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Great Expectations. Discuss how the theme of class is developed through Pips visit to Satis House
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Discuss how the theme of class is developed through Pip’s visit to Satis House
‘Great Expectations’ is a bildingsroman written by Charles Dickens, set in the early 19th century. This essay will be discussing how the theme of class is developed through Pip’s visit to Satis House. It will also discuss Charles Dickens’ message of how he views the upper, middle and working classes. Dickens was brought up in a working class background. There was a noticeable division between classes in the early 19th century. Upper class people were able to stay at home without having to go to work. The middle class were able to stand over the working class (who did all the work) and live off the money they earned for them working in their mines, factories or farms. Working class citizens lived in small houses with only one or two rooms within the whole house,
In ‘Great Expectations’, Charles Dickens portrays the upper classes through the characters of Miss. Havisham and Estella. Estella, like Pip is an orphan, however, unlike him, she has had a background of privilege typical for a Victorian upper class child.
The children of the aristocracy had a privileged life; they had rich clothes and many toys. Typically, their father had to be obeyed and feared. Manners were considered very important: the children had to be well spoken and only speak when spoken to. They had to be looked after by a nanny not their mother. The children were taught by a private tutor until they were old enough to go to school, however only boys were allowed to go.
Many working class children like Pip, lived in the country, in cottages with their families. They had no school at the beginning of the Victorian era as children had to work to help their parents. A number of families then considered moving to towns to get jobs. Town children lived in overcrowded streets which quickly became slums; children had to share one bed or sleep on the floor; they had a bad diet and dressed badly. They were prone to diseases such as, smallpox, measles, diphtheria and tuberculosis. These children worked in local mines, factories or as chimney sweepers.
At the beginning of the novel we find out that Pip is illiterate, for example he says: “I fell among those thieves, the nine figures, who seems every evening to do something now to disguise themselves and baffle recognition.” This shows that Pip can barely read or write. He does not have a formal education or go to a normal school, but an evening school in the village ran by Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt; “much of my unassisted, and more by the help of Biddy.” This shows the readers that Pip has learnt more from Biddy then the school. Biddy is in fact his teacher and she wants to help him follow out his dream. Pip longs to learn how to read. Pip’s desire for self-improvement is the main reason as to why the novel’s title is ‘Great Expectations’; because he believes that he has the ‘possibility of advancement’ in life, that he has ‘Great Expectations’ about his future. We find out later on in the novel that Pip longs to become a gentleman; in order to do this, he needs an education.
As the novel goes on, we learn that Joe too is illiterate: “I accidentally held our prayer book upside down,”. This not only shows that Joe can not tell whether the letters are the right way up or not, but it also shows that he can not read and has either not learnt how to or forgotten. Joe’s mother had wanted him to go to school and get an education but Joe’s abusive and alcoholic father prevented him from having any schooling. Joe tells Pip: “Somebody must keep the pot a-biling,” this shows that Joe believes that providing money for the family is more important to him than his education or his future. This draws upon working class discourse.
Although Pip is found out to be illiterate, he still has many manners. For example, when Pip goes to the Mist on the Marshes where he finds an escaped convict whom he helps. Magwitch (the escaped convict) is of a lower class than Pip. However, he still calls Magwitch ‘Sir’. “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn’t be sick, and perhaps I could attend more.” this just proves that even though Magwitch is off lower class and is an escaped convict, he still treats him with respect. Pip is told by the convict that he must bring him some ‘wittles’ (food). In addition, Pip is also told by Magwitch, that, he has a scary friend who will happily eat Pip’s liver and heart. Compared with the friend, Magwitch is an ‘angel’.
At the Christmas dinner, hosted by Mrs. Joe, the whole forge is transformed so that their guests feel more at home. All three of their guests are from higher classes. Mr. Wopsle is a lower middle class; Mr and Mrs. Hubble are skilled working class and Mr. Pumblechook is a middle class merchant. Whereas, the Gargery family and Pip are only working class. “we found the table laid and Mrs. Joe dressed, and the dinner dressing, and the front door unlocked (it never was at any other time) for the company to enter by, and everything most splendid.” this shows that because of their class, Mrs. Joe feels she has to make more of an effort to welcome them into their home. Moreover, it shows that she has transformed the forge to their standards not what the Gargery family are happy with but what the higher class citizens feel comfortable with. This draws upon our social historical understanding, that working class people feel they have to change in order to be around the higher class citizens.
