How two chapters of Great Expectations reflect the influence of society

How two chapters of Great Expectations reflect the influence of society

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How two chapters of Great Expectations reflect the influence of society
in the time it was set.

Charles Dickens is one of the most popular British novelists in the
history of literature with many of his characters being recognised in
British society today. His ability to combine pathos, comedy, and most
of all, his social satire has won him many contemporary readers.

Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. At 12 he was sent to work for
a few months at a shoe-polish warehouse on the banks of the Thames
when his family hit financial difficulty. A few days later Dickens's
father was sent to jail for debt. He recalled this painful experience
in the early chapters of David Copperfield. While his father was
imprisoned, all his family except himself and his sister, who was
studying music, stayed at the Marshalsea Prison with his father, very
much like the Dorrit family at the beginning of Little Dorrit. By the
time he was 25 years old, Dickens was already famous.

Dickens's life influenced his writing a lot, and many of the novels he
wrote were based on real experiences during his lifetime. For example;
in 1832 he met Marie Beadnell and wanted to marry her but she rejected
him; the comic portrait of Flora Casby in Little Dorrit is said to
have been inspired by Dickens's meeting with Maria again later in

Dickens lived in Victorian times, times when there was a lot of focus
on social class and status. Victorian society was, for all the change
that was taking place, a stratified, hierarchical society with a great
gap between rich and poor. In his childhood Dickens was part of a
working class family who soon became low class due to their financial
difficulty. But when he became an adult he was of high social class
while his novels kept increasing in popularity and was earning him
money all the time. Dickens had been from one end of society to the
other and the contrast he saw was widely expressed in his novels.

Victorian society had a constantly growing urban population, and with
the pessimistic analyses of Thomas Malthus, this helped mould one of
the most notorious Victorian institutions, the workhouse. This was
based on a theoretical distinction between the "deserving" poor, who
owed their poverty to misfortune, and the "undeserving" poor, who were
to blame for their poverty: the workhouse was made as unpleasant as
possible to deter the latter from seeking refuge there. Tight-fisted
and callous administration made the institutions even worse, and the
target of some of the bitterest controversial literature of Charles
Dickens. Conditions gradually improved, but the dreaded "workhouse

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test", to determine which paupers were destined for the workhouse,
remained until after the end of the Victorian era.

The Christmas Carol shows the contrast between the wealthy Mr Scrooge
and the poor Cratchet family, how two types of completely different
people live together but tolerate each other. In Great Expectations
Dickens shows how a poor boy became a rich London man. Dickens was
very socially aware, with references to British Victorian society in
all of his novels.

Dickens's works fall broadly into two strands. His early novels are
distinguished by their large casts of memorable characters and
Dickens's later novels have fewer characters and tighter plots, and
constitute his greatest achievements. They include David Copperfield,
a portrait of the author's childhood, and Bleak House, a satire on the
Chancery Court that many critics regard as his greatest novel, as well
as Dombey and Son, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great

Since its first publication Great Expectations has remained immensely
popular due to its rich characterization and intense plot with
suspense, mystery and romance intertwined. Dickens's childhood left a
lasting impression on him giving the children in his novels sympathy
and understanding, especially in the case of Pip. The novels other
vividly wild characters include Miss Havisham, the half-demented old
woman living by herself with her ward and niece Estella since she was
jilted, Joe Gargery the kind-hearted blacksmith, and Madgwitch, the

Dickens was not only a master novelist but also a humanitarian. His
novels draw attention to the inequalities in the Victorian society. In
Great Expectations he exposes the major contrast between rich and
poor, the brutal treatment of convicts, as well as the cruelty and
corruption of institutions. Victorian higher society showed no
indifference to the underprivileged. Dickens portrayed you this and
left you with a deeper understanding of justice and social

Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, the main character in Great Expectations
and whose life you follow throughout the novel, lived with his sister
and her husband Joe Gargery in the blacksmiths house when he became an
orphan. His sister felt responsible for him but did not show that she
wanted him to be there with her. It is to Joe Gargery that Pip is

The way that Joe Gargery and Pip speak is very common, showing us that
they have a poor education therefore being of low social class.
Dickens writes speech the way that his characters have spoken,
sometimes missing off letters or changing spellings to make the
written word sound like the word that was said.

"conwict Manners is manners, but still your elth's your elth."

