What moral purpose was Charles Dickens trying to put across in his novel - Great Expectations?
Charles John Huffam Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870), was the foremost English novelist of the Victorian ere, incorporating many social injustice problems of his time into his work. ‘Great Expectations’ concerns the young poor boy Philip Pirrip (known as Pip, used to resemble Dickens own childhood) who was orphaned as a child and therefore brought up by his unpleasant sister and her humorous and friendly blacksmith husband. He later turns from rags to riches with help from his mysterious benefactor Abel Magwitch; the convict that he had saved from starvation at the beginning of the novel. As he progresses to the upper class, and gains wealth and power, he loses his kindness and becomes a little ignorant of the plight of the poor. Dickens has highlighted this to show that money does not always make you a better person or always make you happy, as Pip still struggled miserably to win the heart of his first love Estella.
On a bleak evening, Pip is sitting in the churchyard by the grave of his family surrounded by people who have failed `the universal struggle.` At the period that Great Expectations was written, life was a constant challenge for the many orphans in England and many resorted to child labour, begging or stealing until the end of their short lives. The name Pip suggests that the novels narrator is small and week but throughout the novel, the seed that is Philip Pirrip grows and flourishes. The grim evening reflects Pips own mood – made worse when the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, seemingly resurrected from the grave shouting “keep still you devil or ill cut your throat”. The word “and” is repeated over and over when the scene is being described to create the feeling of isolation; of Pip being all alone in the world. The same word “and” is alliterated again producing strong and distinct mental images of Magwitches major struggle on his run from the law. Magwitch manipulates pips vulnerability to get what he needs but then eases off when he finds out that his parents are deceased showing that he is not completely heartless. Pip is terrified at the man standing before him threatening to literally eat him and he believes every word. As the confrontation nears its conclusion, Pip is tilted back against a tombstone – “after each question, he tilted me over a little more, as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger” Dickens has done this to build tension and show that Magwitch was fully in control. Pip is forced to say “say lord strike you dead if you don’t” which petrifies him further as in the 19th century the church played a more important role in life and he genuinely believed that he would be struck dead on the spot if he didn’t comply after swearing to God!
In the eighth chapter, Pip is requested to “play” at Miss Havishams mansion; a total strangers house – were he is greeted with an icy reception from Havishams adopted daughter Estella. As she leads him through the dark dismal passages, she insists on calling him “boy” to show that a person of lower class than her is of no value and does not deserve to own a name. This was common in the Victorian era, as the rich and the wealthy (higher classes) often looked down their noses to the poor. When they approach Miss Havishams dressing room, Estella leaves him, “and even worse, took the candle with her”. Pip is left in the dark in both terms, as he is now standing in the shadowy hallway alone, and he is unsure about what he will face on the other side of the door. Pip meets and eccentric old women who was left humiliated and heartbroken at being jilted at the alter in her youth. She has let her past experiences consume her and had all the clocks stopped at the exact point at which she had learnt of her betrayal, attempting to freeze time and appearing to be existing, rather than living with no goals or relevant future....
Bibliography: Only references used from the Great Expectations (Penguin Classics) (Paperback) 2004
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