Setting and the Elements of Dickens’ Biography in Great Expectations
In literature, an author will often choose to portray a turning point in a novel through a change in setting. This transformation alerts the reader to take notice of not simply the plot development but also many other things about the work. For example, the setting may allow one to draw parallels between the story and the bigger picture, in part by examining the author’s biography and the time in which the literary work was written. Likewise, in Great Expectations, Pip’s travel between two separate settings of England – from the marsh country of Kent in the southeast to the city of London – mirrors author Charles Dickens’s own move during childhood, as well as the universal population shift from the country to the city as a result of the changes induced by the Industrial Revolution.
Pip’s story starts with his family – that is, his sister Mrs. Joe Gargery and her husband Joe – in a small village in the misty marsh country. Here the main character, an orphan, is brought up “by hand” and it is expected that he will someday become apprenticed to Joe, the town blacksmith (6). Although Dickens himself was not an orphan by the traditional definition, he was forced to become self-sufficient later on in his childhood. However, this setting early on in the book does relate more clearly to that of Dickens’s home as a child. In fact, it is known that his family took residence in Chatham of Kent from the time he was four years old until his father was transferred to London (Victorian Web).
Additionally, these living conditions depicted in the book are generally representative of those in the early 19th century, the time before the Industrial Revolution. For instance, the family unit was considered the cornerstone of the time-honored agricultural economy. Those who were not farming families made their living with “mercantile activity,” as most skilled trades were handled in the individual households (World Civilizations). This was the small type of community, in which all the villagers are involved in everyone else’s business, a theme also found in Great Expectations. For example, it was a common occurrence for the townsmen to gather in the Three Jolly Bargemen and listen to Mr. Wopsle share a dramatic interpretation of the latest sensational news (146-147). Apparently, this small self-sufficient village was an archetype to the simple, everyday life of pre-Industrial Revolution times.
As the story of Great Expectations progresses and Pip nears his adolescent years, he is bound into service as a blacksmith’s apprentice to Joe (114-120). He quickly develops an aversion to the forge and the trade, much like author Charles Dickens did towards his job at Warren’s Blacking Factory around the same age. Just as Pip was forced into his apprenticeship by Miss Havisham and the other adults, Dickens had no choice but to accept his position when his father and the rest of his family was imprisoned for debt (Victorian Web). This experience “scarred him psychologically” and in most likelihood, became a sort of inspiration for the internal torture, misery, and alienation that the setting of Joe’s forge brings about in Pip.
Just when Pip is about to give up on his great expectations, he is rescued from the fate of a blacksmith by a mystery benefactor. His dreams of achieving a higher education and becoming a gentleman are realized as his sponsor provides him the funds and means to move to the city, London (151-153). Similarly, Dickens’s father acts almost like the benefactor in rescuing him from the fate his mother wished for him, to continue work at the Blacking Factory after his father had been released from prison. Dickens instead gains a higher education in London as well, by attending a school there at age twelve (Victorian Web). Despite the age disparity between Dickens and his autobiographical character Pip at this point in time, their comparable experiences and emotions undoubtedly line up alongside each other.
As optimistic as Pip was in anticipating the London of the elegant and noble society, he soon becomes disenchanted and learns that the city is not all that he had hoped for it to be. His first impressions are not favorable; although slightly frightened by its enormity, he thinks it as a whole to be “rather ugly, crooked, narrow, and dirty” (177). Pip isn’t any more pleased by his accommodations, which he considers “the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for Tom-cats” (188). This description could be discovered true in the reality of the Industrial Revolution. At this time, England was going through a gradual transformation from the agricultural, family-based economy mentioned earlier to the capitalist, industry-based economy starting to take shape (World Civilizations). This change in economic focus to manufactured products led to a shift in population; people were moving from the country villages to the city in order to entertain the hope for a different, better life than that in which they had been raised. Such a sudden, rapid relocation of the workforce caused crowding and other unsanitary conditions (Yale-New Haven). Evidently, the filth in the real London and in Pip’s London is one and the same.
Some of the several effects of the Industrial Revolution on society are portrayed in Great Expectations through the different settings of England utilized in the novel, including both the population shift between settings and the conditions of the village and the city. Author Charles Dickens also employs the autobiographical element of his own childhood travel between the marshes of the country in Kent and the city of London in the experiences of the book’s main character Pip. In addition, the use of setting expands on not only the plot development, tone, and other literary devices but gives clues as to the historical and biographical context of the literary work.
Significance of Food and Meals in the Novel Great Expectations
Throughout the novel Great Expectations, numerous meals which have symbolic resonance repeatedly take place. This essay will argue that the meal in the novel is a recurring motif with three primary functions. Firstly, they are indeed ceremonies of love or dark manifestations of the absence of love. Next, the motif of the meal also symbolizes power, which is achieved through social relations. Finally, the meal is a rite of passage which marks new beginnings, or milestones in the life of Dickens’ characters.
Meals and food are indeed ‘ceremonies of love.’ When it functions as a ceremony of love, the meal motif comes to represent the extension of grace to those who do not deserve it. This is evident in the meal Pip brings for the escaped convict Magwitch. Despite Magwitch never asking for it, Pip presents him with a ‘beautiful round compact pork pie’ stolen from Mrs. Joe’s pantry, which becomes the centrepieve of the meal. This pie is far more than what Magwitch had demanded for his basic sustenance, and thus is a symbol of grace or the extension of undeserved love. The ‘round’ image of the pie also suggests wholeness and therefore ascribes a restorative quality to the meal as a whole. More than that, the pie is baked for Mrs. Joe’s Christmas meal, which symbolically includes Magwitch in the Christmas meal of Pip’s family. The biblical allusion of Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus Christ, further suggests the extension of undeserved grace to the convict Magwitch. Therefore, the meal which saves Magwitch’s life and symbolically accords him more than he deserves cements the role of a meal as a ceremony of love.
