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What do you learn of London society from reading Great Expectations?

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Introduction

What do you learn of London society from reading Great Expectations? Show how Pip is affected by its standards and values. At the beginning of the novel, Dickens presents Pip as a boy who does not really know much about life outside of the forge, and keeps himself to himself. He is an innocent boy who has been brought up to respect his elders and betters. When Pip meets Magwitch, the convict, Dickens shows that he is a kind boy, because he helps by getting him food and a file. We also learn how gullible Pip is, because he believes Magwitch when he tells Pip there is a terrible man who will kill him if he does not do as he is told. "I looked all round for the horrible young man, and could see no signs of him. But, now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping." This shows the reader that Pip is very na�ve, and also very timid. He is not the sort of boy who would stand up for himself. His visits to Satis House, his first acquaintance with a higher social class, are like a stepping-stone towards London. What he learns there, about how people live and talk, would influence him in the future. These visits are what make him ashamed of being "a common labouring-boy" and lead him to aspire to the status of a gentleman. ...read more.

Middle

Although he is Pip's guardian, he tells Pip "you'll go wrong somehow, but that's no fault of mine." Pip sees a very different side of London society in Herbert Pocket. Pip finds him very kind, and easy to confide in. He is relatively poor, but is not jealous of Pip. This shows Pip that money is not everything, and that people can be happy without it. Herbert helps Pip in his first few weeks in London by informing him when he does something wrong, such as eating and talking in the wrong way, "in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth-for fear of accidents-and that while the fork is reserved for that use, it is not put further than necessary." He is very tactful in doing this, and does not make Pip feel stupid. Matthew Pocket, Herbert's father, is a "serious, honest, and good man," and is also very kind towards Pip. He is Pip's tutor and teaches him what he needs to know to become a gentleman. Pip's friendship with them is a positive influence on him, but it is not enough in itself to prevent other more superficial aspects of London society from enticing him. As soon as Pip arrives in London, he begins to become extravagant with money. He believes that his life "would be agreeably varied" if he not only boards with Mr Pocket, but also at Bernard's Inn, and he spends a lot of money on furniture. ...read more.

Conclusion

He values Herbert and Wemmick, who are relatively poor, as friends, because of their good nature and honesty, whereas he sees Drummle for the "contemptible, clumsy, sulky booby" that he really is, despite his family's wealth. Another thing that shows Pip's better nature is his generosity towards Herbert in setting him up with a career. He does this secretly, which shows that he is being sincere in his actions, and not just trying to gain gratitude. "I wished my own good fortune to reflect some rays upon him," he says to Wemmick, showing that unlike some people in the upper classes he is not selfish with his wealth. In London, Pip enters into a society that focuses on wealth and family connections. Its standards and values are superficial and there is a huge gulf between rich and poor. To be a gentleman all you seem to need are the external things like money and fine clothes, rather than depth of character. Pip can therefore be excused for believing that money and a lavish lifestyle automatically make him superior to other people. He becomes snobbish and self-important, and neglects his old friends. However, the shock of hearing the true source of his expectations from Magwitch makes him begin to realise that his efforts to fit in with this society of wealth and status have cut him off from the "simplicity and fidelity" of Biddy and Joe and that he has allowed a class barrier to come between him and the people who love him most. ...read more.

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