The Bartley online dictionary defines a caricature as “A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject's distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque effect" (bartleby.com, accessed 2/24/09) As Pip tours the area around Mr. Jaggers's office while waiting for his guardian to arrive, he encounters a group of people waiting to consult Mr. Jaggers. Two men “of secret appearance" mill about outside the office. A “knot of three men and two women [stand] at a corner." And finally, “There was a red-eyed little Jew. . . who was of a highly excitable temperament, performing a jig of anxiety under a lamp-post, and accompanying himself, in a kind of frenzy, with the words, “Oh Jaggerth, Jaggerth, Jaggerth! All otherth ith Cag-Maggerth, give me Jaggerth!"

Dickens places into this scene the novel's first mention of a non-Christian character or at least the first character that we cannot assume to be Christian. From the beginning, Dickens describes this Jewish character in very unflattering terms such as “red-eyed," as if he is linked to Satan and “little" as if he has not developed past childhood. Similarly, this Jew does an “excited," “frenzied" jig like a jester or a village idiot.

Depictions of the scene with the Jewish client by Harry Furniss and F. A. Fraser.

When Jaggers finally arrives and passes through the crowd, addressing and scaring away in order the members of the throng, he finally addresses the last;

No one remained now but the excitable Jew, who had already raised the skirts of Mr. Jaggers's coat to his lips several times.

“I don't know this man!" said Mr. Jaggers, in the same devastating strain. “What does this fellow want?"

“Ma thear Mithter Jaggerth. Hown brother to Habraham Latharuth!"

“Who's he?" said Mr. Jaggers. “Let go of my coat."

The suitor, kissing the hem of the garment again before relinquishing it, replied, “Habraham Latharuth, on thuthpithion of plate."

“You're too late," said Mr. Jaggers. “I am over the way."

“Holy father, Mithter Jaggerth!" cried my excitable acquaintance, turning white, “don't thay you're again Habraham Latharuth!"

“I am," said Mr. Jaggers, “and there's an end of it. Get out of the way."

“Mr. Jaggerth! Half a moment! My hown cuthen'th gone to Mithter Wemmick at thith prethent minute, to hoffer him hany termth. Mither Jaggerth! Half a quarter of a moment! If you'd have the condethenthun to be bought off the t'other thide-at hany thuperior prithe!-money no object!-Mithter Jaggerth-Mithter-!"

My guardian threw his supplicant off with supreme indifference, and left him dancing on the pavement as if it were red-hot. Without further interruption, we reached the front office. [164-167]

Dickens describes this character with the adjective “Jew" then portrays him as an overgrown child, impatient and unintelligent. Dickens paints him as almost subhuman with his gargled speech, his supplication, and his strange, jiglike movements. One can visualize a Donald Duck like cartoon doing the dance that Dickens assigns to his one and only Jewish character. We have spent much time talking about the relationship between different social and economic classes in England, mostly because Great Expectations focuses greatly on the idea of layman versus gentleman and the meaning and value of each post, but we have paid little attention to how members of different religious groups interacted both in the real and fictional Victorian world and how both groups are represented by writers of the era.

Questions

Critics often say that great writers, when describing a character, rarely include something that is not of importance. Yes, some details about a character are more important than others, but characters exhibit certain features for a reason. This being said, what is Dickens doing in this section? Does he truly mean for this to be a caricature of a Jew in England? Does he mean to disparage?

Here Dickens changes the spelling of many of this character's words to give him a certain dialect. Is he attempting to mimic a common English-Jewish accent? Is he saying something about this character's class? What other characters in the novel speak in a dialect?

Mark Twain in his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn(1884) paints what many readers today might consider a caricature of African-Americans in the American South. Compare and contrast how Mark Twain and Charles Dickens may have created their caricatures with differing intents and each may have been received differently by their various audiences? (Great Expectations was first published in 1961, only 23 years before Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

What role did Jews play in English society in the Victorian era? Did London host a large Jewish community? How did the country's largely Christian population view the Jewish minority?

Related Material


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008