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Dickens' Creation Of Sympathy For His Characters In Great Expectations

3213 words - 13 pages

Dickens' Creation of Sympathy for His Characters in Great Expectations

Charles Dickens was born on February 7th 1812, the son of John and
Elizabeth Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the naval pay office.
He had a poor head for finances and in 1824 found himself imprisoned
for debt. His wife and children (with the exception of Charles) were,
as was normal, imprisoned with him. Charles was put to work at
Warren's Blacking Factory, where conditions were terrible. When his
father was released he was twelve and already scarred psychologically
by the experience of the blacking factory. His father, however,
rescued him from that fate and in 1824 to 1827 he attended school in
London. His brief stay at the blacking factory haunted him all his
life, but the dark secret became a source of both creative energy and
of the preoccupation with alienation and struggle which emerge
throughout his work. Pip's desire to become a respectable gentleman
stems from Dickens' own experience, having come from humble
beginnings.

Dickens wrote 'Great Expectations' in 1860. The last half of the 19th
Century was characterised by increasing poverty and social problems,
especially in the cities and also by the beginnings of great movements
for social reform. There were two common ways to survive poverty:
crime or radicalism. Dickens used his novels to highlight the plight
of the poor. He was also active himself in campaigning against social
injustice and inequality. For example, in 1847 he helped Miss Burdett
Coutts to set up and later to run a 'Home for Homeless Women'.

Crime, guilt and punishment were common themes of Dickens' novels,
along with poverty and the bitter struggle to rise out of it and gain
respectability. Due to earlier penal reform capital punishment was
restricted to the serious crimes of murder and treason (the great
public hangings had ceased). This meant that there was a crisis of
overpopulation of the prisons which led to the creation of the 'Hulks'
(old decommissioned ships used as prisons and moored around the coast)
and subsequently to transportation to Australia - both of which form
an important part of 'Great Expectations'. Conditions in the prisons
and on these ships, whether moored or on their way to Australia, were
atrocious and cruel and often the crimes committed were petty.
Criminality was seen to be a product both of working class culture as
well as of poverty. There was an active discussion amongst reformers
and the ruling class as to whether criminality was caused by poverty
alone or by a genetic disposition amongst the working class to behave
in a criminal way. Policy was often governed by the ideas of
'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor - meaning the difference between
those who accepted their lot meekly and those who struggled against
their poverty. There was a saying...

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