In what social and economic class does Pip find himself at the beginning and end of Great Expectations? Following some of Pip's own statements, both student readers and published critics often emphasize that Pip began in poverty, as if he were another version of Oliver Twist, and finally achieved the status of gentleman. Scenes early in the book, including the famous Christmas dinner, make clear, however, that no Victorian reader would have considered the Gargery household a poor one.

Part of the misunderstanding must lie in the ignorant assumptions of many modern readers, who assume that Victorian society divided neatly into upper, middle, and lower classes, whereas it in fact comprised eight or ten diffferent social groups. As a blacksmith, Joe Gargery would have been a prosperous member of the rural artisan class, and in fact, as John A. Davies argues, Pip grew up surrounded by middle-class businesspeople — and never really moved all that far from this class:

He grows up in a world of small-businessmen. Apart from Mr Wopsle, who is 'the clerk at church', the guests at the Gargerys' Christmas dinner are the Hubbles, a wheelwright and wife, and Mr Pumblechook, the 'well-to-do corn-chandler' (iv, 55). Joe Gargery is, of course, a self-employed blacksmith for whom Mrs Joe doubtless kept the books. Mr Pumblechook's conversation with Pip 'consisted of nothing but arithmetic' (viii, 84) and though this is humorous it does contribute to our sense of an upbringing dominated by figures, buying and selling, profit and loss. Miss Havisham, though not connected with any small enterprise, is part of this world: she lives on the proceeds of a once-flourishing brewery business and applies capitalist thinking to her private life. She invests hatred in Estella in the expectation of a later, malicious return. [95]

According to Davies, two previous critics, John O. Jordan and R. B Partlow, Jr., have recognized, as Partlow puts it, that the narrator of Dickens's novel “'is neither Pip nor Mr Pip, but Mr Pirrip, a moderately successful, middle-aged businessman.' Jordan makes the same point in much the same language: the Narrator is a 'moderately successful, middle-aged businessman'" [95]. Turning to the novel, we can observe some of the significance of Davies's observation in the narrator's consistent use of the commercial vocabulary of a businessman, even (or particualrly) when one would not expect to find himn using it.

References

Davies, James A. The Textual Life of Dickens's Characters. Savage, Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1990.

Jordan, John O. “The Medium of Great Expectations." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1983): 78.

Partlow, Jr., R. B. “The Moving I: A Study of the Point of View in Great Expectations: Hard Times, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend: A Casebook.," ed. Norman Page. London: Macmillan, 1979.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified December 2003