Q. Discuss about the social picture of Victorian society in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
Great Expectations exposes about Dickens’s dark attitudes toward Victorian society. In this novel he has discussed about Victorian society’s natural class structure, fault of judicial system, distinction between rural and urban England and immorality of high class.
Rural picture of England: In this novel, the picture of rural England is given through the family of Mr. Joe. In the first chapter we find, Joe’s family, consisting of Joe who is a blacksmith, his wife, and the latter’s little brother Pip, lives in the marsh country, down by the river, within twenty miles of the sea.
Dissimilarity between city and rural life: A noticeable difference existed between the rural and urban England. The lives of the rural people were very simple. They were honest and caring. But the people of the city like London became complicated.
Class Combination: Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England, ranging from the most worthless criminals to the poor peasants of the marsh country to the middle class to the very rich. The people of the upper class, so called gentleman did not combine with the people of the lower class. It is seen through Pip’s discomfort on Joe’s arrival at London.
Morality: The moral theme of Great Expectations is quite simple. Here we find; affection, loyalty, and morality are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class. Dickens has established the theme by the character of Pip, largely by exploring ideas of ambition and self-improvement. Pip is an idealist; he immediately desires to obtain the improvement. His desire for self-improvement is the main source of the title of the novel; because he believes in the possibility of progress in life and he has “great expectations” about his future.
Crime, Guilt, and Innocence: The theme of crime, guilt, and innocence is explored throughout the novel largely through the characters of the convicts and the criminal lawyer Jaggers. The imagery of crime and criminal justice encompasses the book, becoming an important symbol of Pip’s inner struggle to join his own inner moral conscience with the institutional justice system. Magwitch frightens Pip at first simply because he is a convict, and Pip feels guilty for helping him because he is afraid of the police. By the end of the book, however, Pip has discovered Magwitch’s inner nobility, and is able to disregard his external status as a criminal. Prompted by his morality, he helps Magwitch to escape the law and the police.
Greediness: Greedy attitude of people is reflected through Miss Havisham’s relatives. Her relationship with her relatives is based on money and power. They may consider enough hate for her but cannot refuse to have undue advantages from her. The greed of these persons also shows the selfish society of that time. Here we also notice that, Miss Havisham is the victim even of her lover’s greed for money. Her lover robbed her of a lot of money and then deserted her.
A number of characters in Great Expectation are dominated by a greed for money. When Pip goes on Miss Havisham’s house for the second time, he finds Camilla, Cousin Raymond, Sarah Pocket and Georgiana. All are Miss Havisham’s relatives. All the relatives are seeker after money. They all expect financial advantages from Miss Havisham. They all visit her on her birthday in order to win her favor.