Corruption of innocence in ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Pygmalion’

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

The societal aspects of their writing made Dickens and Shaw two of the most influential figures of revolutionary and socio-political writing. William Blake, however, was also significant, especially through his work Songs of Innocence and Experience where he gave the marginalised figures of society a voice of their own. Blake attempted to emphasise the corrupted innocence of children. Charles Dickens’ writing has strong connections to Marxism however after this went out of fashion, ‘Dickens’s amorphous social critique came to seem more universally true because it was not programmatic but based on feelings of generosity and brotherhood combined with specific criticisms of practices common in England during his lifetime.’ One critic in particular suggests that Dickens was not aware of the radicalisation of his writing and the influences he was having on society, writing ‘The difference between Marx and Dickens was that Marx knew he was a revolutionist whilst Dickens had not the faintest suspicion of that part of his calling’.

George Bernard Shaw, in later years, then expanded upon Dickens’ ideologies. In an interview Shaw said that ‘The middle and upper classes are the revolutionary element in society; the proletariat is the conservative element’. This is shown in all of these authors’ writing as the proletariat is often punished and described harshly. The three authors base their writing strongly around social normalities in order to emphasise the impact that a strong desire can have on the mind. This is seen through the manipulation of the weaker characters whose innocence is often corrupted.

The desire for self-satisfaction by key characters in the novels and their willingness to manipulate others, usually the most naive, provides a sound base to explore whether or not innocence has been corrupted. The manipulatory figures in the novels are Miss Havisham, her desire to manipulate based upon her hatred of men, and Higgins’ with his constant need for personal enjoyment, which together place focus upon the different mindset that Magwitch possesses as he attempts to influence Pip’s life through his selflessness and desire to reward goodness despite his own palpable mistreatment at the hands of a corrupt legal system. Pip stealing ‘wittles’ for Magwitch in the opening chapter of the Great Expectations proves a stimulus for the subsequent theme of humility and generosity which in itself contracts with Pip’s own selfish development.

This is a point that Dickens exploits to highlight the cruelty of Havisham who seeks bitter revenge. An innocent boy, Pip, becomes blinded to those who are less fortunate thereby forgetting his own roots. Dickens is making clear that power – derived through the misuse of wealth and status is a corrupting force. Dickens’ voice, Pumblechook, observes ‘the stupendous power of money’, with the adjective ‘stupendous’ , used in its negative sense, accentuating how this is not the way in which high class society should be operating. Professor Higgins, too, uses his wealth to use Eliza as a social experiment rather than to genuinely be of benefit. Like Pip she is lifted out of her real life although for her, at least, there is a happy ending. Dickens uses language to great effect, leaving the audience in no doubt as to his conviction. Miss Havisham constantly manipulates Pip and Estella as when she tells Estella to ‘break his heart’. The use of the imperative ‘break’ shows Miss Havisham is impassioned, cold and cruel, effectively demanding she seeks vengeance on male society. Success will guarantee the destruction of the innocence of both Pip and Estella. Miss Havisham’s desire for vengeance due to her hatred of men can also be seen in her linguistic nature and self-description. ‘On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay’ – ‘was brought here. It and I have decayed together’.

The repetition of the noun ‘decay’ which is then transformed into the verb, ‘decayed’, shows Miss Havisham’s feelings after being jilted. Male Society has harshly influenced her life in such a way that she feels like death is the only part left. To emphasise this she says that they ‘have decayed together’. It is clear to see that she related herself to the ‘heap of decay’ to imply that she too is a of that nature. In stark contrast in one of his internalising monologues Pip states that ‘Ours was the marsh country’. The use of the possessive pronoun shows Pip is proud of where he comes from which contrasts his older self as he says, ‘I would feel more ashamed of home than ever, in my own ungracious breast’. It is clear to see Pip has realised he has been manipulated through the use of the word ‘ungracious’ which highlights how he is now acutely conscious of his failing.