However, the meal motif also comes to represent the converse of love, or loveless-ness. This is most evident in the decaying remnants of Miss Havisham’s wedding feast, which represent the denial or reversal of the ideal of perfect love. The ‘long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation’ repels rather than draws all living creatures, as even spiders which run ‘home to it’ instantly ‘run out of it.’ Such anthropomorphism demonstrates that even animals which are most comfortable with decay, such as spiders, cannot bear the presence of the long table. This in turn morphs the table into a symbol of love denied, by reversing the traditional symbolism of a meal as an event that draws life and company. Thus, the meal motif represents both the presence and absence of love in Great Expectations.
The meal is also used to highlight the power disparities apparent in Victorian society. As the meal is a social event, the interactions of characters during mealtime easily show which characters are able to exercise power over the others. This is evident during the meal Pip shares with Mr. Wopsle and the Gargery family. Here, Wopsle conjectures about the moral worth of Pip had he been born a ‘four-footed squeaker,’ or pig. This is juxtapositioned against the ‘pork’ the guests are eating. The result is an instance of zoomorphism which metaphorically transforms Pip into the pig that is being eaten, reducing him to total powerlessness in the face of the all-powerful adults. In this way, the meal resonates symbolically with the social humiliation children suffer at the hands of more powerful adults. The theme of power is even clearer in the dinner at Jaggers’ house. In this meal, the social interaction at the dinner is completely under the control of Jaggers, who can manipulate the social world a lot more skillfully than his guests. For instance, Jaggers ‘wound’ Drummle ‘up to a pitch little short of ferocity’ about the muscularity of his arm through ‘some invisible agency,’ causing the whole table to begin ‘baring and spanning our arms in a ridiculous manner.’ The ‘invisible agency’ here is clearly a use of exaggeration to refer to Jaggers’ manipulation of language to get others to do his bidding, and Dickens uses the mild comic effect of the flexing competition among his guests to exhibit the power of social expectations to control behaviour. This exercise of Jaggers’ social power cements the link between meals and power in Great Expectations. Therefore, meals come to highlight the power of social expectations and conversation in Victorian England to shape behaviour.
Finally, the meal motif in Great Expectations serves as a rite of passage, marking points where the life of main characters is transformed. This effect is achieved through the use of narrative structure. As such, the first meal Pip has with Magwitch is a ceremony of selflessness whose power is revealed later in the novel, when Magwitch is revealed as Pip’s benefactor. As such, the meal marks a turning point in Pip’s life, because his ‘Great Expectations’ would have remained unfulfilled without it. Similarly, the final meal in the novel is a symbol of Pip’s return to his origins, from his great expectations. This meal clearly shows the social distance he has traveled, and his reconciliation with his roots. While he refuses to eat ‘watercresses’ or ‘the simple fruits of the Earth,’ an image suggesting his humble origins, he accepts ‘the bread-and-butter.’ As an image of the food that is sufficient for day-to-day sustenance, the bread and butter indicates Pip’s acceptance of simplicity and a new work ethic, in contrast to the inflated expectations of his past. Therefore, this final meal marks his return to modest expectations, thus cementing the role of meals as rites of passage.
These manifestations of the meal motif has strong biblical overtones, as it is reminiscent of the Last Supper. Similarly to the meals in Great Expectations, the Last Supper is a ceremony of love as well as of power, and marks the final communion between Jesus and his disciples before the Crucifiction. The Christian audience of Dickens’ works would have been intimately familiar with biblical lore, lending the meal motif even greater power. In conclusion, it is therefore fair to say that meals in Great Expectations are ceremonies of love, but also function as markers of the absence of love, social power and as writes of passage which demarcate crucial sections of the narrative.
Pip’s Rejection of the Sacred Domesticity
Great Expectations is a novel which, in its first part, focuses largely on the education and upbringing of a young boy, Pip. Orphaned at a young age, he is raised “by hand” by his older sister and her husband, a blacksmith. Written from the adult Pip’s point of view, the novel describes his limited education at the hands of Wopsle’s aunt, as well as his apprenticeship in Joe’s forge. His moral education is left to his sister, whose main teaching is that Pip should have never been born to plague her life with worry, and a few lines of the Catechism, whose message of “walk the same in all the days of your life” Pip follows religiously by taking the same route home every day. In all his education one aspect is noticeably absent: the indoctrination of a spiritual code or set of beliefs. Indeed throughout the novel, Pip seems unaware of any higher purpose to his actions and circumstances, and most of the philosophical thought in the narrative comes from Pip the Narrator, writing from a later time. Because of this distinct absence, the first mention of something having a spiritual significance is important. To Pip this is not a teaching of the Church, but rather his own domestic space. To embrace this space would perhaps be Pip’s best chance for happiness, but instead he rejects it. Pip’s rejection of the “sacred domesticity” occurs three times in his early life, and leaves him vulnerable to outside forces that threaten to take away his control of his own destiny.
Before Pip is even consciously aware of the sanctity of his home, he violates that sanctity be stealing food for the convict. This is one of Pip’s first actions as narrated by his older self, and the first instance the reader sees of his losing control of his own actions. However, although in his mind he is forced without recourse to commit this theft, the degree to which he carries out his orders shows a deliberate violation of the sacred space of the kitchen. As he explains, “I was nearly going away without the pie, but I was tempted to mount upon a shelf, to look what it was that was put away so carefully in a covered earthenware dish in a corner, and found it was the pie, and I took it, in the hope that…it would not be missed for some time” (52). First, the convict did not specify an amount to be taken, and Pip had already removed bread, cheese, mincemeat, brandy, and a meat bone. To take the pie is Pip’s own choice; he says he is “tempted” to turn around and climb up the shelf. The pie has a greater significance than all the other food; it is to be the crowning grand finale at the upcoming Christmas dinner. Supposing that the young Pip had no choice but to take some amount of food (as he believes and leads the reader to believe), taking a bare minimum of perhaps some bread and cheese and a scrap of meat would have made him a victim of the convict, rather than a criminal, as he feels in his heart he is. When he does take the pie, it is perhaps unconsciously out of spite for his sister, but whatever his motive, the choice serves in a small way for him to regain control: he is able to choose what it is he will steal.
