Dickens offers a series of social critiques during the course of Great Expectation. He presents these observations in a series of ways. In his various descriptions of London, Dickens brings to life the squalor of the city and attempts to dispel the idea that London is the infallible center of the world. Similarly, he uses the character of Jaggers to comment about lawyers and what he considers their dirty profession.

Often, writers use their narrators to offer social critiques. However, the task of deciphering whether a certain opinion is the author's or the narrator's presents an often difficult problem for the reader. For example, After Pip arrives at the house of his tutor in London, Mr. Pocket senior, he meets the Pocket family. Shortly after this, Pip tells the story of Mrs. Pocket:

I found out within a few hours, and may mention at once, that Mrs. Pocket was the only daughter of a certain quite accidental deceased Knight, who had invented for himself a conviction that his deceased father would have been made a Baronet but for somebody's determined opposition arising out of entirely personal motives. . . and had tacked himself on to the nobles of the earth in right of this quite supposititious fact. I believe he had been knighted himself for storming the English grammar at the point of the pen, in a desperate address engrossed on vellum, on the occasion of the laying of the first stone of some building or other, and for handing some Royal Personage either the trowel or the mortar. Be that as it may, he had directed Mrs. Pocket to be brought up from her cradle as one who in the nature of things must marry a title, and who was to be guarded from the acquisition of plebeian domestic knowledge. So successful a watch and ward had been established over the young lady by this judicious parent, that she had gown up highly ornamental, but perfectly helpless and useless. [187]

It is difficult here to know from where these opinions come. On the one hand, Pip narrates the novel and therefore these are his words. However, many problems arise when trying to attribute these criticisms to Pip. First, the story exhibits many parallels to Pip's own situation. Just as Mrs. Pocket's father was made a nobleman for essentially nothing, “for storming the English grammar at the point of the pen" or “for handing some Royal Personage either the trowel or the mortar" at a ground breaking ceremony, Pip has his great expectations realized without his doing much of anything except being decent to Magwitch when he was in need. As such, Pip finding fault with Mrs. Pocket's father and denouncing him is like Pip denouncing himself and his own situation. Second, though Pip has led a plebian life, he has spent much time lamenting and attempting to escape it in order to enjoy a similar life to that of Mrs. Pocket. Therefore, it would be strange for him to so adamantly attack her for living the life of a gentlewoman when he himself has longed for some version of this life.

On the other hand, perhaps these are the words of Dickens and Pip here fades to the background as Dickens speaks directly to his readers and offers his opinions and critiques without an intermediary.

Simply put, the reader cannot easily discern who here criticizes Mrs. Pocket for her father's easy rise to power and her own life of luxury. Perhaps Pip speaks for himself. Perhaps Dickens uses Pip to speak for him. Or Perhaps he has Pip step aside and presents his own thoughts directly.

Questions

Who is really speaking here? Does Pip offer this critique of Mrs. Pocket? Or is this really the voice of Dickens offering a commentary about some aspect of English society?

Here Dickens reveals the story of Mrs. Pocket without delay. He has Pip tell her history to us within five pages of his meeting her but does not tell us from where he has learned this information. Often, we accept what the narrator says as simple truth. Does it matter that Pip gives no source for the story he tells us? Are Victorian writers and their narrators taken at their word more often than writers like Faulkner, Anthony Burgess, and others who wrote in the twentiethth century?

Tennyson's narrator in In Memoriam and Dickens's Pip in Great Expectations both go through personal journeys of self discovery. In In Memoriam, the narrator tries to understand his grief and its role in his life. Pip, in Great Expectations, spends much of the book attempting to reconcile his longing for wealth, a life as a gentleman, and possession of Estella with all the things that actually make him happy like his relationship with Joe, Bitty, Herbert, and eventually Magwitch. Compare and contrast these two journeys.

What process did prospective candidates go through to be knighted in the Victorian period? Was it common for people of more modest birth do be given such a title? For what were people knighted? Was it as simple as just “handing some Royal Personage either the trowel or the mortar"(187)?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 25 February 2008