Charles Dickens "Great Expectations"

Topics: Writer

In “The Go-Between” social status often defines the behaviour of the characters towards each other. Judgement is made on appearances, property and title, as this is seen as a reliable indicator of the quality of an individual’s character. In this way, Marian and Ted’s relationship may be seen in some way as liberating, as they love each other regardless of social status and Marian without attention to the superficial country life in which she so actively takes part. In “Great Expectations”, Dickens presents a society where class and status do define attitudes and relationships.

Yet Dickens, through successive examples, provides evidence that this is neither an effective nor fair judge of a person’s calibre, and that an enlightened society would recognise the value of individuals by who they are, not simply in terms of monetary worth. Moreover, Hartley chooses to tell “The Go-Between” largely from the perspective of a shy, nervous, emotionally charged, vulnerable, boy whose school seems to have denied him the expression of his childhood, consequentially leaving his wild imagination to warp events and remain oblivious to the reality of his treatment.

Leo’s childhood innocence portrayed as “green” naivety by Marcus and Marion. Despite this, Leo remains loyal to the upper classes until and even at the end, agreeing to be the messenger boy one last time; he remains subservient to the assumptions of class and status, even in there deteriorated, degenerate state a the close. On the other hand, Dickens tells “Great Expectations” from the point of view of Pip, a social upstart unprepared to merely accept his lot, instead aspiring to a way of life he is below.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Writer

4.7 (348)

“ Amazing as always, gave her a week to finish a big assignment and came through way ahead of time. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Pip would have remained contented in his naivety of social inequality, as even he said. Yet for Dickens, naivety is not a defence for the maintenance of the existing social order, as how can you be truly free if innocent of the truth? Although Pip is also nai?? ve, and the revealing and revolution of Pip from such does not do his character any good; Dickens may argue this Pip is more a product of the effect of existing social and class assumptions, that Gentleman must remain aloof.

At the end, Pip is changed, his links with the working and lower classes in Magwitch and Joe have reformed him morally; the lower classes he distanced himself from have been his salvation. Once he stops daydreaming in the false reality of a match with Estella, understands and learns the lesson of what it is to be a real gentlemen as being beyond simple monetary value; he is able to understand the plot he’s in and play an active role in changing it; in working out the mystery of Estella’s parentage and trying to enable Magwitch to escape.

Pip is no longer a slave to the class hierarchy and class assumptions, as shown by his sleeping in his own room at the forge again and working for his living; while Leo at the end of “The Go-Between” remains so chained. Dickens was a social reformist and self-made gentleman, who believed in universal education for all, and worked and campaigned to achieve this aim. In “Great Expectations” he may be seen to offer a stark criticism of an unequal society by implicating the world of the rich with that of the poor, arguing that the wealth, prosperity and comfort of the few is one supported by the poverty, struggle and suffering of the multitude.

For example, Magwitch a convict, has the same lawyer as the affluent Miss. Havisham, in Jaggers; a morally repugnant character who is prepared to see a guilty murderess, Molly, become his housekeeper, while he is just as comfortable to see an innocent defendant locked up. For Dickens, the belief in irrevocable link between wealth and morality is tenuous to say the least, and “Great Expectations” challenges this widely held view. Dickens champions the Victorian work ethic that salvation and morality lie in hard-work.

Dickens wished to shift the role of a gentleman to one of a gentle man; he wanted to shift the emphasis from one of a life of luxury, learning and polished manners, to one of a sense of duty and vocational commitment. Many of Dickens ideas even became integrated later into Disraeli’s paternalistic, one-nation conservatism. Nevertheless, Dickens may not wholly align himself with Burke’s philosophy that Disraeli adopted: “change in order to conserve.

” Dickens may be motivated by the attitude to “change because it is right”, rather than to change to conserve the existing social order. In “The Go-Between” Hartley presents a class based hierarchy under threat and challenged by a new society at the turn of the century. As in “Great Expectations”, Hartley also, like Dickens, uses retrospective first person narration, in “The Go-Between” to present a society in the novel very different from that which Leo rediscovers at the end. Although not a Bildungsroman as such, we see an event that changes the rest of Leo’s life.

The use by both authors of retrospective narration enables them to present long-term change, Dickens in Pip’s transformation and Hartley in Societies, allowing the authors more scope for discussion of their viewpoints. Dickens uses Pip’s transformed view of society, and his place in it to put forward his position. Use of first-person narration in “Great Expectations” is a change from omniscient third person narration and is clever in lending immediacy to the action as we find out about events as the character does, we are not told in the retrospect.