Pip’s second rejection of the sacred domesticity occurs when he begins to feel ashamed of his home and wish for a different life. He says, “Home had never been a very pleasant place for me…but Joe had sanctified it…I had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State…I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste though not magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence” (140). Ironically, it is not until he realizes this that he feels he must turn away from it. The final sentence of this passage is significant in that if the forge represents manhood and independence, then rejecting that physical structure means rejecting those ideals as well. Pip does not do this consciously; he never states that he does not want to be a man or independent, but in the years following his realization these things are not a priority, and his actions reveal this. He enjoys the independence of his newfound fortune, but only so far as they remove him from home and place him closer to the vague situation of being a “gentleman”. He lives extravagantly off this “independence” but does not work to secure it for the future. And by doing no work, he is actually more dependant than the lowliest blacksmith. When Pip moves to London, and during his residence with Herbert Pocket, Pip becomes a man in terms of years, but age does not bring maturity. He never mentions having any pride in being a man, and lives well beyond his mean, not having the wisdom to curb his extravagance. Pip rejects the domestic, but would have been financially stable and more independent had he not.
After having rejected the sacred domesticity in thought, he finally rejects it in action when he moves to London to obtain his education as a gentleman. Pip trades his potential for domestic happiness for his expectations. Even though he thinks this is a positive change in his life, he is actually more uncertain than ever. He says of his expectations: “And at best, how indefinite and unsatisfactory, only to know so vaguely what they are” (277). The very word “expectation” implies an indefinite end, because that end is dependant on outside forces. Pip merely expects events to occur, rather than working toward a final goal. His outlook is reflected in his roommate Herbert, who is always “looking about him” for his fortune. He is expecting his fortune to be made through opportunity, rather than making the fortune for himself. Pip is even less active; while Herbert has the dream of realizing capital for investment, Pip simply lives life day by day, only doing what he is told. He tells Herbert, “I cannot tell you how dependent and uncertain I feel, and exposed to hundreds of chances” (277). By putting his future entirely in the hands of others, Pip allows others to take control of his life’s story.
When Pip learns of his great expectations, the higher purpose of his life changes from the glory of manhood and independence to a dependence on Fortune. He looks increasingly to this changeable deity for meaning and support. Pip tells Herbert, “I know I have done nothing to raise myself in life, and that Fortune alone has raised me; that is very lucky” (277). Until he realizes his expectations, Pip seems to have no notion of Fate or Fortune, and mention of these are noticeably absent in the early part of the novel. To Fortune, however, Pip assigns the most significant thing that has every happened to him. In this sentence he also rejects his upbringing by Mrs. Joe: he claims to have been “raised by fortune”, echoing the phrase “raised by hand” he has heard many times throughout his childhood. For Pip, being raised by fortune is much more agreeable than being raised by hand, which he took to mean being constantly subjected to punishment.
Nevertheless, Pip’s rejection of the sacred domesticity in favor of his expectations is problematic because it does nothing to help him control his own destiny, and does not bring him happiness. He even thinks, at one point that “I should have been happier…if I had never seen Miss Havisham’s face, and had risen to manhood content to be partners with Joe in the honest old forge”(300). Here again he equates life in the forge to manhood, and in this thought, with honesty, which is in contrast to his reoccurring sense of criminality. Pip’s dilemma also reflects a problem with the concept of “being a gentleman” in the Victorian era. Dickens raises the question on whether it would be better to have made one’s own situation in life, rather than have it made by someone else. In Pip’s case, if he had become at blacksmith, he would have lost the potential to become a gentleman and marry Estella, but would have gained control over his own fate.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Eds. Graham Law and Adrian J Pinnington. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1998.
Literature: Covered with a Curtain in Great Expectations and Jane Eyre
Bennett and Royle, in their book `An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory’, state that `the relationship between literature, secrecy and secrets is fundamental1’. In the novels I have chosen, this `fundamental’ dynamic is seen in their representation of secrets as being both hidden and obscure, and yet holding a pervasive power; this power is seen in their influence over the narrative structure and diegetic worlds of the text. This total command over both plot and discourse can be seen in the sheer multiplicity of mysteries within Great Expectations, where both open and unanswerable secrets mingle and obscure one another, creating moments of explosive revelation and defining the murky, secretive interiority of the novels protagonist, Pip. This dual supremacy and prevalence of secrecy is seen again in Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, now under the guise of `secret spaces’ within their narratives; these domestic crypts, occluded from the everyday, act as a locus for both entrapment and empowerment in their respective figurations as repressive tombs and potent wombs. Through exploring these diverse depictions of enigma and mystery, I hope to prove the enduring narrative power and thematic dominance of secrecy within the texts I have chosen.
As previously mentioned, Great Expectations is an excellent example of a novel nested with secrets which both direct and dictate the direction of the plot. Yet, perhaps the greatest mystery in the novel- the identity of Pip’s benefactor- is initially presented as an open secret. This oxymoron is best explained by Jacques Derrida, in his essay `Passions: An Oblique Offering’, when he states `There is something secret. But it does not conceal itself’. Derrida’s particular interpretation of the peculiar paradox of the open secret is anticipated by Great Expectations, where despite being told that the name of his benefactor is a `profound secret’ Pip immediately assures the reader that `Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale’. By having the novels central mystery be an open one- for, despite how `profound’ it is, it initially `does not conceal itself’-Dickens creates an elaborate red herring; for as we know, the identity of Pip’s benefactor is not Miss Havisham at all, but the criminal Magwitch. Yet, despite this intricate creation of a double-secret within the narrative, the identity of Pip’s benefactor is always `in principle discoverable’; Pip himself states that `It would all come out in good time’. This turn of phrase clearly illuminates the paradoxical nature of secrecy in the novel; its central mystery is both secret and not. Therefore, all plot enigmas in Great Expectations are essentially all open secrets, riddles with a solution that will be neatly revealed `in good time’ to both Pip and the reader. However, beneath the surface veneer of these `solvable’ mysteries lies a murkier secret that defies both clear interpretation and closure.
