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Despite his middle class origin, Charles Dickensfelt sympathy and compassion for the lower social class. He strived to improve position of the unprivileged members of English society of 19th century through his literary works. He appealed to people for taking actions against poverty and other negative aspects of life of lower class in the Victorian society. In spite of the fact that a middle class of the Victorian society had good educational and cultural background, as well as strong moral values, they did not do much for helping poor people.

Social Issues in Novel “Great Expectations”

Social class structure has always been a major part of society. Charles Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations” is the reflection of author’s point of view and beliefs regarding social issues of that time. In general, the place of each individual in the society was stipulated by one’s financial status and reputation in this society. However, despite their wealth, upper class representatives were not as happy as lower class members often were. Dickens stresses out this point in “Great Expectations” in order to prove that money does not necessarily bring joy and happiness to life.

Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip, is both a narrator and a main character of the novel. He was a poor orphan who went through many changes to finally become a true gentleman with high social status.  In early Victorian epoch, a gap between social classes was huge due to the Industrial Revolution that enabled some people to multiply their capital, while others became even poorer. At that time in order to be a gentleman one should have been a member of a high social class, while personal qualities and manners played a secondary role. Dickens gave his main character, Pip, some innate qualities of a gentleman such as politeness and honesty. However, in a situation of social immobility, it was very difficult to hide one’s origin and to become a member of a higher class, no matter how hard one strived to change.

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Dickens used hands motif as a symbol in order to illustrate a gap and relationships between people from different social classes. Crucial moment that created a motivation for Pip to change his class and to become a gentleman occurred when Pip met Estrella, a beautiful young woman. She was an adopted daughter of rich Miss Havisham, and at the first meeting with Pip, she commented on his hands: “And what coarse hands he has!” (Dickens 59). Until this moment Pip was quite satisfied with his position in society, despite that it was not high. However, Estrella’s remarks regarding his hands made him see things from different perspective and feel ashamed of his social status: “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but now I began to consider them a very indifferent pair”.

In his novel, Dickens describes two types of gentlemen. There were people like Joe Gargery, who did not have an upper class origin but, nevertheless, had good character and sincere manners. There were also gentlemen of second type like Bentley Drummle, whose position in society was determined by their income, education, and appearance. Joe is considered to be a man of virtue, and his origin determines his position in society: “No varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself”. On the other hand, Dickens strived to evoke readers’ sympathy for Joe, who was sincere, generous, and probably the most noble and decent character of the novel.

Pip and Joe were true friends, but after Pip had got an education in London, he started to look down on Joe and to treat him much worse than he did it before. For example, they just formally shook hands when they met each other in London since Pip, unlike Joe, was of an upper class at that time. 

Thus, Dickens illustrates how a formal position in society can affect friendship and other relationships between people. Looking back on his behavior, Pip regrets that he treated Joe much worse than he deserved and that their strong friendly relationships were broken. His new position in society made him a gentleman but did not bring him true happiness.

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