The common hatred of men and constant desire for autonomy is explored also by Dickens in Sketches by Boz. In the sketch, Ladies’ Societies, a key quotation to support this hatred is, ‘the unthinking part of the parishioners laughed at all this, but the more reflective portion of the inhabitants abstained from expressing any opinion on the subject until that of the curate had been clearly ascertained.’ This is a clear example of the patriarchy ridiculing female society whenever they try to accomplish something themselves.Higgins attempts to corrupt Eliza’s innocence in a similar style to that of Miss Havisham. This is through his lack of care but desire for joy and self-satisfaction. Pickering says to Higgins at one of their first meetings with Eliza that ‘“she is no doubt as clean as she can afford to be; but compared to the ladies she is very dirty”’.

This emphasises the nature of high society as they are ridiculing her for what she can afford. His harsh and unloving attitude towards Eliza is clearly noticed when in dialogue with Pickering he states, ‘The girl doesn’t belong to anybody – is no use to anybody but me’. This caesura to break up the sentence results in Bernard Shaw clearly creating a foreboding atmosphere. Without the break or the second part of speech, ‘the girl doesn’t belong to anybody’, this would be an exciting phrase for Eliza to hear as it shows her being independent. This is hastily closed as an option by Higgins who decides to quickly say ‘is no use to anybody but me’. Not only do Miss Havisham and Higgins have the desire to manipulate due to enjoyment and hatred but they also believe there is only one route to happiness, hence their reasoning for being such demanding and authoritative figures.

This is to become either a Lady or a Gentleman. Higgins attempts to show care for Eliza through her dress however he does this rather lackluster and instead only supports his belief that you must be a Lady or Gentleman. Higgins says ‘This is my return for offering to take you out of the gutter and dress you beautifully and make a lady of you’, which is once again an example of male society ridiculing the lower class, especially female. This is contradicted by Dickens who often portrays his own feelings through characters as in Ladies’ Societies from Sketches by Boz he shows the denial of the power stricken patriarchy from the viewpoint of female society. The section supporting this is, ‘He never does anything to it with his own hands; but he takes great pride in it notwithstanding; and if you are desirous of paying your addresses to the youngest daughter, be sure to be in raptures with every flower and shrub it contains’.Comparisons can also be drawn between Pip and Eliza. Pip has more of a desire to become a gentleman throughout Great Expectations.

It is clear to see Pip’s childhood innocence as he has remained friends with Biddy throughout the novel. At one point Pip says to her ‘“Biddy”, “I want to be a gentleman”’. The demanding language used through the verb ‘want’ shows that Pip has become more of an authoritative figure showing how even when he is being innocent the success of Miss Havisham’s manipulation still shows through. On the other hand, Pygmalion Eliza realises her lack of importance as she becomes a social experiment for Higgins. Knowing that Higgins has no intentions of kindness she turns to Pickering at one point and says ‘he might want them for the next girl you pick up to experiment on’. Eliza begins by speaking directly to Pickering about Higgins but eventually directs her anger at them both. This could be a sign that Eliza is actually beginning to take control. This very much shows that the rich are often ignorant. Those who have been manipulated have had dominant figures attempt to corrupt their innocence. Estella, brought up by Miss Havisham, has been manipulated into not understanding love. An example of this is the way in which Estella treats Pip. In their first meeting, Estella turns to Miss Havisham when asked to play cards with Pip and says, ‘With this boy! Why, he is a common labouring-boy’. The use of exclamatio shows Estella is disgusted when faced with mingling with the lower class. Towards the end of the novel Estella says to Pip ‘I shall not be that. Come! Here is my hand. Do we part on this, you visionary boy – or man?’. There is a contrasting exclamatio which can be compared to when she says ‘With this boy!’.

The exclamatio used supports the idea of an offer of kindness which is very different to the earlier representation, disgust. It is clear to see that Estella has been manipulated into thinking that here language is acceptable due to her social status and position. Estella does however have a feeling of repent for her attitude and misdemeanor towards Pip as she states that, ‘I have not bestowed my tenderness anywhere. I have never had any such thing.’ Romantic vocabulary is shown through the noun ‘tenderness’ which is poetic and suggests there is a semantic field of love. This shows Estella having very little freedom throughout the majority of Great Expectations.

The poem London, from Songs of Experience, supports Estella having a lack of freedom. The poetic style of writing by Dickens in this passage closely relates to the rhythmic poetry of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. The line, ‘the mind forged manacles I hear’ can be very closely related to the predatory relationship between the controlling Miss Havisham and fragile Estella. In their relationship, Miss Havisham becomes the ‘manacles’ which are in turn forging the mind of Estella by restricting her from seeing the outside world.

