In this essay I will be investigating how the theme of class is developed in Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on February 7, 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens he was the second of 8 children 2 whom survived into adulthood. He was sent to school at the age of 9 but that good fortune was short lived; when he was 12 his father was imprisoned for debt. Dickens however visited him every Sunday but was forced to work in a blacking factory in horrendous conditions. His father was eventually released and was sent back to school however the experience would never forgotten.
Arguably dickens viewed education as a key in success just as pip views becoming a gentleman a key in success. The Buildings roman, “Great Expectations” portrays the great intensification of a young protagonist orphan named pip. Pips name has a further meaning to it, it symbolizes a seen. We could link this to pips ‘growing’ knowledge of class and also in his attempt to become a gentleman. Pip lives with his sister Mrs Joe who “brought him up by hand”. Mrs Joe is described as being extremely hardworking and overwhelmed by ceaseless chorus, for example “I never had this apron of mine off, since born you were… suggests.
Furthermore from the way treats pip implies that she is callous and rather strict. We know that Mrs Joe is quite cruel to pip when she says “if it weren’t for me, You’d be in the churchyard long ago” this implies that she is trying to make pip feel intimidated and responsible, additionally her repetition of “who brought you up by hand” shows that Mrs Joe is trying to make pip feel guilty and uncomfortable, there for Mrs Joe is undoubtedly lower class in her speech and the behaviour towards pip.
Pip also lives with Joe, the husband of Mrs Joe, Joe although an adult is seen by pip as a social equal, for example “greater spices of child” suggests. Joe unlike his wife is sweet tempted and along with pip are “fellow suffers” we might even suggest that they are each others confidante. He is also very protective of pip “great leg” which is in my opinion very fatherly. Joe is described as having “eyes of such much undecided blue that it seemed to mix with the white” the colour blue links to innocent and softness this would make us think that Joe is a good-hearted and soft man.
Pip overall see Joe as a child “greater species of child”, although his level of respect arguably ascended when Joe told pip about his parent and that he was “hammered” by his father; dickens use of the word “hammered” links to the fact that Joe is a Blacksmith. The Blacksmith had to use their hands in the Victorian times. In fact it proves that he is lower class. Never the less pip still felt anger towards Joe had hoped that Joe had been ” more genteelly brought up ” furthermore Pip’s feelings about Joe has conclusively changed his encounter a knowledge about class and when he visits Miss Havisham’s.
Pips life unexceptionally took a turn when he was sent to play at Mrs Havishams house indeed. Pip’s visits to Miss Havisham change him fundamentally. Miss Havisham is an insensitive lady who modestly bears her emotional and poignant wounds akin to a badge of admiration for every person to distinguish. She even has stopped all the clocks in her house at the precise time that her wedding was annulled and has not seen the light of day since. When pip first sees Miss Havisham he says “she was dressed in rich materials – satins, lace and silks”.
The fact that he is very descriptive of her dress, shows how impressed pip is by her class. Also pip conveyed that “some jewels sparkled on her neck and hands”, shows that he was astounded by her jewels because he has never seen any think like them before which proves that he is lower class. This links to the buildings roman because it shows us that the honest and social shaping of pips general personality is beginning to change while he is realising the difference between higher and lower classes.
In the novel dickens revealed that the transformation from lower class to higher class is painful, when pip said: “she pounced (Mrs Joe) upon me, like an eagle on a lamb, and my face was squeezed into wooden bowls in sinks, and my head was put under taps” he uses a similar to portray how vulnerable he was. Also when describes how he was”was soaped and kneaded and towelled and thumped and harrowed and rasped” the repetition of ‘and’ exemplify that the pain and anguish will continue and never end.
This links to dickens as he himself experienced a change in his class status. Estella cruelly insults pip by saying that Pip is a “common labouring boy! ” which has big boots and coarse hands; this hits young Pip principally hard. He had no occurrence to consider his class status previous to this, and now that he does, he is distressed and anxious to think he might be “common”. Also Estella is arguably reminding him what class he is and tells him not to get higher than his “station”. One could even suggest that pip does not even know what “common” is.
This shows us that Pip is nai?? ve and has no idea of how Victorian society works. “For example “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before”, illustrates that pip is now starting to develop an understanding of society and class. Additionally when pip states: “I am sorry for you and sorry I can’t play just now. If you should complain of me I shall get in trouble with my sister”, suggest that pip is uncomfortable to be with people of higher class and feels pity for him but doesn’t want to get in trouble with his sister.
