Social criticism in The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations

Topics: Great Expectations, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby Pages: 6 (2240 words) Published: April 27, 2004
Authors often use their works to convey criticisms of society. Such works of literature do not directly criticize specific real people or events. They do however present a sense of the writer's concern with issues of social injustice and misguided values. Two strong examples of social criticism through literature are Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In both novels the writers project their social criticisms to the reader through the use of characterization and setting. Great Expectations was written and set in mid-Victorian England, having been first published as a serial in "All The Year Round" a weekly English periodical. Dickens used this form of publication to incrementally dose his readers with his criticisms of Victorian English Society. In this work the writer uses setting to influence character; thereby showing how social problems arise from people conform too the political, social and economic elements of society. The Great Gatsby was written and set in "jazz-era" 1920's America. With this novel Fitzgerald criticizes a different society than that of Great Expectations that has different problems. However the author still uses the relationship between setting and character to bring to life a critical portrayal of American 1920's society.

With Great Expectations Dickens strongly criticizes three social problems that afflict Victorian England: the treatment of children, the injustice of the social class structure and the inhumanity of government and Law. In the authors time children were objectified as a virtually cost free commodity of labor to support the industrial revolution. Dickens expresses criticism of the abuse of children in Britain through characterization in Great Expectations. The most poignant example of this is the storys protagonist Phillip Pirrip, referred to throughout the novel as Pip. Pip portrays the abuse of children through example. During childhood he receives regular beatings and constant harassment by his sister and guardian Mrs. Joe. Being an orphan he is considered a burden not only by Mrs. Joe but also by her family and friends, as expressed early on in the story by the unanimity of all present (save Joe) around the dinner table at Christmas. This universal malice against Pip for being a young child who is dependent for the basic necessities of life establishes and carries the novels theme of the dehumanization of children in Britain. In fact Pip is eventually legally bound to Joe as forced labor in his blacksmith shop. The paradigm of Victorian child mistreatment is further established as one realizes that Pips indentures are a favorable alternative to being sent to a forced labor work mill, as was the status-quo for orphans and unwanted children. Other lesser characters are examples of Dickens' displeasure with social regard for children. Trabbs Boy, the young boy of Pips age who is bound to work for the tailor and labor at his yolk is only shown during childhood as being objectified as a labor commodity. The Avenger, the boy whom is hired by Pip after his social elevation and move to London is only shown as being controlled by a young adult Pip as a domestic servant. Even Estella is an example of the objectification and dehumanization of children. Although she is never forced into labor as a child on a count of the wealth of her guardian Miss Havisham, she is raised to be an object of unquestioned obedience. Deliberately making her the heartless and cruel embodiment of Miss Havishams vendetta against the world beyond the gates of Satis House.

In Dickens' England society conformed to a class structure that was obsessed with social satire and wealth. On its lowest end the great multitude, droves of people that worked jobs as industrial slaves in work mills and factories. These people, the majority of the population were entered into this world of work at very young ages, were forced to work twelve hour days and were paid extremely...
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