An example of Estella having her feelings restricted by Miss Havisham comes when Miss Havisham says ‘Break their hearts!’ and ‘Love her, love her, love her’. The repetition of ‘love her’ emphasises how Miss Havisham is like a ‘manacle’ upon Estella as she is given no freedom of speech in this passage. Pip is also heavily impacted upon by Miss Havisham. When asked by Miss Havisham what he thinks of Estella, Pip compliments her on multiple characteristics but then says, ‘I think she is very insulting’. There is a lack of exclamatio as Pip whispers to Miss Havisham showing his care and kind-heartedness towards others. This contrasts with the attitude of Estella who purposefully ridicules him. Pip is introduced to this harsh treatment of Estella when he hears her say ‘Well! You can break his heart.’ Once again Miss Havisham uses the harshness of the word ‘break’ to further convey her selfish intentions.

This is the reason for Pip’s first taste of higher society being bitter and leaving him ashamed rather than angry which would be justifiable. This shows how Miss Havisham has manipulated Estella into being harsh to men whereas Pip has been brought up by a ‘mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow’. His change of attitude is forced upon him by Miss Havisham and only becomes apparent as he begins to treat Joe differently. He begins to possess the characteristics of a very snobby, wealthy, elitist. Dennis Butts argues that Dickensian society would suggest that you ‘work within society as decently as possible’. Pip states that communicating with Joe would now be seen as ‘conspiracy with convicts’ which is hypocritical as Pip stole ‘wittles’ from Joe at the very beginning of the novel. Miss Havisham has clearly manipulated him into believing that the lower classes are of less worth than the upper. Higgins shares similarities with the idea of being ‘mind-forged manacles’. Therefore him and Miss Havisham become extremely related. A ‘phonograph’ and ‘laryngoscope’ are the ways in which Higgins exploits the innocent. Higgins’ manipulative ways are seen through the way in which his actions have impacted the life of Eliza. Higgins states that ‘We can throw her back in the gutter’, which is a clear representation of his feelings for those less fortunate than himself.

The use of the word ‘gutter’ suggests that Higgins believes that Eliza does not even have a home but instead simply lives in a small, wet, cramped area. A similarity in connotations with the Chimney Sweeper in Songs of Innocence is the description of the child. The derogatory language, ‘little black thing in the snow’ , matches that of the way in which Higgins treats Eliza. Both of these characters are outcasts from society living in squalor. It is clear to see that Eliza had very little desire in becoming a lady however Higgins’ manipulative ways got the better of her as she eventually decided that she wanted ‘to talk like a lady’.

This only came into her mind when Higgins pretended to care for her in a compassionate way rather than objectifying her. This was an incorrect assumption as Higgins believed that she was ‘incapable of understanding anything’.The manipulatory predators prey on the innocent due to their selfish and apparent kind-hearted actions. Miss Havisham is able to manipulate Pip and Estella through money. Her desire to manipulate comes from her own amusement and passionate vengeance on male society. Miss Havisham’s passionate hatred of men is supported by a passage in sketches by Boz which focuses on the mockery of women from the possessive male society. The crucial sentence in this passage being, ‘The unthinking part of the parishioners laughed at all this’. This is important as it places emphasis on women having a valid reason to disobey and fight against male society. London from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience contains the line, ‘and blights with plagues the marriage-hearse’ which also emphasises Miss Havisham’s hatred of men. Miss Havisham was left at the altar and this is one of the many reasons her loathing of men has become so strong. The juxtaposition of ‘marriage’ and ‘hearse’ is Blake suggesting life is only necessary so that death can be fulfilled.

This is a very similar to the attitude of life that Dickens has given to Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham never removed her wedding dress and this resulted in her decease still being related to her wedding day. This leaves Miss Havisham with a desire to take revenge and hence her reasoning for manipulating Pip and Estella in such cruel ways. Miss Havisham and Magwitch can also be compared through the different attitudes they have. They have received very different criticisms one of which comes from Dorothy Van Ghent who describes Miss Havisham as a ‘fungus’, suggesting that she grows and lives in unwanted places. In the Providential Aesthetic in Victorian Fiction, Thomas Vargish describes Miss Havisham as being ‘the most clearly culpable’ and also with relevance and comparison to Magwitch he claims that ‘her twisting nature seems more consciously malevolent than his plan for Pip’. Magwitch is not generally seen as a manipulator however in some sense he does manipulate Pip through the kindness of his heart.