This more obscured mystery is of course the secret of Pip’s nebulous guilt, which both defines his character and manifests itself through his `deep affinity with the criminal world. In his essay `The Hero’s Guilt: the Case of Great Expectations’, Julian Moynahan recognises `a certain discrepancy’ between Pip’s guilt and actual wrong-doing, identifying an almost primal sense of fault buried deep within Pip’s character. This innate guilt is best perceived in Pip’s description of how his secret had `so grown into me and become a part of myself’. The verb `grown’ lends an uncanny, organic quality to the persistent growth of Pip’s liaison with Magwitch into all aspects of his character, providing a psychological context for the continual reoccurrence of the leg iron, the file, and convicts throughout all stages of his expectations. Therefore, Pip’s sense of fault can be ascribed to what he defines as his `secret terms of conspiracy with convicts’; this contamination with the `taint of prison and crime’, combined with what Mr Hubble defines as his `Naterally wicious’ nature, provides a powerful motive for Pip’s attempts to occlude his secret criminality under the mask of gentility; a gentility ironically entirely funded by his `secret terms of conspiracy’ with the convict Magwitch.
Another way in which the supremacy of secrecy is represented within the novels I have chosen is through the prevalence of `secret spaces’ within their narratives. In his essay `Derrida’s Topographies’, J. Hillis Miller writes that `every secret, it might seem, is hidden in some kind of crypt’. These `crypts’ are defined as secret spaces that `are there and not there7’, existing within the domestic everyday but also occluded from it; it is from this paradoxical position that these `crypts’ hold their uncanny power. The hidden, taboo and yet thematically dominant nature of Bertha Mason’s enclosing `room without a window’, and the red room concealed inside Gateshead, are evocative examples of this dynamic in Jane Eyre.
The `goblin’s cell’ buried within the genteel country seat of Thornfield is the most explosive secret space in the novel. The revelation of the existence of this space brings the anxiety over domestic entrapment, latent within previous depictions of `thick black bars’ and the `wide enclosure’ of Lowood, to its thematic peak. It is this explicit naming of the room as a `cell’ and its prisoner as a `goblin’ that finally refigures the mundane domesticity of Thornfield into an oppressive dungeon, with monstrous consequences for continued female existence within it. Much earlier in the narrative, the red room that briefly entraps Jane acts as both thematic precursor to Bertha’s attic and a powerful secret space in its own right. Jane remarks that `no jail was ever more secure’, and it is in this figuration of the red room as a hidden domestic `jail’- one that is `silent’, `remote’ and `seldom-entered’- that it acts as a powerful mirror to Thornfield’s own secret `cell’. By acting as both prelude and reflection of this other secret space, the red room has its own potent thematic charge; it is the foundation and genesis of the unease over domestic oppression and enclosure that echoes throughout Jane’s entire narrative.
As well as acting as compelling symbols of entrapment, the secret locations within the novels I have chosen can also function as potent spaces for self-empowerment and creation within the narrative. The most powerful secret space in these terms is Frankenstein’s `solitary chamber, or rather cell’, hidden within his student apartments, in which he hopes to create his `new species’. This `workshop of filthy creation’ is explicitly feminized, with Frankenstein described as suffering `midnight labours’, before finally birthing his `filthy creation’; the adjective `filthy’ reinforcing the both biological and taboo nature of this unnatural conception. This figuration of Frankenstein’s `cell’ as a place of empowered feminine creation anticipates Gilbert’s and Gubar’s interpretation of hidden rooms and caves as being an intensely female space, in which `dark knowledge’ is attainable and `a goddess’s power of maternal creativity’ can be channeled.
This redemptive reading of oppressive secret spaces can be applied to the red room in Jane Eyre, as its warm, biological coloring- the `curtains of deep red damask’, the `crimson cloth’, and the `red’ carpet- means the room itself can be read as an archetypal example of the powerful `womb-shaped cave…the umbilicus mundi’. Whilst Jane’s experience in the womb of the red room does have a transformative outcome, in that it triggers her escape from Gateshead, this emancipation comes at a cost which subverts this optimistic reading. Jane’s traumatic experience gave her `nerves a shock, of which I feel the reverberation to this day’; it is the nightmare of entrapment within secret spaces, not their potentially empowering aspects, that reverberate throughout the text of Jane Eyre.
In conclusion, secrets and secrecy exert a malignant hold over narrative sequence, character interiority and development, spatial ordering and thematic meaning in the novels I have chosen. The plot of Great Expectations and Jane Eyre both revolve around a dynamic of enigma and discovery; the subversion of the open secret of Pip’s benefactor, in which the fairy godmother figure of Miss Havisham is switched for the convict Magwitch, is easily comparable to the explosive spatial revelation of Thornfield’s hidden cell and its monstrous inhabitant, in terms of its effect upon plot sequence and the character maturation of both Pip and Jane Eyre respectively.
Whilst the narrative of Frankenstein may not be as predicated upon the revelation of a secret as the novels I have previously mentioned, the creation of the Creature within an occluded space, coupled with the fact of the Creature’s very existence being a secret closely guarded by Frankenstein, ensure that enigma still maintains a powerful control over narrative progression. The thematic dominance of secrets in all three novels can then be attributed to their obscure nature; their enigmatic character ensures they can be read as being relevant to a number of themes simultaneously. A potent example of this dynamic would be Pip’s discovery of Magwitch being his secret benefactor; this revelation can be interpreted as commenting on the secret affinity between criminality and gentility, a study in class relations and dependence, a key stage in Pip’s intellectual development, and the triumph of reality over fantasy. The supremacy of secrets and secrecy, above all other narrative devices, is a powerful reflection of Bennett and Royle’s hypothesis that the question `What is literature?’ can be seen as synonymous with the question `What is a secret?’.