Pip meets Estella who has contempt for him and his working class background. Estella makes fun out of Pip’s hands and boots by saying: “what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!” This proves that there is a big difference between classes. Estella enjoys making Pip fell bad about himself and his social background. The tone Estella uses to speak to Pip is very rude: “ ‘Ah!’ said the girl, ‘ but you see, she
don’t.’ ” This shows the readers that Estella feels superior to Mr. Pumblechook. Furthermore, it has connotations that state Estella is not afraid to speak to her elders, she thinks she knows what Miss. Havisham is thinking; this depicts how Miss. Havisham has brought her up - to be confident, mean and rude to men. By saying, “Ah”, she is shown to believe that is better than Pumblechook. However, saying, “but you see, she don’t”, shows that she is not really upper class because she uses slang unlike an upper class person usually would not do. Estella tries to be upper class but she is betrayed by her lower class language. Readers are invited to believe that she wants to be upper class because she likes looking down on others.
Pip reacts in an odd manner. Estella continually uses “boy” to address Pip but he addresses her by “miss”. This juxtaposition shows us that Estella thinks it is appropriate to be disrespectful to Pip as he is unimportant because of his class, whereas Pip is shown to have respect for her. This could be because he thinks that Estella is more important because of her upper class background or whether it is because of his upbringing - Mrs Joe and Joe taught him to respect everyone no matter what class they are. We as the readers are left by Dickens to decide. Pip’s good manners continually remind us of social protocol in Victorian society. Dickens’ readers would have been able to identify what class each character belongs to, not only by their dress but also their manners and speech.
Estella and Pip represent the stereotypical precautions of class with the upper class looking down with distaste at the working class, whilst they look up to the upper class with awe.
Pip is out of place at Satis House: as Pip prepares for his visit to Satis House, we as the readers see that he does not know how to behave around Miss. Havisham. “For such reasons I was very glad when ten o’clock came and we started for Miss. Havisham’s; though I was not at all at my ease regarding the manner in which I should acquit myself under that lady’s roof.” This again shows that he is nervous and does not know how to behave.
Pip is shown to have desire towards Estella; “returned the young lady, who was pretty and seemed very proud.” This shows that Pip already has affection towards her. Furthermore, he already shows that he s interested in her. Later on in the novel, Pip is asked by Miss. Havisham, what he thinks of Estella; to which Pip replies, “I think she is very pretty.” This again shows that Pip has feelings of desire for Estella, though they have only just met. ‘Great Expectations’ is a novel in the bildingsroman genre, which tells a characters’ life focusing on growing knowledge and understanding.
The novel is narrated by both the younger Pip and older Pip. The narration done by older Pip is very sophisticated moreover it sounds upper class, for example he states: “That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day … but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” This is the older, stronger Pip narrating the novel. The narration done by the older Pip is shown to be a very educated style which suggests that Pip is now of higher class. However, the narration done by younger Pip is not as sophisticated; he sounds very innocent and imaginative, for example he says: “I saw a figure hanging there by the neck. A figure all in yellow white, with but one shoe to her feet; and it hung so, that I could see that the faded trimmings of the dress were like earthly paper, and that the face was Miss. Havisham’s with a movement going over the whole countenance as if she were trying to call to me. In the terror of seeing the figure, and in the terror of being certain that it had not been there a moment before, I at first ran from it and then ran towards it. And my terror was greatest of all when I found no figure there.” This quote shows that the younger Pip is not only innocent but it also shows he has a vivid imagination; he sees Miss. Havisham’s body hanging from the neck, but no figure was there when he ran towards it. He does not yet have the life experience to fully understand this image.
Estella is Miss. Havisham’s adopted daughter. Miss. Havisham raised her to be rude, mean, spiteful and vindictive towards men as revenge on behalf of Miss. Havisham because her fiancé left her waiting for him at the alter. Estella is the daughter of two murderers yet she grows up to be educated for a lady in France. Estella’s ‘great expectations’ are to be free from Miss. Havisham however, she does not realise this until later on in the novel. “ ‘So’, said Estella, ‘I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.’ ” This quote shows the readers that Estella finally realises that Miss. Havisham has been using her for her revenge. Miss. Havisham has made her what she is and is fully responsible for her ‘creation’. Estella says that both Miss. Havisham’s “success” and her “failure” make her who she is.
There are a number of quotes which are used to develop Estella’s higher class character. One of which is, “ ‘Don’t be ridiculous boy. I’m not going in.’ and she scornfully walked away, and - what was worse - took the candle with her.” This is symbolic as it shows that the working class ought to be left in the dark. Furthermore, “scornfully” has connotations of Estella despising Pip because of his lower class background. This could leave us to believe that, Estella thinks, only the higher classes deserve light also, she thinks Pip is too poor to require any light. This quote gives us an example of Dickens’ metaphorical imagination; Pip is drawn like a moth to Estella’s light, however he is following a misguided path as she leads him to destruction in his relationship with Joe.