Magwitch proves his kind-heartedness when he first informs Pip that he is his benefactor. Pip reacts harshly and disrespectfully to this informative news but is calmed by Magwitch exclaiming, ‘You acted noble, my boy’, ‘Noble, Pip! And I have never forgot it!’. Magwitch refers to Pip as his own child which highlights and portrays how he sees Pip as one of his immediate family members. John O. Jordan suggests that Magwitch is ‘Cain or the wandering Jew’ which portrays him not as an outcast but a legendary figure destined to wander the Earth. Dickens describes Magwitch as a saintly figure at his court case proving John. O. Jordan to be correct with his assumption that he is destined for greatness. This shows Magwitch being an altruistic character as although he may seem to manipulate Piphe does this out of the kindness of his heart. He wants to give someone the life he never had. However Magwitch has managed to turn his life into wealth by exploiting crime. Therefore this results in a corruption of Pip’s innocence as he has been supplied and provided for by a criminal.Higgins on the other hands has the desire to manipulate Eliza Doolittle’s innocence due to his callous nature needing to be supplied by fun and a sense of pride. He manages to achieve this sense of pride through the suffering and ridicule of others less fortunate than himself. Higgins has lots of money. It must be noted, also, that the majority of his money came through a hefty inheritance after his parents passed away. Higgins is dissimilar to Miss Havisham as his intentions are not malicious but more misguided.His actions are not out of compassion but through the desire for his work to prosper. In Act II of Pygmalion Higgins says ‘It’s almost irresistible. She’s so deliciously low—so horribly dirty’. By using the adjective ‘deliciously’, Shaw is attempting to place humour into the mind of not only Higgins but also the audience.

Dickens and Shaw both show signs that when the upper class acted how they should then happiness would prevail. Pip and Estella in Dickens’ more conventional ending will marry, however a close friend of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, suggested that he should use another ending in which Estella remarries, and Pip is left single.


This ending would prove the corruption of innocence of both characters as it proves Miss Havisham to be successful. Estella has not married the one who loves her and Pip has had his heart broken just like Miss Havisham. The resolutions of Miss Havisham and Magwitch are interesting. Magwitch is given the chance to explain a lot to Pip before his death and becomes a manipulator who has been given the chance to speak. Pip clearly wants repentance given to Magwitch as he says ‘“O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner’” as he is lying on his deathbed. Pip does also seem to forgive Miss Havisham who is given a much harsher end in chapter 49 as she is killed in a fire in her own home. This shows how the selfless acts of Abel Magwitch have clearly been recognised by the author and although he is a criminal he is given pity.

Miss Havisham on the other hand is corrupted by her own wealth and suffers a horrible fate. Pip, although originally corrupted by Miss Havisham, realises that being a gentleman is not about being pompous and inconsiderate but being caring and generous to those of a lesser status than yourself. Eliza, too, is not corrupted as she says to Higgins ‘what I did was not for the dresses and the taxis: I did it because we were pleasant together and I come-came-to care for you;’. Estella’s innocence on the other hand, has been manipulated by Miss Havisham as she has no love for Pip.In conclusion the corruption of innocence is portrayed by Dickens, Shaw and Blake in many different ways. The language of Miss Havisham and Higgins shows their manipulative mindsets and attempts to corrupt those less fortunate than themselves. Estella, Eliza and Pip are persuaded into taking a route suitable for the predators, in other words the manipulatory characters. This results in ingratitude towards those who care which is proven in the relationship between Pip and Joe Gargery. Higgins shows clear signs of remorse towards the end of the play.

The resolution of his character shows that he has adopted strong emotional connections to Eliza and wishes to fulfill her desire. This however cannot result in the dismissal of his poor and harsh attitude towards her throughout the majority of the play. When examining the time period of these three authors it is clear to see the social gap narrowing as time goes on, however the innocent children who are exploited throughout does not change. This shows how even with a reduction in social division the corruption of innocence will still be present due to the upper class elitists who find joy, excitement and self-satisfaction in mistreating and manipulating the young and feeble.

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