Imagery in Great Expectations

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Consider the function of the imagery in Great Expectations and explain how it conveys ideas about class or gender.

Imagery is a crucial device employed in literary texts that affects how we interpret dominant ideologies of the society represented in the text. This is the case in Charles Dickens’ realist novel, Great Expectations (1860-61), which enacts the stratified class structure and power relationships of Georgian and early Victorian England. The novel is a critique of a society where capital indicates social position, where wealth defines opportunity, and where social class enforces a strong sense of stratification. It also comments on the possibility of class mobility and the relationship between social class and morality. Imagery, in the form of characterisation, pathetic fallacy and figurative language, plays an important role in conveying these issues about class.

The representation of the typical Victorian class structure in the novel highlights the division of wealth, power and cultural capital in distinguishing individuals in an increasingly capitalist society. Dickens explores the injustice of the upper class’ control over the working class. Class distinction is evident in the characterisation of Mrs Joe and Miss Havisham. Mrs Joe “always wore a coarse apron, fastened over her figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full with pins and needles” (page 8). On the other hand, Miss Havisham “was dressed in rich materials – satins, and lace and silks” (page 57). Mrs Joe’s appearance defines her as a blacksmith’s wife and of the working class, whilst Miss Havisham’s wedding dress represents her wealth and upper class lifestyle. The imagery used to display the contrasting appearances of these two characters emphasises the link between social class and lifestyle. Reading from a Marxist perspective, injustice in the class system is shown where the wealth and privileges of the upper class is gained at the...
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