- Bennett, Andrew, and Nicholas Royle, An Introduction To Literature, Criticism And Theory (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2009)
- Bronte¨, Charlotte, and Stevie Davies, Jane Eyre (London: Penguin Books, 2006)
- Derrida, Jacques, and Thomas Dutoit, On The Name (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995)
- Dickens, Charles, and Charlotte Mitchell, Great Expectations (London: Penguin Books, 2003)
- Gilbert, Sandra M, and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman In The Attic (New Haven [u.a.]: Yale Univ. Press, 1984)
- Miller, J. Hillis, `Derrida’s Topographies’, South Atlantic Review, 59 (1994)
- Moynahan, Julian, `The Hero’s Guilt: The Case Of Great Expectations’, Essays in Criticism, X (1960)
- Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maurice Hindle, Frankenstein (London: Penguin Books, 2003)
- Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle, An Introduction To Literature, Criticism And Theory (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2009). Pg. 270-278
- Jacques Derrida, On The Name (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995). Pg.21
- J. Hillis Miller, “Derrida’s Topographies”, South Atlantic Review, 59 (1994),
- Julian Moynahan, “The Hero’s Guilt: The Case Of Great Expectations”, Essays in Criticism, X (1960), 60-79 Ibid.
- J. Hillis Miller, “Derrida’s Topographies”, South Atlantic Review, 59 (1994) Ibid.
- Sandra M Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman In The Attic (New Haven [u.a.]: Yale Univ. Press, 1984) Pg. 93-104 Ibid.
- Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle, An Introduction To Literature, Criticism And Theory (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2009). Pg. 270-278
How Scrooge Represents Hyprocisy in “A Christmas Carol”
‘Jacob Marley was as dead as a doornail.’ The celebrated author Charles Dickens accentuates this inert nature of a door nail to the society to 1843 England through his classic novella ‘A Christmas Carol.’ The novella’s titular character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a product of human hypocrisy. Scrooge accedes to ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ in order to be accepted into the society that fathers these ‘wretched children’ and chisels the traits they embody; but are then socially ostracized for doing so. A transformed Ebenezer addresses his accountability after he is confronted by ramifications of his past, present, and future but the society that is pivotal in sculpting Scrooge does not.
Socially ostracized for fostering society’s ideals, Ebenezer has no choice but the pursuit of money. Although propelled by ambition, the winter of Scrooge’s life is founded on the neglect and abandonment continuously thrust on him by society. A ‘poor but content’ man, who only engages himself in the pursuit of wealth in order to elevate himself from the status of a ‘neglected, solitary child’, again finds himself shunned from society.
Dickens positions this point in Ebenezer’s life as a shadow climax, which although not explicitly stated in the book, can be observed to be the moment which jolts him to becoming the ‘the notorious miser’ he is famed to be. When this already ‘squelching, squealing, wincing’ young man is categorized as the ‘feared money lender’ and is deserted upon by the few people that provide him with love, he has no choice but to make the pursuit of fortune his only accomplishment in life.
As the prominent isolates himself from the ‘business of Mankind’ and accepts his business and Jacob Marley as his ‘sole friends,’ he freezes himself into being ‘hard and sharp as flint.’ Utilizing these analogies, Dickens unearths the old wounds that delve beneath Ebenezer’s hardened exterior and cements the foundation of the ‘covetous old sinner.’ Dickens explores the elements within Scrooge that were inducted by the superficial instinct of human society, thus citing him to be a product of human hypocrisy.
A transformed Scrooge takes accountability for his actions but the society that prompted him into self-destruction does not. Aided by the 3 spirits of Christmas, Scrooge is presented with the ability to accost the anguish of his past, revel in the present and delve into the impending darkness of his future. As he observes the menacing consequences of his mistakes firsthand, he resolves to address his shortcomings and end his aversion to human warmth. This ‘wicked old screw’ wakes up the next morning having transformed himself into the very ‘Spirit of Christmas.’
‘Striving within the spirits’ of the ‘past, present and future’, Finding that even the most minute things about Christmas ‘yield him pleasure,’ Scrooge not only omits the drastic ramifications of his actions, but also mends his broken heart through the very day he once loathed. But the community that Scrooge aids remain stagnant and sultry. While these bystanders relished the festivities of Christmas and accepted Ebenezer’s evolution as a mere change of heart, they never recognized their own temerity. 1843 England announced itself to Scrooge in an ‘awful language.’ The town which gladly accepted Scrooge’s ‘mercy, charity and benevolence’ as repentance for his own sins never stopped to observe the how they treated the man with the cold, ‘solitary’ heart.
Although some characters in A Christmas Carol embrace Scrooge despite his spiteful characteristic, most of the community regards Scrooge as the ‘junk’ of their town. Dogs ‘growl’ when he comes across them, beggars take extra care to ‘hide in the corner’ and general public ensures that their only contact with Scrooge is to sell his ‘last remnants.’ Dickens positions these components in A Christmas Carol in order for the reader to observe the failings of Scrooge as well as society. All these elements can be cited as exhibiting hypocrisy and rejection, thus determining Ebenezer as a product of human neglect and abandonment.
Charles Dickens presents Ebenezer Scrooge as a character composed of many shortcomings that are developed by himself, but are founded by society. A neglected and abandoned child by his family, friends and society, Scrooge accedes to Ignorance and Want in order to to be accepted in the community that fathers these ideas. Shunned for acquainting with these wretched children, Ebenezer is left with no choice but the pursuit of money.
