Great Expectations: Wealth as an Agent of Isolation

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Great Expectations: Wealth as an Agent of Isolation

In Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, Dickens conveys the idea that wealth leads to isolation. The novel begins when Pip, a young orphan, encounters an escaped convict in a cemetery. Despite Pip's efforts to help this terrifying personage, the convict is still captured and transported to Australia. Pip is then introduced into the wealthy yet decaying home of Miss Havisham where he meets Estella, a little girl who takes pleasure in tormenting Pip about his rough hands and future as a blacksmith. As Pip continues to visit Miss Havisham's house, he becomes more and more dissatisfied with his guardian, Joe, a hard working blacksmith, and his childhood friend Biddy. Several years later, when Pip becomes the heir of an "unknown benefactor" and the recipient of "great expectations," he leaves everything behind to go to London and become a gentleman. Pip spends many years in search of his benefactor's identity and is later disappointed to find his benefactor to be the same convict whom Pip had helped in the marshes many years ago. Pip also discovers that having expectations is not what he thought it would be, and only through the loss of his unlikely fortune does he regain the love and innocence that he once possessed in his childhood years at the forge. Charles Dickens explores the idea that wealth is the agent of isolation through the novel's characterization, through its setting, and through its underlying themes.

The characterization in Great Expectations suggests that money causes people unconsciously to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. Pip, upon spending time with Miss Havisham and Estella, becomes discontented with his apprenticeship and coarse upbringing at the forge and wishes that "Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too" (Dickens 74). Pip becomes ungrateful to those who "brought him up by hand" and longs desperately for the magnificent romance of Satis House. Without realizing it, Pip grows further and further away from the genuine reality of his life at the forge. Later, when Pip is endowed with his unexpected fortune, he becomes selfish, greedy, and makes excuses for himself not to keep in touch with Joe and Biddy. As he goes through the process of making out his bills, he illustrates his ability to fool himself and to turn his face away from reality towards what is empty and false. "There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did" (336). Pip is successfully dishonest with himself and spends his days in a lonely pattern of spending money and tallying up his debts. Besides being greedy and dishonest, Pip is blindingly proud of his prosperity. At his sister's funeral, Pip does not censure his own pride and vanity while he censures these qualities in Pumblechook and the Hubbles. "My thoughts were further distracted by the excessive pride of Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, who were surpassingly conceited and vainglorious in being members of so distinguished a procession" (344). At the same time, Pip's pride and confidence in the power of his money is clearly present as he offers Biddy some of his wealth, which she quickly declines. Pip is deceiving himself and ignoring the foolishness and loneliness into which prosperity and pride have led him. Miss Havisham is also proud and selfish, but more than that, she is bitter, which causes her great loneliness in her decaying mansion. Miss Havisham is a wealthy, half-mad woman who was jilted on her wedding day many years before and has never recovered. Miss Havisham's fiancé had used her for her money, and when he had enough, left her at the height of their relationship. Miss Havisham locks herself in her dark decrepit house and does not let anyone in her life besides her beloved Estella. Miss Havisham also uses her wealth to manipulate not only her relatives, but even Pip—although...
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