Dickens older narrator switches between detachment and involvement with the plot, at times stepping in to criticise his younger self with great gusto and censure. This is also used in “The Go-Between”, and along with “Great Expectations”, both narrators intrude into the novels narrative to at times criticise their past actions or build suspense and lend importance to a future event.

In “Great Expectations” the Bildungsroman genre chosen by Dickens, follows a Pip transformed and shaped by the novels events, allowing him to portray a broad spectrum of society; from the landed estate of the wealthy Miss Havisham, the simple contentment of hard-working Joe at the forge, to the idle lifestyle of two gentlemen in the city. Dickens novel does not appear to discuss the aristocracy in great detail beyond the aspirations of Mrs. Pocket, instead focusing more on the lower classes with which Dickens was so fascinated.

Hartley, unlike Dickens, choose to set his novel in the most part in the luxurious, aristocratic, setting of Brandham Hall. There is little plot elsewhere; there is a glimpse of a harsh, competitive, boarding school governed by strict rules of conduct, in which emotion is almost forbid and class and status govern how the boys deal with each other. Were through his curse on Jenkins and Strode, Leo earns the respect and increased status amongst his fellow pupils. The school itself is almost a hierarchy, with the strongest bullying the weakest, there appears to be some of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” there.

The boys admire strength and money, and live in fear of revealing emotion, seen as a weak frailty. It is Leo’s curse and the grand sounding name of his modest home; “Court Place” which he shares with his nervous, reticent, widowed mother, that gain him an invitation from The Maudsley’s. Brandham Hall however, manages in some ways to cover a broader spectrum of society than “Great Expectations” display of country and city life. As although in essence, the focus is on the upper-echelons of society in the middle and upper classes, rather than those of lower status, whom we see but briefly in the cricket game and supper with the village.

With Brandham Hall as his setting, Hartley is able to, and does, represent class distinction in action. Could it be that in the notable absence of regard for the lower classes in the world of the upper classes he is making a similar point to Dickens; that the wealth of the few is based on the exclusion of the many? For example, Triningham the “gentleman farmer” relies on the “working farmer” in Ted Burgess for his living, and that it is only on Leo’s return years later that he remembers the prettiest side to the house, when he was there he was more interested in the outhouses of the backyard.

The distance between “The Hall” and “The Village” is separated not only by wealth and status, but also in the physical landscape there is distance between the two, which almost makes them appear to be separate entities or separate worlds. It is the impoverished middle class in Leo who makes easier the link between the two spheres, by being the messenger between Ted and Marion. This link; an abandonment of the rules that govern the hierarchical structure has devastating consequences, perhaps a warning from Hartley against abandoning the security and sense of place made known by the class structure for centuries.

Clearly, Hartley’s views on class and status are more ambiguous than those of Dickens, but overall I believe that Hartley conforms to class assumptions and tries to reaffirm the importance of class and status. Hartley, however, as we have and will see, has a very different approach to Dickens on the subject of class and status. Like Leo, Hartley seems to look with nostalgia on the long line of Viscount Triningham’s, Hugh being the ninth of these, found engraved in the church. Set against the backdrop of the house of God, a sense of value is placed in the tradition and history that this image invokes.

Perhaps even reflecting the feudal belief in God’s acquiescence and ordination of the nobility’s God-given right to rule. In “Great Expectations” there is no such argument present, church seems corrupted by its wealth and emphasis on social position and irrelevant to the working class people who attend every week, some more conscientiously than others. The lower classes such as Joe can not go as they are and as they are comfortable, appearance is important as a display of respect and diffidence.

Dickens throughout the rest of the novel then attacks the superficiality of appearance as having any value or importance at all in the judgement of character. For Dickens there is no value in tradition for traditions sake; he was not an unbeliever, but wanted to transform the churches role from order and a means of class control but to real concern and compassion for the people. Dickens would attack appearance as either being a good basis on which to judge character or a good foundation on which to judge strength of Christian conviction.

Hartley seems to admire the class distinctions found in church, while Dickens might view it as apposed to Christian belief. Dickens criticises those who aspire to titles as seen by his parody of the Pockets, while Hartley respects those who hold one such as Triningham, and criticises those who aspire to the lifestyle of those who want one in the Maudsleys. Triningham exemplifies all that was good about the aristocracy; gentle manners, grace and elegance, and treating Leo with the utmost kindness, whom he saves from embarrassment when explaining his title and when Leo is given an inappropriate tie.

