicted in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Social class determined the manner in which a person was treated and their access to education. Yet, social class did not define the character of the individual.
Many characters were treated differently because of their social class in Great Expectations. Seeing the contrast between how the poor and the rich were treated will give a clearer understanding of how much social class mattered. In chapter 27 when Joe comes to see Pip, he treats Joe in a different manner than before because Joe was now in a lower social class. His feelings about Joe's arrival were "Not with pleasure... I had the sharpest sensitiveness as to his being seen by Drummle." (p. 203). He was afraid that Drummle will look down on him because of Joe's lower class. Not only does Pip treat Joe differently, Joe also treats Pip differently because of their difference in social class. He begins to call Pip "sir" which bothered him because "sir" was the title given to people of higher class. Pip felt that they were still good friends and that they should treat each other as equals. Joe soon leaves and explains his early parting, "Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's a whitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come...." (p. 209). He creates this metaphor than he is a common blacksmith and Pip is a goldsmith. This difference in social class had brought upon their separation. Other characters that were also judged by their social class were Magwitch and Compeyson. They were both on trial for the same crime but Compeyson got off easier than Magwitch because of his higher social class. Magwitch describes Compeyson's defense speech, ."..here you has afore you, side by side, two persons as your eyes can separate wide; one, the younger, well brought up... one; the elder, ill brought up... which is the worst one?" (p. 325). The decision of the trial was solely based upon social class appearance.
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In Great Expectations, a person's social class determined the amount of education they had. It is important to perceive this relationship between education and social class to clearly understand the importance of social class. A person like Joe who was a common blacksmith had no education at all. Pip, in the early days when he was low class, had a poor education at a small school. The school was not the best of schools, but it's all that the lower class had. The teacher spent more time sleeping than teaching and Pip had learned more from Biddy than from the actual teacher. Even though he had an education when he was low class, his education as a gentleman with Mr. Pocket was much greater. Another example of how social class affects education is the difference of education between the two convicts. Magwitch, born poor and low class had no education at all while Compeyson, born rich was high class and a gentleman with an education. Education is a factor in showing how social class greatly determined people's lives.
Even though social class determined many things, it did not establish a person's true inner character. Realizing this will play a part in proving that social class did matter in most but not all cases. For example, the lowest class people were Joe, Biddy, Magwitch, and Orlick. Joe and Biddy were very poor but had very good hearts. Joe was always there for Pip and Biddy had moved in to help Mrs. Joe. Magwitch was a dirty convict of the lowest class, but he turned out to be a very caring and generous man. Orlick was low class and his character also turned out to be very low because he was a murderer. The fact that there are both good and cold hearted people in the lower class shows that class has no connection with how people really are. Another example is the richer class. This includes Ms. Havisham, Estella, Herbert, Jaggers, and Wemmick. Ms. Havisham and Estella were both very wealthy but they had no heart and their intentions were to bring hell to all men. While Herbert was the opposite, he was a true friend to Pip and always stayed by his side. Jaggers and Wemmick also in the higher class had supported Pip through his gentleman years. Being aware that not all of the high class were necessarily good people states the fact that class does not determine character. Even though class mattered in most things, this is an example it did not take part in.
After exploring how class was associated with the way people were treated, how much education they had, but not with their true character, these facts have become easy to discern. With these points proved, the fact that social class mattered in most but not all things had no doubt become clear in the mind. It is strange how different social class had been back in Pip's days and now. Where will social class lead next?