Dickens’ uses Satis House as a symbol of the upper classes. The house is shown to have images of death and decay, just like Miss. Havisham who is described as “corpse-like”. Through such imagery Dickens is suggesting that the upper class are dated and unhealthily old. Moreover, Pip’s first impression of Satis House creates images of death-like imprisonment: “we came to Miss. Havisham’s house, which was of old brick, and dismal and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained all the lower were rustily barred. There was a court-yard in front, and that was barred;” this shows that the old house was like a prison; and perhaps, Dickens believed that, that is where the upper class should be. By saying, “the lower were rustily barred” shows that the upper class believe the working and lower classes should be “rustily barred” and in prison because they are not good enough to be near the upper class, furthermore, they should be blocked out of the ‘perfect’ upper class world.
The interior of Satis House again symbolises death and decay. Miss. Havisham’s room is disguised by the set dinning table. “an epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this [dinning] cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it.” this again shows that the house represents unhealthy decay. A big ’bride cake’ was lying in the middle of the table and no-one had thrown it away; it had just been left there to rot. Furthermore, “from that room, too, the daylight was completely excluded,”; “there was a clock in the outer wall of the house. Like the clock in Miss. Havisham’s room, and like Miss. Havisham’s watch, it had stopped at twenty minutes to nine.” This again metaphorically shows that there is no light in the house and that the upper classes were blocked out from the real world. The second quote shows Dickens feels that time has stopped for the upper class. The industrial revolution had very quickly changed the structure of English society furthermore, the upper class had not yet realised this or adapted to it. The stopped clocks throughout the house symbolise Miss. Havisham’s determined attempt to freeze time by refusing to change anything from the way it was when she was jilted on her wedding day.
Miss. Havisham has not changed out of her bridal wear since her wedding day. Pip states: “I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers and had no brightness left but brightness of her sunken eyes.” By using “bride”, Dickens suggests that she was a bride long ago however, she didn’t marry. Furthermore, it makes clear that it was a key moment in her life and after that her life stopped and she began to decay. This also reflects her upper class status, she has time to pity herself and feel sorry for herself. However the working class were too busy for such a luxury. The description of her “sunken eyes” and “no brightness” refers to her sorrow being reflected in her personal appearance. Moreover, “withered” suggests that even though Miss. Havisham is upper class - dressed in absolute finery - the dress is still “withered” symbolising her life being the same-though she is upper class. The use of similes, compares how she has become - with time. Flowers are visually shown as something pretty, perhaps Miss. Havisham wishes she could have been pretty, but she is now in the process of dying from a long life of misery and guilt.
Miss. Havisham’s use of dialogue with Pip is very commanding and also gives us an insight into how the upper class view the working class. “ ‘look at me,’ said Miss. Havisham. ‘You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the Sun since you were born?’ ” The command “look at me”, suggests Miss. Havisham believes she has the authority to tell Pip what to do because she is upper class. It also makes the readers think, she wants to know what Pip really thinks of her. The words, “the Sun” suggest to the reader that Dickens believes that the Sun gives life and Miss. Havisham is death-like and does not get any sunlight because she decided to stay in her house all day. The word, “afraid” suggests that Miss. Havisham likes to be intimidating towards working class people, however, she is actually trying to scare Pip. The words, “since you were born”, suggests that she has not done anything in her life and that the upper class are not happy with themselves. The quote creates images of Miss. Havisham having a sad, lonely and depressing life. Additionally, Dickens has only created one upper class character throughout the novel and she has created a bad impression on the readers. Miss. Havisham states: “I sometimes have sick fancies.” This shows Dickens’ own personal view about the upper class. He thinks they are unhealthy and criticises them through the novel.
Dickens’ has created double characters. For example, he created two escaped convicts on the marsh (Magwich and Compeyson); two woman who interest Pip (Biddy and Estella). Miss. Havisham and Mrs. Joe are shown to be the same type of person (invalids) to represent that there is no real difference between classes. As Miss. Havisham is from the upper class and Mrs. Joe from the working, they both are shown to have a similar personality. They are metaphorical characters who have a deeper meaning to them.
Dickens is trying to a message in the minds of the readers through Miss. Havisham. “In a by-yard, there was a wilderness of empty casks, which had a certain sour remembrance of better days lingering about them; but it was too sour to be accepted as a sample of the beer that was gone - and in this respect I remember those recluses as being like most others.” This quote has connotations of Miss. Havisham’s life being sour representing the upper class were sour. Dickens seems to believe that the rich are insular, ruthless, self serving and entrenched in the past.