It is the middle class Marion who exploits and uses Leo, not Triningham, who makes it clear that Leo is a “messenger for the God’s. ” Triningham is scarred from his patriotic fight during the lengthily and protracted Boer War, perhaps symbolic of a scarred, fatally flawed, yet loyal and patriotic, aristocracy. Triningham’s early death may also foretell of doomed nobility, and in Marion, conquered by Ted, the working farmer, that in the future the lower classes will usurp the higher ones.

This is again shown by the fact that the 10th and subsequent 11th Viscount Triningham’s are descendants of Ted, not of Hugh, and so are illegitimate. The ancestral lineage has been broken. Whether or not this embodies the idea that the old aristocracy having survived, yet modified, by the events of a turbulent half-century and that the hierarchical order has prevailed even in the face of struggle; or whether this actually signifies a “healthy merger of the classes” (Anne Mulkeen) is a matter for debate.

Some may argue that in the 11th Viscount Triningham we see an aristocracy besieged, and a shadow of what it once was. The 11th Viscount looks like Ted, a working farmer, and Leo notes none of Triningham’s natural grace. The 11th Viscount avoids the past in Marion, rather than finding refuge and console in it as it may be seen that the 9th Viscount had, and the 11th is reduced to living in less that half the house, with the rest let to a girl’s school.

While others may still see by the aristocracy’s survival, despite being found reduced in importance, as an enduring symbol of history and tradition and irrefutable evidence of its value. Even so, for Dickens, as found in “Great Expectations” aristocracy and the wealthy need to accept their place and duty toward wider society. Triningham’s chivalric, but perhaps unreal sentiment that “nothing is ever a Lady’s fault” is perhaps the reasoning behind his acceptance of a Marion already “tainted” by the touch of a man, saving her from disgrace, and explains his unsuspecting attitude before the relationship was revealed.

Triningham’s assumption of Marian’s innocence is charming, yet conceivably recognisable as ignorance. Marian seems to ridicule him almost, as even she admits his loyalty, whilst admitting that she was planning on carrying on her illicit affair with Ted whilst married to Triningham, and seeing his suicide as an expression of Ted’s “weakness” rather than of his accepting responsibility. Also Hartley portrays a caring, nervous and somewhat ineffective mother in Mrs.

Colston, who perhaps fails to understand the boy she sees so little of. Tragically, if she had followed Leo’s confused intension in his instructions than the tragedy may have been averted, or at least Leo might not have lost his innocence and faith in the world of human emotions with which Ted explained his love for Marion and “spooning”. Presumably Triningham would not blame Mrs. Colston at all for Leos tragedy.

Triningham’s chivalry then is not rewarded and this outcome can perhaps be seen to be why Hartley may be criticising the destruction of good society. At the same time, Dickens aim in writing “Great Expectations” was to shift the meaning of being a “Gentleman” away from that of petty class distinction, polished manners and a life of leisure to one of social responsibility and vocational commitment; of gentlemen not just enjoying their position in society, but working to improve the position and welfare of others.

This is shown by Pips dramatic transformation from Gentleman to gentle man, and the moral regeneration that is the result of Pip finding employment. Class and status are seemingly interlinked with, and the result of money from the start. The servants at Brandham are even deferential to Leo, who is not expected to pick up or fold his own clothes; Marcus even tells him not too! Leo is not rich in comparison to the Maudsleys but is in terms of society at the time, the social hierarchy must be obeyed.

Hartley, in “The Go-Between” also presents the aspiring middle class in the Maudlseys whose social rise is the result of money. Although, arguably, Hartley’s Maudsleys do not gain greatly from their rise, which contributes to the mental downfall of Mrs. Maudsley in Marion’s affair, with Deny’s and Marcus later dying in the Great War, the Maudsleys do not last, and it is a Triningham who holds possession of the house when Leo returns after his long absence.

Despite the 11th Viscount being a descendent of Ted and Marion, the title has endured, the Maudsleys have not. Hartley thus argues that there is more to class distinction then money, more too aristocratic superiority than monetary wealth; indeed Triningham is less well off than the Maudsleys, however they still feel the need to defer to him, as if he were the head of the household. The Maudsleys not only feel insecure, but recognise Trininghams supremacy.

Cite this page

Charles Dickens "Great Expectations". (2017, Oct 05). Retrieved from

Charles Dickens "Great Expectations"
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7