In ‘Great Expectations’ social class plays a very important role. ‘Great Expectations’ is all about the role social class played in Victorian times, because in that time there was a very strict social class system and usually people who were born in a particular class would have lived there whole lives in that class. The only way people from that era would have moved up the social system, was if someone from higher up the system, took a liking to them and invested in their future.
This novel, which is in the style of a bildungsroman, shows Pip moving through the class system, this actually happening to a young boy from the country fascinated people. Most boys from that era would have wanted and aspired to become a gentleman, because if you were a gentleman you would have had better living conditions, better cloths and better jobs, because if they had stayed working class they would have had to live in little often infested houses, would have worn rags and have jobs such as miners and blacksmiths.
Unless you were born in the upper class that would have been very difficult to achieve, Dickens realised how hard it was to go up the social class ladder and felt bad that some of the people born in the working or lower class, could be great kind gentlemen, but people who are born in the upper class haven’t earned there right to be a gentlemen or even a lady but have everything anyway.
He didn’t like how the social class system worked or how it stopped people from being great and from socialising, so he based a book ‘Great Expectations’ on and around social class and how the prejudice created by social class isn’t a good thing for the community, or for the lower class working people, so that people could see what was wrong with social system and help try to fix it. The first point about social class in ‘Great Expectations’ is the character of Pip. Pip is the main character in the book and in the book we follow his journey through the social system.
The first thing we learn about Pip and his background is that he comes from a poor family from the country side, also that his parents are dead and he’s an orphan, who lives with his sister and Joe Gargery. As a child pip is made to feel that his background is inadequate by numerous characters, the first is his sister and the second is Estella. When Estella first sees Pip she calls him ‘a common labouring boy’ which would mean she looks down on him and that he wasn’t good enough.
Then one day when he is older and is working as a blacksmith, he finds out that someone has invested in him so he can become a gentleman. And so he moves to London to start training to become a gentleman. When Pip moves to London and becomes a gentleman he becomes snobbish, stuck up and looks down on the lower classes. The character of Pip teaches us that in Victorian times, it was natural for the upper class such as gentlemen to look down on people lower down the social class then them. In Victorian times to be a gentleman meant you were powerful, well respected and that you had lots of money.
And Dickens used this in most of his books because, he thought that even though most gentlemen had those things in those times, but he thought that those things shouldn’t be the things that makes a gentlemen and he tried to put that message across in his books. He showed this in the character of Pip, when pip turns into a gentleman he has all the traits of a gentleman but not actually being gentlemanly he showed us that Pip had the money, the job and the respect, but not respect for people in lower classes and because he’s got a new suite he thinks he’s better then Joe and his old country life.
When Pip becomes a gentleman various characters start to act differently towards him, these characters include Joe, Biddy and Mr. Jaggers. Firstly Mr. Jaggers changes his mind about Pip in a good way, because as Pip starts to change it feels like he starts to respect him slightly more. But Joe and Biddy start to feel that Pip is getting stuck up and rude and begin to resent him because of it. Dickens also makes Pip go into dept because, it was a way to show Pip falling back into his old life and a way to show that even though you have the respect and money unless you know how to use it you cant be a gentleman.
Also at this point Dickens starts to make Pip sick he uses this as a metaphor of Pips moral decline, by using this to get pip back to his home in the country side and to get Pip starting to realise that it was Joe and Biddy who really care about him and for him, so he realises that it was them he should have been trying to impress and be nice to and even though he wasn’t they still gave him a second chance.
But by the end of the book it’s not in fact the men that are classed as gentlemen that show us the most gentlemanly behaviour, with the exception of Herbert none of them act like a true gentleman should. Whereas characters such as Joe act like what a gentleman should act like, so it’s twisted. There are also ladies in ‘Great Expectations’ an example of this is Estella. Estella is part of the upper class. But only because she was adopted by miss Havisham.
When she’s younger her first reaction to Pip, as a lower class boy, is that he is dirty, common and not good enough for her. At first people how readers of the book don’t like or respect Estella, but when she becomes a lady, some of the readers start to respect her a bit more because, she doesn’t look down on the lower class anymore and seems to have matured into a decent human being, then right at the end of the book when she realises she likes Pip the reader really starts to like her.
But if you were to compare Pip to Biddy, Biddy has the respect for the whole book, whereas Estella only has our respect at the end so we respect Biddy more than Estella this is because, Estella starts the book with a bad view on the lower classes and the viewer doesn’t like that, but with Biddy all we see with her is that she is kind and treats everybody equally, so we warm to Biddy a lot more. My last point about Estella is about her real parentage.
At the start we think that she is Miss Havisham child, but on page 409 we find out that Estella is the child of Magwitch, the convict and a former convict turned maid. And if people where to find out about this they wouldn’t have treated her in the same way in Victorian times, because she would have been looked upon as scum and not worthy of being anything other then a someone from the lower class.
Some of the other characters integrate the theme of social class in there characters such as Joe, Biddy and Herbert these characters show us that no matter what class you are your still equal, Herbert shows us this from a gentleman’s point of view and Biddy and Joe show us this from a lower point of view. Whereas other characters such as Magwitch and miss havisham, who think they can use there high class and money to get what they want and back then, that’s what most high class rich people thought.
Dickens also uses dialogue between different social classes to show class, by showing us how different classes speak in different ways, because when a working class person talks to a person from the higher class, the higher class person will enunciate and speak politely and in a well mannered tone, whereas the working class person would shorten words and not really bovver enunciating and when you have them talking to each other you notice the difference in class. The novel of ‘Great Expectations’ shows us that in Victorian times social class was a very important thing, which would determine what peoples lives turned out to be.
In Victorian times if someone where to read this novel, considering it would mainly be high class people who would have read the book, they would have reacted in a negative way, due to the fact that this would have been pointing out the flaws in there way of living and in there social system, which they would have agreed with because ,there were on top of it. But if someone were to read it today it wouldn’t affect them because, although stuff like that still happens, it doesn’t happen to that degree anymore, also it doesn’t affect us as much nowadays. So it doesn’t hold as much relevance to us today as it would have been in Victorian times.