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Picture of the Victorian Society in Great Expectations

Great Expectations reveals Dickens’s dark attitudes toward Victorian society such as its inherent class structure, flaw of judicial system, contrast between rural and urban England and immorality of high class. In Great Expectations, he also depicts several educational opportunities that highlights the lack of quality education available to the lower classes.

Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England, ranging from the most wretched criminals (Magwitch) to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham). It is not only that there were several classes, but there also existed class distinction or class consciousness. The people of the upper class, so called gentleman did not mix with the people of the lower class. It is seen through Pip’s uneasiness on Joe’s arrival at London.


This is Dicken’s sharp criticism that a fake Victorian gentleman Pip becomes ashamed of his old childhood friend Joe’s presence at his lodging in London. When Biddy, by writing a letter, informs Pip that Joe is coming at London, Pip cannot be happy: rather a growing discomfort seizes him. Inwardly, he does not hope Joe’s coming to meet him at London where Pip lives with a sophisticated society. Pip’s snobbishness rises to such an extent that he once thinks that if it would be possible, he could bid Joe away offering him some money. When Joe meets him, Pip shows a cold and disinterested attitude to him. He feels a sense embarrassment for Joe’s clumsy behavior, loose coat, and old hat. However, Joe clearly recognizes Pip’s treatment of him, and decides not to settle down in his room for the night. Similarly, Pip’s snobbery is obvious when he, on visiting his home town, does not settle down on the smithy with Joe, rather takes a room at an inn.

The shocking fact was that the people of the higher class or gentlemen also got the different treatment from the judicial system. They were highly punished, while the people of the lower class got the comparatively harsh punishment. Magwitch fell a victim to injustice and ruthlessness of law enforcing agency. They passed a harsher punishment (14 years imprisonment) for Magwitch than the original villain Compeyson (7 years’ imprisonment) simply because Magwitch had previous records of criminal activities while Compeyson seemed a gentleman with good and upper social lineage.

A marked difference existed between the rural and urban England. The lives of the rural people were still very simple. They were honest and caring. But the people of the city like London became complicated as well as complex. For example, pip has arrived in the metropolis and has taken a look around. He is not much impressed by the locality in which Mr. Jaggers has his office. He finds this locality called “Little Britain,” to be full of filth. Mr. Jaggers office is itself a most dismal place.

The housekeeper, a woman of about forty, kept her eyes attentively on her master all the time that she was in the dining-room. Pip also noticed that, during the dinner. Jaggers kept everything under his own hand and distributed everything himself. In the course of the dinner, Jaggers, a shrewd lawyer as he was, extracted whatever information he wanted from each of his guests.

The picture of rural England, is given through the Joe’s family. In the opening chapter we find, an orphan boy, named Pip who lives with his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who is married to the blacksmith, Joe Gargery. The family, consisting of the blacksmith, his wife, ad the latter’s little brother Pip, lives in the marsh country, down by the river, within twenty miles of the sea.

People specially the members of the upper class became immoral. A number of characters in Great Expectation are dominated by a greed for money. When Pip goes o Miss Havisham’s house for the second time, he finds a number of Miss Havisham’s relatives there. He calls those relatives “toadies and humbugs”.

Herbert Pocket- Herbert Pocket is a member of the Pocket family, Miss Havisham's presumed heirs.

Camilla –Camilla is an ageing, talkative relative of Miss Havisham who does not care much for Miss Havisham but only wants her money. She is one of the many relatives who hang around Miss Havisham "like flies" for her wealth.

Cousin Raymond -Cousin Raymond is another ageing relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money. He is married to Camilla.

Georgiana - Georgiana is another aging relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.

Sarah Pocket- Sarah Pocket is one of her relatives who are greedy for Havisham's wealth.

All those relatives are seeker after money. They all expect monetary advantages from Miss Havisham. They all visit her on her birthday in order to win her favor. The inwardly hate her because of her prosperity. Their visit to Miss Havisham is based on greed, hoping to please her enough to be given some of her money at her death.

Miss Havisham is the victim even of her lover’s greed for money. Her lover robbed her of a lot of money and then deserted her. Miss Havisham has learned that the possession of money is no guarantee of avoiding cruelty and unhappiness.

Mercenary attitude of people is reflected through Miss Havisham's relatives. Her relationship with her relatives is based on money and power. They may conceive enough hate for her but cannot refuse to have undue advantages from her. The greed of these persons also portrays the materialistic society of that time.

Through his portrayals of teachers in Great Expectations, Dickens symbolized the varied educational opportunities and what they offered. Mr. Wopsle’s great aunt illustrates the lack of education available to the working class. Like the education she offers, this old dame is "ridiculous," "of limited means," "and unlimited infirmity". She is so insignificant, that she has no name. This emphasizes the insignificant amount of knowledge she offers her students. Just as she is a distant relative of a church clerk, her school is a distant relative of the church’s attempts at educating the poorer class.

Other educational options existed in Victorian England but were reserved for those who could afford it. Pip is elevated to one such opportunity when a mysterious benefactor pays for his "gentleman’s education." Matthew Pocket illustrates this type of education. As indicated by its tutor’s name, this genre of education was reserved for those who had "full pockets." Unfortunately, it was bestowed upon many who would find little use for it. These "gentlemen" were not expected to work. Mr. Pocket, a Cambridge graduate, provides a scholarly education that like his own pursuits leads to "loftier hopes" that often fail (185; ch. 23). This type of education produced self-serving individuals who offered no benefit to society. It costs a great deal of money for Pip to "contract expensive habits" (197; ch. 25). His expensive habits put him in debt, yet his scholarly education leaves him "fit for nothing" (316; ch. 41). Almost a comical situation, if you are not living it. Even an expensive education yields very little benefit for Pip and society. 

Great Expectations was a magic mirror for England’s Victorian society. In Great Expectations, Dickens provides a vivid picture of the working-class struggles with the existing educational opportunities.

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