A transformed Scrooge takes accountability for his actions, but the society that prompts him into isolation does not. The analysis of these elements presents Scrooge as a product of human hypocrisy. Through a Christmas Carol, Dickens chides society that it will continue to sculpt people like Scrooge if it fails to address its shortcomings
The episodes of Christmas as highlighted in “A Christmas Carol”
Like Christmas morning itself – when each present represents a discrete mystery, separate from the last – the Christmas Carol is divided into a set of episodes. The book’s chapters are episodic, with the duration of each spirit a single episode. Within each chapter, there a number of discrete scenes that can be considered separately, and called episodes. While the division into episodes becomes predictable, the way Scrooge and the ghost physically move between these intra-chapter episodes is not predictable. One example of such movement occurs when the present spirit and Scrooge travel from the miner’s village to a lighthouse over a “frightful range of rocks” and “a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore” on their way to the lighthouse (56). In this case the movement is very prominent; both we and Scrooge are aware of the movement. In each chapter the prominence of this inter-episode movement is consistent within the chapter, but different than in other chapters.
The most fundamental difference is between the prominence of the inter-episode movement in the future on one hand, and the present and past on the other. In the past, Scrooge and the spirit “left the high-road, by a well remembered lane, and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick” (29). As when he is moving toward the lighthouse, in the present, Scrooge is explicitly aware of the movement he is making. Scrooge experiences not only the episodes but also the movement between episodes as discrete events. In the future, Scrooge’s awareness of the time between episodes disappears. When, in the future, they move from Scrooge’s bedroom to the city center, “they scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city seemed to spring up about them” (66). Later in the chapter Scrooge “recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed” without any signal (72). Like the future spirit itself, movement in the future cannot be seen or heard. The past, however, is predictably different than the present; it is separated from the present by its excess of travel. The episodes are not as discrete, and the transportation, the movement itself seems to take prominence: the entire chapter seems to be spent wandering.
The physical difference in the way Dickens portrays these times allows us to create models through which we can consider the three times. Now, neither the future nor the past is ever experienced in physical form as it is in this novel – it is always an element of our imagination – so it might seem silly to consider this story as a useful model for differentiating these three times. But the physicality that Dickens gives these times allows us to see past and future as something other than the abstract intellectual concepts they usually are. The models might be described as follows: The future extends out over a flat plain in front of us, with isolated events sticking out. Our view is level with the plain so we cannot actually see the ground between events, but we can see discrete pillars that are events. The distance and course between events is disconcertingly out of view. Looking at the past, on the other hand, is like viewing a wall map of time: the distances and directions between events is clear, but no events stand out – the view is two dimensional. The present thus emerges as the only three dimensional, interactive time (like virtual reality versus Gameboy, it is the obvious choice (yet some still choose Gameboy?)). And it is on the present that Scrooge is able to interact with the time. When the present spirit appears ready to move on Scrooge’s nephew and his family are just beginning another game. Scrooge pleads, “one half hour, Spirit, only one!” While the spirit does not explicitly answer, Scrooge is allowed to watch the new game “called Yes and No” (61). Scrooge has agency. In both the past and future Scrooge makes similar appeals to alter the apparent course of movement, but is denied.
A Christmas Carol as a Moral Maxim
Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is set in Victorian London and tells the story of the transformation of a wicked, miserly Scrooge into a benevolent humanitarian via supernatural intervention. The invited reading persuades readers to accept that despite the gap between rich and poor, inspired individuals are capable of changing society, social change is desired by the powers of the supernatural realm, and small steps can be achieved by wealthy individuals who fulfill their duty of kindness to the less fortunate. The writer’s purpose is stated in the words of Marley’s ghost: “ Mankind was my business” and implemented by allowing the reader to share the rigorous re-education of Scrooge. Dickens achieves his purpose of positioning readers to favour social change through the use of powerful stereotypical representations of real world and supernatural characters which compel readers to criticise and reflect on the wrongness of attitudes, values and beliefs of a selfish Victorian society.
The reader initially rejects the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, whose greed-driven values are contrasted with Bob Cratchit , a poor, underpaid, kindly clerk devoted to his family. Dickens emphasises that money lust has made Scrooge a miserable, toxic character who spreads misery. Yet his observations grow, and his viewpoint evolves as his relationship with the Cratchits grows: “They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being waterproof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of pawnbroker’s. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another’s company, and contented with the time.” The reader disapproves of his coldheartedness and sympathises with the people he mistreats: the Cratchits, his nephew, Fred, and Belle, his former fiancée who recognised Scrooge had made “a golden idol”(p65) of money.
The reader’s greatest sympathies are directed towards the Cratchit family, serving Dicken’s purpose of promoting the welfare of the working class. Tiny Tim, condemned to poverty and physical misery as well, is an important device in Scrooge’s transformation. That Scrooge has ignored this pitiful little boy is central to his failure as a human being. Befriending the child, signifies the awakening of his human spirit to the power of kindness. Dickens implies in Tiny Tim’s words “God bless us, everyone!” that the purpose of life lies in feeling happy about helping the needy. Through his relationship with the Cratchit family, Scrooge learns about the joy of giving, the value of kindness and generosity, and the pleasures of living as a member of a loving family. The portrayal of Tiny Tim’s death affects Scrooge deeply, positioning the reader to love children, and want to help an underprivileged handicapped child. Tim calls the reader to accept Christian teachings when he says, “I want people to see me because I am a cripple…”
Through Dickens’ detailed descriptions of supernatural characters, and his evocative emotional use of shocking imagery, the reader shares Scrooge’s deeply emotional journey which teaches him compassion. Scrooge believes in ghosts, and the chained, doomed ghost of Marley introduces the reader to fear of the supernatural, of death and of the afterlife. Fear inspires the reader to share the Christian belief that the price of today’s mistakes is eternal wandering in a void of misery after death. “You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?” “I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” Along with Scrooge, the reader accepts this as truth. With supernatural teachers, the Ghosts of Christmas, Scrooge’s ignorance is destroyed through a painful moral education process which the reader shares. The shock of experiencing shame and guilt at his unkind treatment of others, followed by the fear of eternal damnation that Scrooge faces are life-changing. Scrooge faces the ugly eternal consequences of his wrongdoings. Through sharing Scrooge’s experience, the reader also fears punishment in the afterlife, and like Scrooge, resolves to live a better life.
