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Social Hierarchy Great Expectations Essay

1833 words - 8 pages

Charles Dickens creates a believable picture of Victorian times. In a book review which appeared in the September, 1861 issue of Atlantic Monthly, it was stated that, “in none of his other works does he evince a shrewder insight into real life, and a clearer perception and knowledge of what is called the world” (Peterson and Brother’s). The world Dickens creates emphasizes social structure, where the imbalance between the social classes is prominent. Great Expectations, set in Victorian times, successfully demonstrates the theme of social class and how this social hierarchy can be an inaccurate measure of self worth. This primary theme shows how setting affects Pip’s understanding, ultimately drawing him to the conclusion that treating others with respect is more important than social standing. Dickens incorporates various settings such as the Satis house, Walworth castle, the Victorian prison setting, and the overall climate of the criminal world to develop the prominent theme of the imbalance between the extremes of the social classes.
The first setting of Satis house is used to show the entitlement of Miss Havisham, emphasizing her shallow nature to promote the unfavourable side of wealth. Walworth castle is an additional setting used to build Pip’s understanding that a person's occupation is not a true definition of that person’s self worth. The environment of the prison is utilised to show how human beings can overcome inhumane punishment further developing the theme that status does not define human worth. Dickens’s portrayal of the surroundings in Magwitch’s criminal environment further develops the theme that a person's self worth is not necessarily determined by circumstance.

The concept of Victorian entitlement is developed through the setting of Satis House, enhancing the unfavourable side of wealth. The parallel between the description of Satis house and Miss Havisham’s behaviour is used to to demonstrate that her house is a direct reflection of her behaviour. When Pip first enters Satis house the dark surroundings are developed through the use of description when he says, “old brick, and dismal… the windows had been walled up… the lower were rustily barred” (pg. 50). Later Pip describes Miss Havisham in a very sinister way when he says, “she sat, corpse-like… looking like earthy paper… the admission of the natural light of day would have struck her to dust.” (pg. 55). The parallels between the two descriptions expose Pip to the unfavourable side of wealth and how social hierarchy can be an inaccurate measure of self worth. In an article published in Victorian Studies Susan Walsh says, “Satis House serves as the architectural correlative of its female inhabitant, a public digest of a thwarted woman's private mental and bodily decay.” (Walsh) Walsh’s article supports the idea that Satis house is a reflection of herself. Another example to show the adverse side of wealth Pip’s mistreatment by Miss Havisham. Pip reflects on Miss...

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