Moral Struggles in Realist Novels

Topics: Sociology, Social class, Working class Pages: 5 (1631 words) Published: May 7, 2012
Moral Struggles

A realist novel is a multi-voiced prose fiction portraying individualized characters undergoing changes while interacting with social, political, and moral factors dominating their world. A realist novel is a mimesis of reality depicting struggles of the society it is representing and the limitations and conflicts found within this society (Realist Novel, p.20). This stimulates a moral struggle within the character and acts as a catalyst of change and guides the novel's action. A moral struggle in which the character is faced with two sets of ideals and has to choose between them arises from the struggles of the society being referred to and mirrors the challenges of people in this society and its historical period. Thus, in this essay I shall discuss how the moral struggles that the protagonist undergoes guide the action of the story in a realist novel, in relation to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev.

Novel and Society:
Novels reflect the society and its constraints. Stendhal said that a novel is a mimesis of society, while Gosse argued that it presents deeper emotions and internal intensities (RN, p.104). On the other hand, Raymond Williams argued that a novel isn't adjacent with the society but embedded within it (RN, p.105).Therefore, Great Expectations and Fathers and Sons reflect the society they come from and are embedded in, as well as the historical period during which these novels were written. These novels achieved their "moral purpose" through the moral struggles that they stimulate within their characters.

Great Expectations:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is a Bildungsroman and an autobiography of an orphan (Pip). Pip is a poor orphan who lives with his ill-tempered sister and her husband (Joe). After meeting Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella, as a sometime companion to them; Pip notices how poor people are looked down on by rich ones. This is mainly due to Estella's harsh treatment to him (e.g. When she said that he's a common laboring boy) (GE, p. 59). This treatment begins a moral struggle in little Pip. Pip becomes ambitious for wealth and social advancement. He wants to become rich or a "gentlemen" as rich people were described. Then an unknown donor, the convict "Magwitch", sends him money through Mr. Jaggers, the attorney. Afterwards, Pip leaves to London in order to learn the details of being a gentleman, to join fine society, and to seek education. However, his life with the upper class makes him face moral and financial challenges that he must deal with. Pip adopts the cultural norms of his new status and the attitudes of his class without questioning them. For instance, when Joe visits him, Pip is embarrassed with him in front of Herbert (GE, p.222). Instead of seriously studying, Pip wastes his money and tries to forget his past. He refuses to associate with Joe and the convict due to their humble background, which activates a feeling of guilt in him. However, he soon becomes penniless, sick and miserable. When Joe comes to visit him (GE, p.457), Pip realizes his mistake and his failure in his moral struggle with society and wealth. He comes to know that loyalty and affection are more important than wealth, social status and class. Great Expectations is a social statement and critique that satires the class system of a Post-Industrial Revolution model of Victorian England (RN, p.109). According to House, Dickens highlights social issues like debtor's prisons, child labor, orphans and orphanages as well as social classes in the mid-Victorian England (RN, p.169). However, Dickens's criticism is moral rather than revolutionary, and it expresses the middle-class dream (RN, p.171). Edward Said argues that Dickens aimed to show the middle class audience that what makes a gentleman is the cultivation of moral values like loyalty, sensitivity, decency and hard work along with the...

References: • Dickens,c.(1994 edn) Great Expectations, ed. M. Cardwell, intro. K. Flint, Oxford University Press (first published 1860-1).
• Turgenev, I.(1991 edn) Fathers and Sons, trans. and ed. R. Freeborn, intro. K. Flint, Oxford University Press (first published 1860-1).
• Walder, D., (2004),"The Realist Novel", London, the Open University.
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