Charles Dickens was born in 1812, he lived during a time of great social change in Europe. At the age of twelve Dickens was taken out of school in London, and put to work in a filthy warehouse where he had to stick labels on bottles of boot-black. He was uprooted at the warehouse and was utterly lonely as his father, mother and five siblings were placed in a debtors’ prison where John Charles Charles Dickens father worked as a clerk. Dickens suppressed this episode for much of his adult life, acknowledging it only in his fiction.
It is revisited too, in Great Expectations, when the “stupid, clumsy labouring boy” Pip goes to London to escape the indignities of the smithy work, only to find himself increasingly implicated in substrate of crime and deprivation, which seem to make his London experience an extended symbolic brooding on the taint first encountered by Dickens himself in the Blacking Warehouse. The setting of Great Expectations is during Victorian England. This is a very important time when many changes were happening in society. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries greatly transformed society and the work ethics.
This novel is also, to a certain extent, an autobiography of Charles Dickens’ life. Great Expectations was certainly one of Charles Dickens greatest critical and popular successes. The story is told as a first person narrative with the main character, Pip, explaining his life and times. Great Expectations is both an absorbing mystery as well as a morality tale. It centers around the story of “Pip” Phillip Pirrip. Pip is a man that all through his young life tries to better himself because he is ashamed of who he is, and where he came from.
When fortune falls in his lap, Pip is forced to realize that money does not make you happy, and that it cannot buy what he wants most, Estella’s love. Pip is a poor village boy, his expectations of wealth, and his development through life after an early meeting with the escaped convict Magwich, who he treats kindly despite his fear. Pip’s unpleasant sister and her humorous and friendly blacksmith husband, Joe, bring him up. Young Pip is then introduced to Miss Havisham, a now aging woman who has given up on life after being jilted at the altar, and also meets her adopted daughter Estella.
Estella is a beautiful girl but seems an empty shell of a person. Cruelly, Miss Havisham has brought up Estella to revenge her own pain and so as Pip falls in love with her she is made to torture him in romance. Aspiring to be a gentleman despite his humble beginnings, Pip seems to achieve the impossible by receiving a fund of wealth from an unknown source and being sent to London with a lawyer, Jaggers. He is employed but eventually loses everything and his love, Estella, marries another. Pip soon learns that his benefactor is Magwich and his future existence is based upon outgrowing the great expectations and returning to Joe.
Eventually Pip is reunited with Estella. In Great Expectations, Dickens is interested in what it means to be a gentleman. He explores this theme through three characters, Pip, Joe and Magwich. All three characters are not of a high social position. The social classes in England at this time were immensely divided between the upper class and the working class, which is what Pip, Joe and Magwich belonged to. Joe and Pip lived in the bustling and dirty city of London rather than the calm and scarcely populated countryside.
The novel also clearly shows the strict rules and expectations that governed people in the different classes, especially the higher classes. People from the working class were not supposed to mix with people of the higher classes and the rules they had to live by were strict. Pip is the main character and also the narrator of the story. The very first time we see Pip he is a very small boy and he is in a graveyard. He tells us that he is looking at the graves of his mother, father, brothers and sisters. He goes on to indicate that he never even saw them but forms his impressions of them from their gravestones.
Pip is then approached by an escaped convict, Magwich, and is very frightened by this encounter. Dickens describes this fear very accurately. Pip risks his own punishment by stealing food and equipment to help the convict, however, Pip also tells Magwich that he hopes he enjoys the food. This shows signs of kindness and generosity which are both gentlemanly traits. Pip”s life at home is far from ideal. It is Christmas Eve but the only way Pip appears to observe this is by stirring the pudding all evening until his arm aches. His sister continuously threatens him and Joe with her stick and with tar-water.
Pip belongs to a home of very low social class shown by the dialect and lack of education in his home. By the end of Chapter 7, Pip is about to be dragged off to play at Miss Havisham”s. When arriving at Miss Havisham’s Satis House Pip meets a young girl who turns out to be Estella, Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter. Pip sees her and instantly falls in love with her looks, however later on when talks to Estella he learns that Estella’s personality is not as pretty as her looks, and that infact she is a cold â€“ hearted young girl.
Pip is then introduced to Miss Havisham, who asks him what he thinks of Estella. Pip protects Estella’s feelings by whispering into Miss Havisham’s ear as to what he really thinks of Estella, this is another gentlemanly trait, this shows Pip’s etiquette. Pip shows gentlemanly traits further on in the story when he is much older. Pip helps Magwich escape from London and tells Magwich that he is going to go with him. However, Magwich and Pip get caught and Magwich ends up being locked up in jail and is sentenced to death.
Pip show a gentlemanly trait throughout all of this episode and stays with Magwich till his end. Another character which shows signs of being a true gentleman is Joe, who shows various different gentlemanly traits throughout the story. Joe Gargery is married to Pip’s sister, Mrs Joe, making him Pip’s brother-in-law. However, due to the age difference between them and the fact that Pip is an orphan, Joe is more like a father to Pip, and calls him his own son, which shows that he is genuinely fond of Pip. Pip describes Joe as “a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow”.
Pip sister treats Joe almost as badly as she treats Pip himself and Pip claims that he treats Joe as a “larger species of child” and as no more than Pip’s equal. However, Joe’s care and concern for Pip shows the importance of their relationship during Pip’s unhappy childhood. Apart from his strong relationship with Pip, Joe leads an unhappy life as a poor blacksmith who repeatedly gets threatened by his wife, Mrs Joe. Mrs Joe is a tyrannical sister and mother figure, Mrs. Joe raised Pip from the time his parents died when he was a baby until her accident.
Abusive and prone to rampages of her temper, she appeared in the beginning to be an almost uncaring but authoritative figure. Being the good hearted man Joe is, he would never hit back at his wife and always tries to protect Pip from her, this is a gentlemanly trait. Joe also stands up for his abusing wife when Orlick is rude to her. When Joe learns that Pip helped the convict, Magwich, by giving him some food and equipment, Joe say that he would not want to see the convict starve, rather than lose his temper with Pip. When Pip gets an apprenticeship and goes to London, Joe goes to visit him.
Joe wears his Sunday best, however uncomfortable, just so he doesn’t let Pip down. When Joe meets Pip he calls him “Mr Pip”, even though Pip is younger than him, he does this to show respect. He also wears his Sunday best when he goes to see Miss Havisham. Further on in the story, Joe helps Pip by paying his debts with the savings he was going to use to marry Biddy. He also cares for Pip when he becomes ill, even though Pip has not been good to him. The third character to show gentlemanly traits is Magwich. A convict and Pip’s benefactor, at different times in the story Magwich is both villain and hero.
After the loss of his daughter, Magwich develops affection for the young boy who brings him food, brandy, and a file. Wanting the boy to be all he couldn’t be, he devotes his life to making money and giving it to the boy to be a gentleman. Magwich risks his own life so he can see Pip. Magwich shows gentlemanly traits through various different parts throughout the story. When Pip brings Magwich some food and equipment, Magwich thanks him. Magwich works hard and lives a rough life so that he can save enough money to make Pip a gentleman. Also, Magwich doesn’t blame Pip when his escape goes wrong, towards the end of the story.