Great Expectations was published weekly in the literary magazine called All The Year Round founded by Charles Dickens. It was published from the 1st December 1860 to August 1861. Later that year, in October, Chapman and Hall (that originally was a British Publishing house) published Great Expectations in three volumes. For a better understanding of the novel and the class and class mobility of the Victorian Britain we have to take a look at the book.
Pip is an orphan who lives with his sister Mrs Joe Gargery and Joe Gargery, her sister’s husband. They live in Kent in the mid 1800s[footnoteRef:1]. Joe is a blacksmith and her sister takes care of the house. With this little background we assume that they are not rich but middle-lower class. This will have a huge impact in little Pip’s life. [1: In 1834 The New Poor Law was renewed and poor people was send to workhouses were the conditions were awful. A recurrent topic in Charles Dickens’ novels. ]
In the firsts chapters we discover Pip visiting his parent’s grave. Suddenly, a convict (which Pip thought was a monster) approaches him with an awful attitude, scaring him to death and trying to make Pip liberate him. Pip says to Magwitch (the convict) that his sister’s husband is a blacksmith who could probably have the chain broken.
Much later, in chapter 8, Pip goes to play in Miss Havisham’s house, because maybe this will have repercussion on their future. Pip has discovered a new world going to Satis House. He thought himself being a middle-lower class boy, but while entering to Satis House, the image he had of himself radically changes. Seeing Miss Havisham daughter Estella being so proud of whom she was and being so confident, makes Pip want to be in the high class society instead of being a blacksmith for the rest of his life. Here is when Pip problems began, with the face-to-face of the lower-middle class and the high class.
We can connect these 8 chapters to how classes are represented in Great Expectations. On the one hand, the lower-middle class are represented as people with poor background who have to work to survive, but they are not bitter about it. On the other hand we see how high class people are represented. They are proud of their status and they don’t work because they don’t need to. Also, poor people are mistreated1; we only have to look at how Estella deals with Pip. She beats him and treats him awfully. Miss Havisham, on the other hand is bringing up Estella with the only purpose of making her cold and not capable of loving, because she wants her to torture men with her beauty for revenge.
In the Victorian Era, high class people were there because they had a background of wealth, but this term was beginning to change. Humble people could not become richer with time and effort, but thanks to looking at things differently and with the complaint of lower-middle class this statement was considerably becoming weaker. Middle class or even poor class people could be the same as wealthy people with a lot of effort, unfortunately not everyone was able to achieve it.
Continuing with the book, in chapter 12, “luck” starts to come into Joe’s life thanks to Pip, but Joe, on purpose, will cause a bad image to Miss Havisham. This could be because Joe is not stupid and he knows that Miss Havisham won’t take care of Pip.
Much later on, Pip is now a gentleman, but his life is not what he thought it would be. He is not the delighted high class man he aspired to be, he is depressed. Apart of no having a job and doing very little with his life, Pip discovers that Magwitch has been taking care of him sending him money. Pip is horrified with this situation because he cannot accept the money coming from someone who was sent to Australia for life. He feels betrayed and dirty. Chapters later he understands that Magwitch only wanted to take care of him because he owned him his life. He apologizes to the thief and makes a great bond with him. Afterwards, Magwitch die in prison and Pip gets a very rough fever. He then recovers from it.
At the end of the novel, we see Pip saying goodbye to Estella because she is leaving “forever”. Maybe if Pip was from high class he wouldn’t have met Magwitch and he wouldn’t have met someone (apart from Biddy and Joe) that cared so much for him. Magwitch is a great pillar in Pip’s life. But the most important person in Pip’s life was Estella. If it wasn’t for Estella, Pip wouldn’t have made the most important decision of his life, becoming a gentleman. Thanks to her, Pip has learnt the value of possessions and of things he didn’t know were important. Thanks to the convict we can understand a little bit more his decisions and guilt. Thanks to Joe and Miss Havisham we can understand the mentality of the middle and the high class from a different point of view.
In conclusion, what we can learn about how class is represented in Great Expectations is very clearly. Nobody can be pleased wanting what they cannot reach or wanting possessions they don’t own. First of all you have to be glad of what you have. You cannot move to middle class to high class if you do not appreciate everything you have in life. This is the moral of Great Expectations. Poor class is seen as very glad for what they have because that is the only thing they need; they are seen as a working class that owns what they deserve. In contrast, wealthy people are seen as awful creatures that only think for themselves and are nothing grateful for their belongings and their way of life. Mobility seen in Great Expectations might be a myth too; you cannot go to one place to another because it is impossible. Nothing is easy and sometimes it is better to stick to your background better than move to another class and be miserable. You have to be thankful of what you are, of your belongings and of your background, because nothing comes for granted.
- The British Library – https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-middle-classes-etiquette-and-upward-mobility (Accessed 29th December 2018)
- Encyclopaedia Britannica – https://www.britannica.com/topic/Great-Expectations-novel-by-Dickens (Accessed 29th December 2018)
- Feminism in India – https://feminisminindia.com/2018/11/06/miss-havisham-choices/ (Accessed 29th December 2018)
- History – https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution (Accessed 28th December 2018)
- The National Archives – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/1834-poor-law/ (Accessed 29th December 2018)
- The New Poor Law, The Workhouse, The story of an institution, http://www.workhouses.org.uk/ (Accessed 29th December 2018)
- Morrison, Peter, Serie Editors: Bennet, Sue and Stockwin, Dave. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Hodder Education https://www.hoddereducation.co.uk/media/Documents/English/Study-and-Revise_Great-Expectations_Sample-Pages.pdf [footnoteRef:2] (Accessed 30th December 2018) [2: It is just a sample. I coulnd’t find the complete one. I used this book for guidenes of the characters. ]
- Lyon, Arthur, et al. Livelihood and poverty; a study in the economic conditions of working-class households in Northampton, Warrington, Stanley and Reading, London: George Bell & Sons, 1915 https://archive.org/details/livelihoodpovert00bowlrich (Accessed 30th December 2018)
- Mackay, Thomas. Methods of social reform; essays critical and constructive. London: John Murray, 1896. https://archive.org/details/methodsofsocialr00mackrich (Accessed 30th December 2018)