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Great Expectations, character and setting

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Explore Dickens use of setting and character in 'Great Expectations'. You should focus on Pip and his experiences on the Marshes, at Satis House and in London. 'Great Expectations' is a novel by Charles Dickens. The main protagonist is Pip who is also the narrator. The novel follows Pip's life and the experiences he has from his childhood through to adulthood. It recounts how his social status changes throughout his life due to an unknown benefactor. He begins his life as an orphan and is brought up 'by hand' on the marshes by his sister and her husband, Joe the blacksmith. As such his social status is quite low and his prospects are limited as he is destined to become Joe's apprentice. However, by a remarkable twist of fate he comes into a large sum of money which changes his life completely. Prior to this event Pip's only contact with people of a higher social class are his visits to Miss Havisham the wealthy owner of Satis House. Pip always feels inferior to her, and her ward Estella does everything within her power to demean and bully him. When Pip later receives the money he mistakenly believes it has come from Miss Havisham, and she encourages this assumption. He moves to London where he lives the life of a wealthy gentleman and expresses disdain for his former friends and loved ones. Pip falls in love with Estella but his love is not reciprocated and she marries Bentley Drummle. Pip becomes disillusioned with the shallow nature of London life and the lack of real friends. He returns to the marshes to try and get back to a simpler life. The novel shows how Pip's moral development is affected as he matures and encounters certain life events. The story was written and set in Victorian England. It was at the time of the industrial revolution when the social landscape was changing. At that time divisions between the rich and the poor were wider than ever. ...read more.


He displays a refreshing honesty which Miss Havisham is unused to. Even fear of his sister is not enough to stop Pip blurting out the truth as he sees it. He talks about everything being so 'new' when in reality everything is very old and as if time has stopped. His subsequent meeting with Estella is the first point in the novel where Pip's expectations of himself start to change. He begins to be unhappy with the way he is and wants to be different, which initiates the change in Pip's character. 'I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before... Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.' The fact that Pip had never thought of being 'ashamed' of his hands again shows the difference between classes. While people of a higher social standing may look down on people with 'coarse' hands, people of a lower social standing do not even think about coarse hands being a problem. By saying that her contempt was an 'infection', it gives the idea of disease. Just like a disease Estella's words are infecting Pip's mind, giving him new ideas about the way he should be. This is proven when he says, 'I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, then I should have been so too.' In chapter two Pip describes Joe as 'a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow - a sort of Hercules in strength.' This shows a startling contrast to how he regards him now and it is surprising how quickly Pips feelings of affection toward Joe turn to blame. This is a foreshadow of how easily and quickly Pip will forget his roots. Later in the courtyard Pip goes on to say, 'I took the opportunity of being alone in the courtyard, to look at my coarse hands and my common boots... ...read more.


The law was harsh and punishment severe with prisons being cruel and overcrowded. When Pip walks past Newgate Prison he meets the Minister of Justice who takes him into the yard where the gallows are kept and where people are publicly whipped. Pip says, 'this was horrible and gave me a sickening idea of London.' Also, the class system was very rigid and working class people lived in terrible, unsanitary conditions, especially in large cities such as London. Violent crime was common and the streets were dangerous places to be. The industrial revolution brought with it lots of pollution and the cities were blanketed with smog, which caused respiratory difficulties. The unsanitary drainage, rats and overcrowding also led to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid. The overall effect of the novel is a comment on the human condition. Life brings its problems and trials no matter how much money or what social class you belong to. This is as true today as it was in Dickens' time. Each level of society has its own problems in the novel. Life on the marshes is dirty, hard and cold but the characters of Joe Gargery and Biddy are basically content with their lives. Miss Havisham as a symbol of the upper classes is a victim of her class and time as women are not valued unless they marred well. They are expected to conform to being nothing more than possessions of their husbands. Society is not fair and people are trapped in the social class they are born into. Dickens holds a mirror up to the society of his time and depicts all the problems inherent in a rigid class system the time of the industrial revolution. Cities were overcrowded, dirty and disease ridden. Dickens uses the story very effectively to show people how the problems in society impacted on his characters. By establishing a connection between the reader and the character he's able to show the true awfulness of their lives and how they are powerless to change them. ...read more.

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