The novel is a Dual Narrative, it is a story told by two personalities, a young pip and an older pip. The younger pip has absolutely no idea what his status is in the social hierarchy and thinks that he is bellow everyone else. When pip leaves after his first visit to Miss havisham he says: “they had never troubled me before but they are now as vulgar appendages”, this demonstrates that pip is feeling socially inferior and is starting to become paranoid.
Furthermore in Victorian society dickens revealed that the potential punishment for committing a crime is the death as the “gibbet” symbolizes death. One could argue that Dickens is not just telling a story he is didactic about prisons and punishments. The novel is also autobiographic as it shows pip throughout his life, it tells us how pip is trying to climb up the ladder of the social hierarchy in his attempt to become a gentleman. His horizons are widened through contact with the upper classes when he visited Mrs Havisham.
The novel also tells us that in Victorian society people were judges by there level of class and how much riches they processed and not by the product of their principles and actions. This links to Joe for example, because before pip went to Miss Havishams, he greatly admired and respected Joe for who he was since Joe was the closest male role model Pip, but the visit to Miss Havisham changed Pips views on Joe. However Joe never changed his views on Pip, when Pip became a gentleman. He still considered pip his ‘old chap’. This shows how good-hearted and generous Joe is.
Furthermore and in my opinion Most importantly, there are significant similarities between pip and Charles Dickens for example they both had to face death at an early age as the book opens with pip sitting in the graveyard looking at “five stone lozenges” this links to dickens as he himself lost two siblings at an early age which revels that he is lower class. Also that in Victorian times there were high infant mortality. We could also link Dickens and pip by their level of class, as they are both at the bottom of the “social ladder”.
Dickens reveals that when pip met the convict at the start of the novel pip starts calling everyone including, ironically the convict ‘Sir’ which shows that he has absolutely no understanding of how Victorian society works and has no idea of his own class. We could also link the convict to Dickens father who was incarcerated for dept. Dickens visited his father every Sunday he may have used the imagery to describe Sati’s house. Furthermore they both have aspiration of “great expectations” to become a gentleman. Dickens father had great expectations for him this may show how he got the idea for the title.
Finally both of their lives were dominated by death as a result of their class and woman. Estella’s name has a further meaning to it ‘star’ and is the objects of pip’s desires. Although it is difficult for the reader to see whether his admiration for Estella is true love or whether she represents his desires to become upper class. Estella’s name itself is miss-leading. In addition pip states that “I could at first see no stars…… but they twinkled out one by one” this represents there may be no hope but he is moving towards hope.
Arguably stars are linked to predicting your future which is reminiscent of the title “Great Expectations” in fact we could link this to it as Estella could symbolize pips future. Arguably most significantly, the setting of sati’s house revels a great deal about how the upper classes live. Firstly the house is described as having “great iron bars on it” witch suggest that the upper classes is separate from the lower classes and do not want to mix the classes. The words that have been using like “bars and gates” emphasises the fact that Miss Havisham is protecting her upper status from the lower classes.
Furthermore there are “bars” around the house and walls which also suggest that the upper class is trying to keep them separate from the lower class. However it also introduces the idea of paranoia, fear and insecurity. The imagery that used is, is very gothic for example “the passages were all dark” which suggest that maybe some what of a fairytale with Miss Havisham being the wicked witch and Estella being the beautiful princess.
However Estella portrayed to be cold hearted and distant and thinks that she is above everyone else for example “she seemed to be much older than I……. nd beautiful and self possessed and she was scornful at me as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen” this conveys that Estella acts beyond her age and carries herself as if she is royalty she is also acting as if she is older than pip- by constantly calling him “boy” and is regal. Arguably pip is in a ware of Estella because he describes her as “beautiful and self processed”. In addition the theme of class is also portrayed through the setting of Satis house which literally means “enough”. The house is also described as a “deserted place” we could link this to Miss Havisham as her soon to be husband deserted her.
Also the phrase “no pigeons…… any hoarse… no malt no smell of beer” which confirms the irony of its name “Satis” which means enough. Satis house is one of Dickens masterful use of aspect, description and detail to create an atmosphere for example the house is described as “old and dismal”, Dickens is illustrative of the house to give the reader a visual image of Satis house. For example ” some of the windows had even been walled up” which suggests that Miss Havisham is trying to keep everyone out and keeps herself separate from the public domain. The visit to Satis house has indeed changed pip for the worse.
