Importance of Setting in Great Expectations
Charles Dickens viewed London as a place of economic competition and death. In Great Expectations, he used the prevalent bleakness of the places in London to illustrate the unproductiveness of the social and economic struggle which he viewed as fatal, both literally and figuratively. His depiction of this economic struggle is reflective of the nineteenth century's preoccupation with the rise of the middle-class. Janice Carlisle says, "The most common historical cliché about this mid-Victorian period was that it saw the final consolidation of the social, political, and economic dominance of the middle classes" (5). His association with death depicts the uselessness of this struggle, as well as the corruption associated with the economic endeavor. Unlike most writers, Dickens did not romanticize London, but instead gave us a good hard look at the back streets and alleys where the real life existed. Dickens did not attempt to record the history or describe the eloquent beauty of the Abbey or the Tower of London. Chancellor states that:
The true seer of London, however, is he who recognizes romance in some little street from which all human splendor is absent; from whose stones no historic memories can be evoked; in whose precincts there is nothing legendary or artistic; but which is hallowed ground because it forms part of that great organism pulsating with the life-blood of millions, and thus insignificant as it may appear, acting its part in the daily existence of its citizens. (21)
Dickens was a "true seer of London" who went beyond the splendor and into the streets of London to show his readers the real life that existed there. Dickens' characterization of the settings for Great Expectations, combined with the themes of economic conflict and death, offers a commentary on Victorian society as a world full of people pursuing wealth with little regard for others and shows how this pursuit leads to unhappiness, decay, and death. In Pip's quest to rise above his working-class status, he must learn that wealth and status are not as important as respect; respect and self-respect are not gained in the competition of the marketplace, but in the concern of others.
Charles Dickens' usage of these characterizations made him a literary pioneer. He was a true artist who drew from his own life, from individuals he knew, from history, from his culture, from the economic state of England, and from his surroundings. He was not born in London and lived only part of his life there. In his writings, he did not provide accurate or detailed descriptions or histories of places in London. However, as E. Beresford Chancellor says in his book, The London of Charles Dickens, "No writer has so thoroughly identified himself with a single place as Dickens has with our capital" (15). Dickens captured this distinction by his writings of everyday, ordinary...