Dickens uses Miss. Havisham’s character to illustrate his views on the aristocracy by portraying the upper class through her character. He uses her metaphorically to make the readers believe the upper class are all like Miss. Havisham. However, he has made her have an unusually large amount of power for an average upper class lady: as she owns her own land; is not married and has no husband to tell her what to do. In addition to that, the brewery next to Satis House symbolises the connection between commerce and wealth. Miss. Havisham’s fortune is not the product of an aristocratic birth but of a recent success in the industrial capitalism.
As Pip’s growing awareness of his social class becomes clearer to him, he begins to insult himself and his past an awful lot. For example he says: “I had never though of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong that it became infectious and I caught it. “ This shows that Pip is becoming more aware that he is of a lower class than Estella and Miss. Havisham. ‘Had never thought’, could mean he was innocent of class before his visit to Satis House. As well as that, he was never exposed to class snobbery and prejudice. The word, “ashamed”, shows that he felt embarrassed of the way he looked in front of Estella and Miss. Havisham; whilst “became infectious” shows Dickens likens this awareness of class to a disease. Pip was happy and content before his visit to Satis House, however he is now exposed to the ‘world’s illnesses’, highlighting that Dickens considers class as an illness.
Pip’s feelings towards himself change after just one visit to Miss. Havisham’s house. He states: “ I was a common labouring boy; that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks; that I was much more ignorant than I considered myself last night, and generally that I was in a low-lived bad way.” This portrays what Pip thinks of himself after just one visit to Satis House. He is insulting himself and calling himself ignorant. Dickens uses the word “boy” to remind the readers that Pip is just a young boy with his whole future ahead of him.
Pip’s feelings about Joe begin to change dramatically: “I wished Joe had been more genteely brought up and then I should have been so too.” This shows that the working class were aware of being lower than the upper class. The phrase, “genteely brought up” shows that he wishes he was upper class so that Estella could understand him better and maybe even grow to love him the way he does her. Furthermore, it shows that Joe’s blacksmith’s trade is not good enough for him. This is when Pip begins to realise that his dream is to become a gentleman so that he and Estella can be together. Before he went to Satis House, he was comfortable with his class whereas now he is confused about the way he acts. Joe represents Pip’s past, his childhood, whereas Miss. Havisham and Estella represent Pip’s desires to become a gentleman.
Earlier on in the novel we see that Joe and Pip stood by each other, they were there for each other. Pip describes that, “Joe and I are fellow sufferers,” showing us that he and Joe were close, like best friends or father and son. Joe was continuously on Pip’s side; whereas now, Pip is ashamed about Joe even though he raised him like his own son.
Dickens places a great deal of importance on narration and dialogue as it is a way to put his own views across to the readers’ minds. For example: “The watchmaker, always poring over a little desk with a magnifying glass at his eye, and always inspected by a group in smock-frocks poring over him through the glass of his shop- window, seemed to be about the only person in the High Street whose trade engaged his attention.” this quote shows the readers that Dickens is making a comment about the middle class not doing any work whilst the working class do everything. Furthermore, “If the villain had stopped here, his case would have been sufficiently awful,” Here Dickens shows he does not like the middle class and refers to them as “villains”.
The opening of chapter 1, tells the readers about Pip’s past. For example, he states: “My father’s family name being Pirrip and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip and came to be called Pip.” This quote informs the readers of Pip’s background.
The closing of chapter 1, informs the readers, that Pip was scared of the convict he had just met and the ‘scary friend’ Magwich (convict) had described. “I looked all around for the horrible young man, and could see no signs of him. But now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.” This quote shows that he was scared and wanted to go home without having to run into the ‘scary friend’. this creates suspense for the reader: is he going to make it home without running into the ‘scary friend’ or not?
Dickens has the most sympathy for the working and lower classes. Dickens ensures Pip is kind and supportive towards the convict, the reflects Dickens’ own personal views - his father was imprisoned for fraud. Pip states: “ ‘O! Don’t cut my throat, sir.’ I pleaded in terror. ‘Pray don’t do it sir.’ ” This shows the readers that Dickens wants the reader to sympathise with Pip as Magwich continued to scare him. It also shows that Pip has good manner. Dickens has ensured that Pip is kind and supportive towards the convict so the readers understand that that is how Dickens views the working class people.
The moral message of the novel is, there is no real difference between the classes. Mrs. Joe and Miss. Havisham are shown to be the same type of person (invalids) to represent that there is no difference between classes and that everyone is equal. The ultimate moral is Pip’s realization that wealth and class are less important than love, loyalty and inner worth. The Satis House episode reveals to the readers that Dickens does not like the upper class and he believes that working class are not given enough credit for what they do; they are judged by the amount of money they have and not their personality.
This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Great Expectations section.
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