Minor characters are contrasted against Scrooge, and also provides glimpses of the life and values of the poor class. Ragged, unhappy, hungry children are advertisements sending an anti poverty message to the reader. The inclusion of humble miner’s hut and the lonely lighthouse expand the reader’s awareness of the extent of both poverty and the kindly human spirit of the poor class. The benevolent employer, Fezziwig is contrasted with the mean spirited Scrooge, showing the reader that some people are already practising compassion . The parade of morally good characters impresses that society is struggling to help the poor, and this change needs to be boosted by more helping hands.
Dickens’ moral message is repeated for emphasis in each stage, by each spirit of Christmas, and through every character and situation in the novella. When Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, comments that “offenses carry their own punishments” he is supporting Dickens’s Christian moral viewpoint, further appealing to the reader to be reasonable and understand the importance of helping out the needy . He is repeating the message of Marley’s ghost, who teaches that the faults of life will be paid for in death. The personal effort required to change is rewarded when Scrooge summons his courage to knock on Fred’s door. Finally, Scrooge is deeply grateful for the help he received to change his ways, shown when he says “I shall love this doorknocker as long as I live”. This positions the reader to share Scrooge’s happiness and believe that change is achievable and desirable, and to make the effort.
Finally, the reader walks the road of moral redemption with Scrooge, learning with him that “the common welfare.. charity mercy, forebearance and benevolence” p49 are every man’s duty. The various range of character representations and their experiences support Scrooge’s transformation, persuading the reader to accept the need for social change, and to follow Scrooge’s example. His successful transformation offers the reader a role model which affirms the power of the individual to correct the social injustice caused by greed and uncontrolled capitalism.
The Betrayal of Trust in Great Expectations, a Novel by Charles Dickens
English satirical poet, Charles Churchill once said, “Keep up appearances; there lies a test. The world will give thee credit for the rest.” This was initially meant as a jab at untrustworthy politicians and the lies that they tend to tell. This can also apply to various situations in real life as well as fictional literature. Appearances tend to be deceiving and do not always reflect reality. This leads to betrayal of trust which can have disastrous consequences such as married couples splitting up or treasured friendships being broken beyond repair. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Magwitch and his former partner in crime, Compeyson, show that people are not always who they seem to be. Because Magwitch and Compeyson hide their true selves, they live lives that are based around lies.
When Magwitch commits crimes, he does so to survive. He “first [becomes] aware of [himself], down in Essex, a thieving turnips for [his] living”(340; ch. 42). Despite the fact that stealing is illegal, Magwitch does not have the luxuries that most people do and has no choice but to steal everything he needs. However, after an encounter with Pip in the marshes while escaping from prison, Magwitch decides to turn his life around and become a gentleman. Magwitch manages to accumulate a large sum of money, but “no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish [one puts] on, the more the grain will express itself”(320; ch. 39). Being a gentleman is not simply about money. It is also about social elegance, which is a skill that must be learned over time. Realizing this, Magwitch decides to focus on giving Pip a chance to be the man he could not be, knowing that he will be in trouble if he is ever found out.
Compeyson on the other hand, hides his identity for a far more nefarious purpose. In order to steal Miss Havisham’s wealth, “he [practices] on her affection in that systematic way, that he [gets] great sums of money from her…on the plea that when he [is] her husband he must hold and manage it all”(320; ch. 39). After successfully making Miss Havisham fall in love with him, Compeyson extracts money from her. To put salt on the wound, he leaves Miss Havisham on what was supposed to be their wedding day. He is even referred to as having “no more heart than a iron file, he [is] as cold as death, and he [has] the head of the Devil”(342; ch. 42). He is the source of most of the conflict that occurs in the story and has caused misery everywhere that he has gone. When Compeyson is put on trial, Magwitch notices “first of all what a gentleman Compeyson [looks, with] his curly hair and his black clothes and his white pocket-handkercher, and what a common sort of a wretch [Magwitch looks]. When the prosecution [opens] and the evidence [is] put short, aforehand, [he notices] how heavy it all [bears] on [Magwitch], and how light on [Compeyson]”(345; ch. 42). By making himself look like a gentleman, Compeyson manages to fool the judicial system into giving him an easier sentence than Magwitch, despite the fact that he was the primary culprit. Compeyson continuously uses trickery and deception to get what he wants.
Magwitch and Compeyson use deception for two completely different reasons. While Magwitch uses it to fit in and be accepted, Compeyson is selfish and takes advantage of those who fall for his lies. Deception is extremely common in the real world as well. This particularly applies to politicians, who often project a false image of themselves in order to get elected for a position. They claim to support certain minorities or to devoutly follow a religion simply to gain public support. In doing so, they build up a public image filled with lies and false promises. When the general public finally becomes wise to the act, it is too late. Deception is a part of everyday life and not many people are exactly who they say they are.
Charles Dickens’ Exploration of First Impressions in His Work David Copperfield
Lifelong Memories Springing from First Impressions
In all aspects of life, one must cooperate with others in order to succeed, but the successfulness of all relationships and social interactions may simply boil down to one’s “first impression.” In “David Copperfield,” Charles Dickens explores how first impressions tend to be lasting impressions as certain physical impressions predict social chemistry of a relationship and even leave one with vivid, lifelong memories of the first time meeting someone. The sense of society’s value on a first impression is strongly evoked when David Copperfield arrives at Aunt Betsey’s cottage as both individuals develop lasting impressions of one another.
