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Also pertinent to the social aspect of Dickens’ Great Expectations is the relationship between younger and older generations, as effectively portrayed between Miss Havisham and eight-year-old Philip Pirrip. Upon meeting this rather outrageous representation of womanhood, the boy – in a child’s infinite innocence – he is compelled to separate himself from what he deems is a strange and unusual existence of alcohol. To him, the rotting barrels that once housed unlimited supplies of beer were symbolic of how he viewed Miss Havisham, a fermentative essence that had long since dried up from disuse and moribund old age. In comprising these thoughts, the young boy was left with the conclusion that such descriptive characterization is both frightening and hostile, choosing to abide by his inner instinct and institute avoidance.
"Better not try to brew beer there now, or it would turn out sour, boy; don't you think so?"
"It looks like it, miss."
"Not that anybody means to try," she added, "for that's all done with, and the place will stand as idle as it is, till it falls. As to strong beer, there's enough of it in the cellars already, to drown the Manor House" (Dickens PG).
Clearly representative of an impoverished society is that of Miss Havisham’s forsaken brewery, left in its decaying state with barrels and their “sour remembrance of better days” (Dickens PG). Indeed, the decrepit condition of the brewery is indicative of a more affluent class of social acceptance that once existed, only to ultimately give way to the likes of Miss Havisham’s degraded reality. The life that has left the brewery can be equated to the life that has been lost from society, as Miss Havisham has led an existence rife with humiliation, deception and heartache.
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It is through Miss Havisham’s mistakes and misunderstandings of the issues of money that stood to reflect women in general in a bad light, yet it was more that women were already established in this bad light long before she came along; indeed, all she was guilty of was resonating back what was already in existence. Women of that era had typically compromised their ability to manage economic concerns, inasmuch as men forever took the lead in that department. As a means by which to gain greater freedom as women, Miss Havisham represents the blunders and inconsistencies that were associated with that quest.
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Dickens’ own disillusionment with society bleeds through in the words of Great Expectations. The author was painfully aware of the economic conditions in the 1850s, noting that there were little opportunities for such young men like Pip and Herbert Pocket who were continually “looking about” (Dickens PG) for their one great chance. Dickens’ own sons are seen through the actions of characterization, demonstrating the author’s exasperation with their undistinguished careers. Critics have long contended that Dickens placed himself in the role of Pip as a means by which to illustrate the difficulties of society’s pressure.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. (Tor Books, 1998).