Great Expectations is Charles Dickens’s thirteenth novel and it is his second novel which is fully narrated in the first person. It is a bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) and a classic work of Victorian Literature. Therefore, we can encounter plenty of Victorian Age elements in the book.
At the beginning of the book, we encounter with a low class family. They live in a village among marshes. Mr. Joe is a blacksmith and his wife (the sister of Pip) is a typical Victorian low-class family housewife. Then, we encounter with high class, well dressed, well educated women like Miss Havisham and Estella. These two different families are also the signals of the existence of social classes in the society. Estella and other women in Pip’s life in London represent the typical high class Victorian women. These are examples of social classes in Victorian Age.
In addition to these, Pip’s early impressions about London remind us the effects of Industrial Revolution and immigration. When he comes to London, he is amazed and displeased with the unbelievable crowd and awful smell. Furthermore, we can see Victorian architecture and Victorian houses in the book. For instance; Satis House, Wemmick’s House which tell us the taste of architecture of those days. These are all elements of Victorian age, however, we cannot see some of important elements of Victorian Age such as; child labor, prostitution, colonialism in Great Expectations.
The novel’s main themes are ambition and self-improvement, and social class. Pip’s desire for self-improvement is the main source of the novel title, because he believes in the possibility of advancement in his life, so we can say that he has “great expectations” about his future.
We see ambition and self-improvement in three forms in the novel. These are moral, social and educational improvements. These improvement motivate Pip’s behaviour thorought the novel. Firstly, when he acts immorally, he feels bad. This situation triggers him to act better in the future. Secondly, Pip desires social self-improvement. When he is in love with Estella, he wants to become a member of her social class. Therefore, he has fantasies of becoming a gentleman. Thirdly, Pip desires educational improvement. A good education is a requirement for him, because he wants to be a gentlman. In addition to this, Estella is a well-educated women and he wants to marry with her.
Another main theme of the novel is social class. Great Expectations shows different social classes of the Victorian Age. During the novel, Pip becomes involved with a broad range of classes, such as; criminal people like Magwitch, poor people like Mr. Joe, and rich people like Miss Havisham.
The novel has also some symbols. Dickens assign different meanings to some object. For instance; Miss Havisham’s wedding dress ironically symbolizes death. It is ironic, because a wedding dress reminds us a happy life. However, Miss Havisham is refused on her wedding day and she loses her hope for life. The wedding feast symbolizes Miss Havisham’s past. The stopped clocks in the Satis House symbolize Miss Havisham’s refusing to change anything. She does not want to step somewhere from his wedding day. Furthermore, Miss Havisham’s garden is not a green garden. There are weeds and wild plants. This ruined garden symbolizes the ruin of Miss Havisham’s life. We can see elements of Victorian Period in these symbols.
Consequently, we can find tracks of Victorian England’s society and class system in Great Expectations. There are criminals, poor and rich people. In addition to this, poor people cannot reach a good education opportunity in Victorian Age and we can see this situation in the novel. However, rich people have plenty of opportunity in the novel. Moreover, Rich and poor people do not equal under the law, so we can say that there was a corruption in law system in Victorian Period. Furthermore, there was a gloomy atmosphere in Victorian Era and we can see this gloomy atmosphere as an element in the novel and symbols also prove the gloomy atmosphere. Shortly, Charles Dickens tells us Victorian England in the Great Expectations.