Great Expectations


Dickens' provides the reader with scathing insight into the social standard of this time/era. How successful is Dickens in portraying the injustices of social class?

" In England the social fences, if left alone, grow like wild hedges."
-D.W. Brogan

The class system in England began with the introduction of feudalism which followed the Norman Conquest of 1066 and has been the social guideline for hundreds of years. The class system consists of an upper, middle and lower class. These classes and the differences between them, are evident in the plot and interaction of the characters in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Dickens paints a biting portrait of the English class system where the undeserving upper class is omnipotent, the middle class consists of those envious of the upper class, and the hard workers of the lower class who are unable to succeed due to their birth status. These injustices are personified through the outlandish characters of Miss Havisham, Mrs. Pocket and Magwitch, who satirize the upper, middle and lower classes. These characters embody many of the traits, which Dickens found to be indicative of the various classes. Through colorful narrations and descriptions, these characters come to life and guide us through the many social guises of ninteenth century England.

Miss Havisham's lazy and indulgent nature is seen through Pip's many vivid descriptions of her as he became progressively more embroiled in Miss Havisham's games. Miss Havisham personified the idle rich as she sat in her mansion, brooding over the past, while still wearing her disintegrating wedding dress. Miss Havisham was obsessed with her failed marriage and created another doomed relationship by manufacturing Estella to break Pip's heart. Miss Havisham acted so childishly partly because she was brought up by a wealthy father who "denied her nothing" and because she never had to work in order to be financially secure. She entertained herself by playing sadistic games with children, Pip and Estella. As she explained to Pip, "I sometimes have sick fancies." Miss Havisham was a rich eccentric who sat in her dark, dusty home, "in her once-white dress, all yellow and withered?everything around in a state to crumble under a touch." The absurdity of Miss Havisham's life is used as the framework that Dickens utilizes to satirize the upper class. Her upper class, lavish lifestyle and ridiculous idiosyncrasies illustrate that despite all of the wealth and social education of the upper class, they are fools who are power hungry and unable to cope with adverse life situations.

While the upper class that Dickens portrays is of garish, childish and lazy individuals, the middle class at that time wished to emanate the qualities of the upper class. Those in the middle class were always envious of the power and wealth of the aristocrats and tried to be accepted into this elite class by flattering those in it. The Pocket family is an example of those who flatter the upper class. Dickens the Pockets are seen mockingly as they make their yearly visits to Miss Havisham, falsely flattering her with compliments of how well she looks. When the Pockets visit Miss Havisham, they feign affection so that they may be included in her will. The small middle class comprised of intellectuals and professionals, of whom Mr. Pocket was one as he had "been educated at Harrow and at Cambridge, where he had distinguished himself?. and taken up the calling of a grinder." The Pockets were a moderately well off family, but they would never be part of the aristocracy solely because they do not have a title to their name. Through the hilarious descriptions of the Pockets, Dickens trivializes titles. " Still, Mrs. Pocket was in general the object of a queer sort of respectful pity because she had not married a title; while Mr. Pocket was the object a queer sort of forgiving approach because he had never got one."

 
 
 
Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook were not as close to the upper class as the Pockets, nonetheless, their behaviour was indicative of their adulation of the upper class. For example, Mrs. Joe does not question the wishes of Miss Havisham when Miss Havisham calls Pip to come visit her; "she wants this boy to go play there. And of course he's going. And he had better play there." Mrs. Joe sends Pip into a strange place where he is treated terribly, but she sends him