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The novel "Great Expectations" was intended by Charles Dickens as a social commentary on the society of pre-Victorian era England.

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Introduction

The novel "Great Expectations" was intended by Charles Dickens as a social commentary on the society of pre-Victorian era England. Through his use of intricate characterisation, narratorial perspectives, comprehensive descriptions and the ironic outcomes, Dickens ridicules and thus reflects many key values and attitudes of that society. He shows the importance of class and the prejudices associated with class, the values of society towards women and the attitudes of individuals, as well as the injustices and arbitrary nature of the justice system. Victorian England was a society that valued class distinctions, and this is clearly shown in "Great Expectations" by the variety of characters portrayed and the eventual outcomes of their actions. There were many prejudices associated with class. Upper-class people were treated with more courtesy and society had little respect for the lower classes, often treating them as criminals. This prejudice towards the lower classes is clearly evident in "Great Expectations". Magwitch tells Pip about his trial with Compeyson. ...read more.

Middle

The class barriers of Victorian England were supposed to be hard to penetrate, but Dickens uses irony to question that attitude. Estella is shown as an upper-class lady, yet the ending of the book reveals that she has come from the lowest of the low as the daughter of Magwitch and Molly. This ironic situation shows that although class was highly valued, a member of the lower classes by birth can still be passed off as a lady with the right conditions. Justice was another important value of society of that era. Due to the industrialisation and the spreading gap between rich and poor, crime became a major feature of society and so justice was important, however, the justice system was arbitrary, repressive and lacked any real justice. Corruption was rife, as shown by Dickens when Pip first arrives in London and was approached by "a drunken minister of justice (prison gate keeper) to view a trial...for half a crown". ...read more.

Conclusion

In a society where women are controlled by men in all aspects of their lives, this independence is extremely unusual. Dickens portrays Miss Havisham as an evil fairy godmother figure; "she was the strangest lady I have seen...dressed in rich materials...her hair was white. Contradictory to the Victorian ideals and values of women; she is independent and coldhearted. Another conflicting character is Mrs. Joe. She is characterised as dominant and overbearing and at times violent towards Pip and Joe. Both of these characters meet unpleasant ends. Mrs. Joe dies after being violently attacked and Miss Havisham dies after attempting to incinerate herself. The eventual outcomes seem to be reflective of their behaviour; almost deserving such punishment because of what they did in their lifetimes. These two characters can be held as examples to show what should happen to women who go against the values of society, and thus reaffirming those values. Through his characterisation, use of irony and comprehensive descriptions, Dickens has used "Great Expectations" to reflect the values and attitudes of nineteenth century English society towards the treatment of women, the importance of class backgrounds and the legal justice system. ...read more.

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