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How does Great Expectations Reflect the Victorian Era?

Then, Pip becomes a gentleman, he assumes that great expectations mean that he may no longer be content with the good things he already has. When Mr. Joe visits Pip in London, Pip looks down on Mr. Joe and thinks that he does not fit to his new environment anymore. Pip thinks to himself, ”Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance… If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money” (pg.186). Although Joe protected and assisted Pip throughout his childhood and adolescence, Pip was still embarrassed by him. However, in the end he regrets for treating him so rude.

After so many disappointments (He was planning to marry Biddy, but she married Mr. Joe. He expected that being a gentleman would provide him a chance to marry Estella, but she married Bentley etc.), he is finally forced to develop some simple and realistic expectations and learns how to be content with the modest living he makes in the mercantile firm. Pip learns that social class is not essential for happiness; that strict designations of good and evil, and even of guilt and innocence, are nearly impossible to maintain in a world that is constantly changing; and that his treatment of his loved ones must be the guiding principle in his life.

Great Expectations and Victorian Age

Dickens’ Great Expectations is one of several reflective books of Victorian age. It is a very successful representative of its own time. Written in 1860 and following the story of Pip from childhood to adulthood, the book represents the common Victorian elements like social class difference, industrialization, Victorian houses, Victorian values and women.

At the very beginning of the book, we encounter with a typical low-class family. They live in a village among marshes. Mr. Joe is a blacksmith and his wife (the sister of Pip) is a typical Victorian low-class housewife. She sinks under the household duties and always complains about not being able to take off her apron (chapter 1-2). Because of her harsh duties, she is always frustrated and often beats Pip. Then, we encounter with high-class, well-dressed, well-dancing women like Miss Havisham and Estella through the onwards of the book.

These two different families are also the first signals of the existence of social classes in the society. On the one hand, Gargery family is a poor, uneducated, living in a village. On the other hand, Miss Havisham lives in a mansion called Satis House. The Pockets’ house is full of servants. Estella is a young lady who dances well and educated abroad. Also the other women in Pip’s snobbish life in London represent the typical high-class Victorian women. Having seen the two different lives in early years of his life, Pip wants to shift to the upper class. He expects to become a ‘gentleman’ who has all the values appreciated by the society in order to have Estella and an upper class lifestyle.

Pip’s early impressions about London remind us the effects of Industrial Revolution and immigration. When he comes to London, he is amazed and displeased with the unbelievable crowd (resulting from immigration for job) and awful smell (coming from sewage due to the factories): ‘I was scared by the intensity of London. I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly, crooked, narrow, and dirty.'(pg. 138) The gloomy streets of Smithfield disturb him.

It is easy to see Victorian architecture and Victorian houses in the book. Satis House, Wemmick’s house (like a castle), and other ornamented houses tell us the taste of architecture of those days.

It is very sad not to see some of important themes of Victorian era like child labor, prostitution, colonialism etc. in Great Expectations. But, Dickens uses colonialism in Great Expectations as a narrative device. ‘A transported convict exactly meets the need for a benefactor who can make a substantial fortune yet who has to remain anonymous, and of whom Pip will eventually be ashamed. The capital law against returning from transportation sharpens the impact of the later chapters, when Pip sheds his pretensions as well as his wealth.’ Thus Dickens, like so many Victorian authors who used the colonies as places to transfer burned-out characters or from which to retrieve characters, uses this aspect of colonialism as the dramatic cornerstone for his novel.’ (Jonah Raskin in The Mythology of Imperialism (New York:Random House,1971))

In other words, colonialism is used not as a theme but a narrative device in Great Expectations. Also, Dickens used the other themes mentioned above in his other works. For example, Oliver Twist – child labor, destitution etc.

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