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Social Class In Great Expectations Essay

2390 words - 10 pages

Social class has been a central theme in many famous literary works, that it is hardy a shock for anyone to read about it. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Scott FitzGerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, and Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” for instance are just some of the many novels centralizing social class.
However, the strong, yet subtle implications that Charles Dickens introduces to his novels, particularly “Great Expectations”, has made a strong impression during his time and even in the modern day. Dickens explores the wide gap among the “most wretched criminals (Magwitch), the poor (Joe and Biddy), the middle class (Pumblechook), and the very rich ...view middle of the document...

Indeed, this is true. Joe never judged Pip for his ill-advised choices. When Wemmick offered Joe money for taking away his apprentice, Joe replies, “But if you think as money can make compensation to me for the loss of the little child – what come to the forge – and ever the best of friends! – “(Dickens, 128). Joe exemplifies that low class does not mean a social climbing, money greedy person. Instead, there are relationships that exist stronger than money. Incidentally, Biddy moves in to help Mrs. Joe. This shows how kind hearted she is. She and Joe are a match made in heaven, indeed.
Magwitch on the other hand, was the “thief with the heart of gold”. He helped Pip in becoming a gentleman, despite being a criminal, the lowest of the social standing. Magwitch was dirty, sloppy, and rude, eating “in a ravenous way that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy, and greedy” (Dickens, 302). However, he was also able to teach himself to read and write, and get rich through hard work. He mentions that “I’ve been a sheep-farmer, stock-breeder, and other trades besides, away in the new world…many thousand miles of stormy weather from this” (290), exemplifying that unlike Pip, Magwitch worked hard to earn what he now has.
Upon learning that Magwitch was his benefactor, who unfortunately was not Miss Havisham, Pip was devastated. All his foolish fantasies of Miss Havisham’s desire for him to marry Estella was crushed. Pip was cold towards Magwitch, a direct influence of Estella and Miss Havisham’s behavior towards him. Stacy Floyd regards Pip’s assumptions about Magwitch and economic status as a way of revealing “identity to be problematically plural always able to move beyond prescribed limits” (22). Pip’s assumptions about the identity of his benefactor causes him to reconsider his conclusions, especially those that were highly influenced by social class. For Dickens, Pip’s maturation comes when he can love Magwitch and Joe unashamedly. (Hays, 133)
Moreover, Miss Havisham and Estella were contradictory characters of Pip’s perception of high social class. Miss Havisham “embodies the wrath of a woman who has been cheated and abandoned by a reputed lover” (Markley, 9), resulting into a manipulative character; and Estella was “trained by Miss Havisham to be instinctively proud and insulting” (Shores, 3) – in which she successfully uses to have the innocent Pip wrapped around her finger.
Both of these women conspire together to avenge Miss Havisham being jilted on her wedding day, Estella being the main executor of the plan. They use their social rank for Pip to resent his “commonness”, in which they succeeded. Estella points out that young Pip “calls the knaves, jacks, this boy… and what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!” (Dickens, 55). Estella’s disgust over Pip’s bodily and linguistic habits drive Pip to internalize her disregard for his working-class self. Floyd adds, “Pip has not only internalized the commonness of...

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