At the beginning of chapter eight, when Pip is sat with Mr
Pumblechook, he is repeatedly tested with his knowledge of times
tables and figures while Mr Pumblechook "sat guessing nothing". At ten
o'clock they started for Miss Havishams, once stood outside the gate,
Mr Pumblechook said "And fourteen?" but Pip pretended not to hear.
Estella let Pip through the gates but Mr Pumblechook was turned away
quite rudely by Estella who called after Pip. Mr Pumblechook tells Pip
not to be naughty or rude to the nice people who had invited him there
to play, he acts as if it is a privilege to be asked to play at Miss
Havishams house. Pip didn't really want to be there but had to
represent his family for the money that could be inherited from Miss

"Boy! Let your behaviour here be a credit to those who brought you up
by hand!"

Whilst Pip is visiting Miss Havisham in her house, chapter eight, he
discovers another sort of life. Everything is strange and new there
and he realises that there is a different kind of life to the one that
he had been used to all those years. Pip is met at the gates to the
house by Estella, who had been raised by Miss Havisham to be a
heart-breaking beautiful young lady. Estella treats him like a peasant
even though Pip is dressed in his best Sunday clothes and at first
sees himself as no less than Estella and falls in love with this
distant beautiful young girl. By continually referring to Pip as "boy"
Estella reinforces her social status, she is of higher social class
than Pip and so has no reason to refer to him by his name. She is no
older than Pip but by calling Pip "boy" she allows herself to become
more important than him, Pip accepts what she does and calls her
"miss" as though she were a woman. Pip realises that he cannot call
Estella by her name, but refers to her as "miss". Again, this shows
the social contrast between Estella and Pip. Pip is not only being
polite to her like he has always been told, but he is also showing
respect to someone he recognises as superior to him in social class.

"of this house, miss?"

"its names, boy."

Chapter eight is a very important chapter for Pip. Miss Havishams
house is where Pip becomes aware of the difficulty surrounding social
mobility in Victorian society and where he discovers that he is only a
small insignificant part of the world. When Pip meets Miss Havisham he
is told to play, like he had only been brought there for her
amusement, as an insight to how common people go about every day life.
Pip finds it hard to play by orders in front of a woman he had never
met before. Finally Pip and Estella are made to play cards, after some
argument from Estella using the fact that Pip is nothing but a "common
labouring-boy" as an excuse not to play, and Miss Havisham realises
how ignorant and common he is. Pip can play nothing but 'Beggar My
Neighbour', which is a common easy card game with simple rules.
Estella does her best to make Pip cry by saying things such as;

"He calls the knaves jacks, this boy!

and what coarse hands he has. And what thick boots!"

As though he is not worthy to be even seen by her, let alone talking
or playing cards with her, he is too stupid and too common. Her crude,
harsh remarks succeed in making Pip cry, and when Miss Havisham tells
him he can leave, he runs out into the garden and cries against the

Pip is made to tell Miss Havisham what he thinks of her and Estella.
He is pushed to reveal his true feelings for Estella and is made to
look stupid once again after he tells Miss Havisham that he thinks
Estella is pretty even though she had been so mean to him.

"You say nothing of her. She says many hard things of you,

but you say nothing of her. What do you think of her?

I think she is very proud.

I think she is very pretty."

Pip also tells Miss Havisham that he thinks Estella is "very
insulting", at which point Dickens mentions that "she was looking at
him then, with a look of supreme aversion". Pip starts to fall in love
with Estella even though she constantly shows her utter hatred for

This chapter foreshadows the unrequited love between Pip and Estella
that has yet to come. Pip has had his first taste of how cruel other
people can be to him just because of the way he lives and the way he
was brought up. Pip tells Joe of his sadness at being a commoner later
that day back at the forge, after lying to his sister and not wanting
to tell her a thing about the day he had had (chapter nine). Pip
understands for the first time that there are people who will look
down on him as a "common labouring-boy" if he remains a blacksmith's

Later in the story (chapter eighteen) Pip becomes aware that he has a
benefactor giving him a large amount of money to move to London and
better his education. Mr Jaggers, Joe and Pip agree that Matthew
Pocket, the man talked about around Miss Havisham's table a long time
previous, would be his tutor. Mr. Jaggers offers Joe compensation for
the loss of Pips services but he refuses it. They went home and spread
the exciting news and sat around and talked of it. Pip had mixed
feelings about Biddy and Joe's reactions to his news and he went to
bed anxious for his new life as a gentleman.

In chapter five of volume two, Pip goes back to London several times
and asks Mr Jaggers for enough money to get a permanent room at the
Bernard Inn, and for a few pieces of furniture to furnish it with. Pip
wants to get rid of his low social class roots and permanently become
a gentleman living in London.

In chapter twenty-seven, Pip receives a letter from Joe asking to meet
him the next day at his house. The letter was not written by Joe
because he can't write, Biddy had to write the letter for him.

