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How does Dickens present childhood in Great Expectations

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Ben Benmore How does Dickens present childhood in "Great Expectations"? In Victorian times, children had a very suppressive upbringing; "spare the rod and spoil the child" was a common motto. Children were treated poorly and unfairly, they were expected to be seen and not heard. In "Great Expectations", Pip is treated very harshly by his sister, Mrs Joe, "...she had brought me up by hand...and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand". This shows that Pip is hit by Mrs Joe, the use of the adjectives "hard and heavy" emphasises the force of her strike. Another example of Pips harsh treatment is, "Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame." Pip is often caned by Mrs Joe, the personification and irony of "tickler" gives a sense of them not wanting to admit the truth of the "tickle", and this may contribute to Pips guilt and timidity. It is stated retrospectively by Pip and as such he appreciates the "brutality" of the use of the cane. He uses irony as a method to emphasise the inappropriateness of its use. Pip is a very sensitive, imaginative and intelligent, "My sister's bringing-up had made me sensitive." The beatings by Mrs Joe, Pip's sister, affect Pip. ...read more.


When Pip is abused by Mr Wopsle, Joe gives him more gravy to make him feel better. Pip trusts and confides in Joe throughout his childhood, "He hammered at me with a wigour." Joe tells Pip that he had a difficult childhood when his alcoholic father used to beat him and his mother; this helps Pip to cope as it meant that Pip could confide in Joe as he knew what he was going through. Joe also helps to defend Pip in front of Mrs Joe, who Pip is scared of, "Get behind the door old chap, and have the jack-towel betwixt you." Joe provides suggestions to protect Pip from beatings and to lessen the pain on impact. Other adults treat Pip differently, although similarly abusive and speak very lowly of him. Uncle Pumblechook thinks that children should not be pampered, "Seven times nine, boy." When Pip stays at his house, Uncle Pumblechook spends most of his time quizzing Pip; his use of "boy" indicates that he just addresses Pip as a basic form, not personally - as Pip. Mr. Wopsle is verbally abusive to Pip, "What is detestable in a pig is detestable in a boy." He compares boys to pigs, implying that Pip is no better than a pig, in context, it was an unnecessary comment. ...read more.


Estella makes comments about Pip's use of common language. Estella is unhappy and that is why she is a bully. Whereas Pip feels guilty when he steals from Joe and Mrs Joe, "Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses man or boy." Pip's moral conscience is evident whereas Estella seems not to have one. Pip is not as lonely as Estella because he has Joe, she, however, only has Miss Havisham, who is not the most friendly, and does not mix socially. Victorian language is used to portray the background and class of the character. "What fat cheeks you ha' got!" The convict speaks fairly roughly. "Has the boy ever made my objection?" Miss Havisham uses more formal language; this indicates that she is of Upper Class. "Meshes" (for marshes). Pip uses a local dialect, showing that he is Lower Class. Children's' futures are largely dependent on their background, not their ability. In conclusion, Dickens presents Victorian childhood as extremely harsh and suppressed. He uses Pip as a symbol for how gruelling and difficult life was for the poor. Dickens may have modelled Pip on his own childhood, as his family were imprisoned for debt, resulting in him working from a very young age. Estella symbolises the result of vanity and greed in the upper classes, an obnoxious and ostentatious child. "Great Expectations" was a very divisive book for the era because Dickens dared to show what life was really like. ...read more.

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