As soon as David arrives at his aunt’s cottage home, his aunt and uncle create these lasting impressions of their nephew, while David develops a sense of who his aunt truly is. Dickens characterizes David’s pitiful situation particularly through physical descriptions of David’s clothing, which clearly seem to make lasting first impression on David’s uncle peering through the parlor window in disgust. David appears to be in a “woeful condition” as his “soles have shed themselves bit by bit,” and he wears a “shirt and trousers, stained with heat, dew, grass, and the Kentish soil.” Though David knows that he is rather “discomposed,” he feels even worse when his uncle seems unimpressed or even disappointed in his nephew, shown when he looks up at David in a “grotesque manner” and shakes his head repeatedly. Also, Miss Betsey, David’s aunt, tells David to “Go away” at first sight but continues to act fairly rude when she realizes that he is her nephew. Despite that David calls her “aunt,” Miss Betsey still feels dismay and annoyance towards David as she exclaims “Oh, Lord,” possibly reflecting how David’s disheveled appearance has given her a negative, persistent first impression. Last of all, David’s crystal-clear memories of meeting his aunt reflect how this first impression of his aunt has caused him to see her this way for the rest of his life. Since Miss Betsey speaks rather rudely to David at first sight, his recollection describes her less affectionately as a stubborn, “hard-featured lady” with “inflexibility in her face, in her voice, in her gait and carriage.” This negative first impression leaves David with a negative view of his aunt, in contrast to when he first describes her “very neat little cottage with cheerful bow-windows” and how he approaches her “softly.” In addition, these memories have formed lasting impressions on David as he has retained these first impressions of Miss Betsey in great detail even though he writes this narrative at an older age. Although Dickens presents rather negative first impressions of characters in this scene, these first impressions have clearly stuck with David for a lifetime.
In this passage from “David Copperfield,” Dickens successfully explains the social dynamics between characters as each forms lasting opinions of one another. And, these first impressions seem to have greatly affected how at a mature age, David recalls Miss Betsey as a rough, stubborn woman instead of someone more pleasant because he does not see his aunt as a friendly, caring person in his memories. In conclusion, David’s clear recollection of when he first meets his aunt and uncle shows how first impressions tend to have a lasting (or even lifelong) impact on one’s opinions and views of someone else.
Respect and yearning for different culture
Charles Dickens’ essay The Noble Savage and and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines both communicate an agenda set forth by the author. In his essay, Dickens conveys his distaste for the sympathy he sees bestowed upon the native people of Africa by his countrymen in a very direct manner. His writing is blunt and accusatory and he does not mince words. Haggard is more vague in his approach to the Zulu people. He depicts them as being both beneath him and deserving of respect. This is a difference of writing style only and does not lend itself to a difference in attitude. Regarding matters of race, Haggard is in agreement with Dickens.
Dickens and Haggard are writing for different audiences. The Nobel Savage appeared in Dickens well-known journal Household Words. This journal was written for a burgeoning middle class and focused on social commentary regarding the poor. It served as a sounding board for social reform making it an ideal locus for Dickens to share his opinion on native African culture. The first line of the essay states “I beg to say that I have not the least belief in the Noble Savage” (Dickens 805). He states his argument early drawing from Rousseau’s idea that indigenous people are more noble. The word noble evokes a sympathy and respect in the reader that Dickens quickly begins to tear down. He attacks Rousseau’s ideas immediately by saying the noble savage should be “civilised off the face of the earth” (Dickens 805). His use of the word noble is intended to be ironic and to create a false sympathy for the native African.
In his essay, Dickens is arguing against the humanizing of the African natives. He begins one paragraph by saying, “It is not the miserable nature of the noble savage that is the new thing; it is the whimpering over him with maudlin admiration” (Dickens 806). He is offended by the suggestion of implementing these eccentrics into British society in their current manner. His views are being shared with a middle class that is in the crux of climbing up Britain’s social ladder.
By contrast, Haggard romanticizes the Zulu people is an effort to appeal to a young boy’s sense of adventure. His views are parallel to that of Dickens and he draws several distinctions between black and white throughout the novel. Haggard also creates native characters that are revered and respected. This is evident in the near romance between Captain Good and Foulata. She is depicted as being noble, even dying for the man she loves because “I know that he cannot cumber his life with such as me, for the sun cannot mate with the darkness, nor the white with the black” (Haggard 206). Haggard has given Foulata the power to see her own limitations, she is the one who leaves Good and it is this act that makes her noble.
Haggard also creates a noble character in Umbopa. He is a Zulu but is often referred to as being different, more consumed by thought. Upon being accepted as a travel companion for Quartermain and company, Umbopa says to Sir Henry “we are men, you and I” (Haggard 40). He repeats this line again in the story showing that there is not only difference between the men, but a commonality as well.
Haggard uses these characters in the same way he uses the desire to find a treasure. By developing characters that are relatable, interesting, and protecting he creates an environment that is exciting and one that will entice the male youth it is intended for. Had Haggard created a fictional environment that rivaled the ideas of his day; an ignorant, uncultured, and uncivilized one, he would not have gained the appeal of the young aristocracy that he desired. The depiction of the characters is done in a way that will lead to an excitement in traveling to Africa. .
This difference is evident in his depiction of Jos? da Silvestra, the Portuguese traveler that first tells Quatermain about the diamond treasure. The Portuguese are initially described as “no greater devil unhung in a general way, battening as he does upon human agony and flesh in the shape of slaves” (Haggard 21). He is later thrice associated with the color yellow, and his ancestor is also associated with the color yellow, once in reference to his body, and again when the narrator is referring to an ivory crucifix hanging around the ancestors corpse. The depiction of the Portuguese in the novel is vague at best. They are maybe not bad, but definitely not as good as the British or the Zulus who have gained respect.
Dickens and Haggard are in agreement in regard to race. When depicting the natives they both display a racist attitude. Dickens’ attack is forthright and brash because he is writing for a middle-class adult audience. Haggard crafts a novel that will appeal to young British males. His method used to make noble some of the characters in his story is done with the intent of exciting the reader and creating an adventurous story that will draw the reader and romanticize the plot. Their underlying ideas are the same but they employ different techniques to gain the credibility of the reader.