April 12, 2009
How Many Dolphins Can One Fit In a Sentry Box?
“The old lady’s hearing decidedly improved, and the unlucky Miller felt as much out of his element as a dolphin in a sentry-box” wrote Charles Dickens in his first novel “The posthumous papers of the Pickwick Club” (Dickens 77). There is no doubt that Dickens felt the same at some point throughout his career. What a “coming of age” story Dickens had! From working ten-hour days at a rotting blacking-warehouse above a swarm of rats; Dickens spent his final days as one of the best writers in the world. Suffice it to say, Dickens also wrote the greatest “coming of age” story of all time “The Great Expectations” and gave the ultimate example for a “dolphin in a sentry box”. Pip was trapped by “performance anxiety” that surfaced in the form of committing a number of mistakes throughout his journey. Speaking of “performance anxiety” every writer who is given the task of writing a paper on the brightest gem in the “Dickens cannon” faces a grave challenge, for bookshelves – if not small libraries – have been built for each topic concerning the novel. Even writing an essay on the novel serves as part of a modern social critique, since the “expectations” to excel amongst thousands have been set fairly high by the academic-society standards. Pip’s anxiety was caused by the “expectations” that was demanded from a gentleman moving up in the class hierarchy during the Victorian era. The onslaught of industrial revolution had left an abysmal canvas on Britain at the time which also served as the background for Dickens’s magnum opus. As a survivor of the period, Dickens successfully deconstructed each of the vilifying images he had to endure during his dark days and synthesized them into the novel as part of his social critique of the era. The great observer poised each of these images with ink and mixed them with his greatest trait – his characters. Dickens knitted an iron thread through his characterization in the novel. From Joe Gargery to John Wemmick, everyone reflected their social backgrounds to the utmost extent, in the purpose of creating a strikingly vivid portrayal of the period. The contrasting use of language amongst the characters based on their social status is an important example, such as Joe’s poor verbal skills compared to that of Wemmick’s strong grasp over his carefully chosen words. It should also be noted how almost every reader tends to speak of “Joe Gargery” by using his first name, but when they are confronted with “John Wemmick” he’s always addressed by his last name. So then it can be said that Dickens’s social critique still lives on in modern day, even if it has gone through a wild metamorphosis. A modern day social critic – although not praised for this trait of his – Chuck Palahniuk once wrote “Everyone’s in their own personal coma” in his novel “Diary” (Palahniuk 39). One can’t help but relate this statement into “The Great Expectations” which was written more than a century ago. From Pip to Miss Havisham and Estella to Mrs. Joe, everyone’s living their own personal coma in the novel – their own prison. Dickens gives Miss Havisham the “Satis House” and her fear of men while Estella is confined by the constructed identity Miss Havisham has built for her. Mrs. Joe is trapped-in spiritually and lacking morals, but then later gets trapped in physically as well by Orlock. One wonders whether this is a public punishment since the novel was first written in the form a “bildungsroman” first, therefore Dickens might have fed the crowds, and in doing so, included them as part of a social critic. The working class is always more than eager to punish one another as seen in “lynch crowds” throughout history. Nevertheless when the time comes to face the system everyone goes to their homes and locks the door. Pip as the protagonist gets funded – unknowingly or knowingly that’s another research paper – by Magwitch in order to get rid of...
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