Firstly pip falls in love with Estella who name literally means “star” – which is linked to love, beauty and Luminary imagery. Nonetheless at the same time she is cold heated, remote and inaccessible. Additionally when pip and Estella meet he always addresses her as “miss” even though they are only a few years apart which show that pip is lower class than Estella. In fact we may even suggest that pip is extremely uncomfortable and awkward when he is away from his natural environment which is the forge seeing as he is lower class and is not familiar with the people from the upper class.
Pip, is learning to be a gentleman, and is “reaching for the stars” to impress Estella. Moreover when pip and Joe went to satis house pip felt embarrassed by Joe. Joe was wearing his Sunday cloths in order to make a good impression to Miss Havisham, a hat to show respect although pip describes him as an “extraordinary bird” which might even suggest he’s a chicken like he is scared of Miss Havisham. Also Joe doesn’t feel comfortable in his Sunday cloths; he belongs in his working cloths because he is lower class. Furthermore when they met Miss Havisham pip is mortified by Joe.
The narrating grown-up pip then says “I know I was ashamed of him. ” “Interestingly, Miss Havisham shines here” this shows that she regards Joe with deference and does not scorn at him. However Joe doesn’t know what to say to her, he’s scared. Also arguably doesn’t talk to her out of respect. Our language levels our class. The “interview” shows that she is much higher class then him. Pip, ashamed of his home, he questionably feels ensnared in the forge. He distinguish that Joe has always brought a sense of goodness to their home.
However having a taste of Satis House and seeing how people behaved and how much different it was to his native environment. Pip can by no means be content in the forge. Old Pip, the narrator, does recognize that a number of faults were his, a little was Mrs Joe, and some was Miss Havisham’s however it was greatly his blemish. Most importantly language develops the theme of class by showing us how sophisticated and educated a person is, for example the way Joe speaks. We can gather that he is lower class, for example when Joe said “convict” the fact that he can’t spell or say convict indicates that he is uneducated and poor.
Moreover at the start of the novel when pip and the convict first meet “bits of bread” falls out of his pocket this demonstrates that pip is unfortunate and is lower class he ironically calls the convict “sir” which show us that he does not know anything about class. Furthermore Joe accuses him of “bolting down his food” which is not how a gentleman should act. Secondly he follows the instructions of the convict thinking that he is bellowing him. From the use of language we can also gather that the convict is lower class for example when the convict says “you fail in any “particular” “peculiar” illustrates that he is uneducated and poor.
The fact that he is trying to say words which he can’t say suggest that he is trying to make himself out higher than his class. In Sati’s house, however it is a whole new world as they dress, talk and act differently to the lower class. Estella acts as if she is superior to pip by Constantly calling him ‘boy’ she is also very cruel to pip as for example “she gave me a triumphant glance in passing me, as if she rejoiced that my hands were so coarse and my boots were so thick” also she barley even acknowledges pip.
Miss Havisham is an old lady who uses Estella to bring revenge at all male kind. Miss Havisham use of language implies that she is higher class, for example “come nearer, let me look at you, come close” she uses imperative which shows us that she is much higher class than him by the fact that she is ordering pip around shows that she is higher class. Estella and Miss Havisham have a feeling of superiority over pip. Overall our language reveals our level of class, pip from his use of language is lower class and Estella from her use of language is higher class.
Furthermore the structure develops the theme of class by the way it’s written, the novels opens with pip setting at the churchyard staring at five “stone lozenges” given the location of the story. We can gather that pip is an orphan and lost five siblings which show that in Victorian times there was a high infant mortality. Dickens then commences the conflict; a convict needing help, pip is terrified of the convict for example “I was trembling while he ate the bread ravenously” shows, the narrator is extremely effectual for example “when he came to the low church wall…… ike a man whose legs were numbed and stiff” the reader instantaneously imagine and feel part of the confessional conversation between the convict and Pip. “Great expectations” is arguably written in an autobiographical way as it reflects pip throughout his life and experiences. One could argue that dickens is not just telling a story he is also didactic about class and society. In conclusion, although wealth and money might be the source of power to success in the Victorian society.
Dickens suggests that the whole idea of class is very specific, Joe and biddy is arguably the main heroes in the novel. After pip’s transformation into a gentleman pip unquestionably changed his views on his beloved Joe and would even ‘pay him (Joe)’ to stay away from him. Pip who became a gentleman is embarrassed and mortified by Joe and is ashamed of his lower class background. However Joe always saw pip as his ‘old chap’ and that never changed regardless of pips class status. Conversely Joe still called pip ‘sir’ but never asked for anything which proves how kind and good-hearted Joe really is.