"I write this by request of Mr Gargery

P.S. He wishes me most particular to write what larks"

Pip did not want to see him, but because of the short notice, he had
to. Pip looked forward to Joe's coming with;

"considerable disturbance, some mortification and a keen sense of

If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have
paid money."

When Joe arrives he is uncomfortable with Pip and calls him "Sir."
They notice that a lot has changed between them and Pip isn't the same
little boy who was sent off to Miss Havishams to amuse her. The
language between them shows a definite difference in their educations.

"Joe, how are you, Joe?

Pip, how air you, Pip?"

Pip acts like a gentleman and offers to take Joes hat, Joe ignores
this and lays it on the floor between them then grabs both Pips hands
and "worked them up and down, as if I had been the last-patented
pump.". Joe hasn't changed at all to when Pip saw him last and Pip
hates the way that he is acting. Pip has become a snob, taking the
most petty things and changing them into something horrendous.

"I thought he never would have done wiping his feet, and that I must
have gone out to lift him off the mat, but at last he came in."

When Herbert enters the room he presents his hand to Joe, who backs
away and says;

"Your servant, sir, which I hope as you and Pip."

Joe feels that these two men are far more important than him, he being
a lowly blacksmith of working class being their slave, their
"servant". Joe goes on to comment on their apartment, saying that;

"I would not keep a pig in it myself - not in the case that

I wished him to fatten wholesome and eat with a meller favour on him."

This is his way of giving his "flattering testimony to the merits" of
their apartment in the nicest way Joe could think to say it. Pip
notices that Joe has a tendency to call him sir. When Herbert offers
Joe tea or coffee Joe thinks that he should not have an option but
will have "whichever is most agreeable to" the others.

Dickens shows that Joe is ultimately very uneasy; he does not know
what to do with his hat and keeps dropping it, his clothes are his
best but disgusting for a 'gentleman' to be seen in. Pip is
embarrassed by Joe. This chapter shows how much of a vain snob that
Pip has become. He cannot even stand to be in the same room as the man
that brought him up. Pip knows he used to be as common as Joe and is
ashamed by it, he is too much of a gentleman to know Joe.

The final paragraph in this chapter is one of the most moving in the
entire novel. Pip realises that Joe has gone, perhaps out of his life
forever. Pip thinks that although Joe would never become a gentleman,
there was a "simple dignity" in him. Joe says that if there had been
any fault that day then it had been his, Joe feels out of place, a
muttering working class fool in the land of kings. Before Pip could go
after Joe and say something reassuring to him about how they had
acted, Joe was gone. The overall emotive effect of the concluding
paragraph of this chapter was sympathy for Joe. You could see that Joe
was trying his hardest to fit into a role that he could never play,
but it wasn't working, the other characters realised this but they did
nothing, making Joe feel even more of an outsider.

Dickens expressed the division that was now between the two
characters, the working class Joe and the high social class gentleman
Pip were in two completely separate worlds. Dickens showed that Pip
was acting similarly to the way that Miss Havisham and Estella had
acted to him, he remembers how much he detested it and was sorry for
treating Joe so badly.

The language that Dickens used throughout this novel gives depth to
the characters. The non-standard English used for Joe's speech shows
that he is of a lower class than the Queens English-speaking Miss
Havisham, Estella and Pip. Joe says such things as;

"Which you have that growed, and that swelled, and that gentlefolked"

While other higher class character use standard English in their

"Yes, but it is meant more than it is said. It meant, when it was

that whoever had this house could want nothing else."

Dickens often got his own view across in his writing with parts of his
sentences hyphenated. Complex sentences gave his point. In this
sentence he says that children who die at birth die "exceedingly
early" in the struggle for their place on earth. Children in the
Victorian era often died of complications at birth or childhood
maladies. Many children in his own family had died at birth, although
none of his children did.

"little brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living,
exceedingly early in that universal struggle - I am indebted for"

Throughout the novel Dickens reflects social class and the differences
between the rich and poor in the Victorian era. The author used his
knowledge of the time and his life experiences to write his novels.
Some parts of the story were from his heart, all his thoughts and
feelings went into giving the reader an insight to the problems of the
society at that time and what all people had to face. I think he hoped
that by writing about how characters of two different social status
interacted that he would perhaps change the views of people to be more
accepting to others.

Personally, I like this novel. I think that the way it is written
gives the reader a real insight to the Victorian social awareness and
how people lived by strict rules. There are some really emotional
parts of this story that even today people can relate too; the
different type of people that there are all over the world and
people's views of them, and how wrong they actually are. I think
people could learn from the lessons in this novel and the insight it
gives into social standing.
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