How does Dickens condemn Victorian society and its institutions throughout the novel Great Expectations?

1 Answer | Add Yours

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Dickens loved to attack Victorian society!  In Great Expectations, his main targets were social class and the legal system.

Dickens makes it clear that social class is over-rated.  He has Pip, a young man of common parentage, instantly turned into a gentleman through an inheritance of money and some tutoring.  It’s clear that Dickens is commenting on the supposed superiority of those who have good breeding.  Pip fails miserably as a gentleman, because he picks up all the bad habits and none of the good ones.  He spends more money than he has, and becomes a horrible person.

In chapter 40, Magwitch bitterly explains why it was so important to him that Pip become a gentleman.

“I've come to the old country fur to see my gentleman spend his money like a gentleman. That'll be my pleasure. My pleasure 'ull be fur to see him do it.  And blast you all!” he wound up, looking round the room and snapping his fingers once with a loud snap,“blast you every one, from the judge in his wig, to the colonist a stirring up the dust, I'll show a better gentleman than the whole kit on you put together!” (enotes etext p. 233)

He is angry because he took the fall when Compeyson and Magwitch were arrested, because the conman Compeyson fit everyone’s idea of what a gentleman should be more than Magwitch did. 

This brings us to the second condemnation, the legal system. Magwtich was deported, and faces death for returning to England.  Compeyson smooth-talks his way through the system and gets a lighter sentence.  There is also Jaggers, whose representation of the legal system is more complex.  He repeatedly tries to stay emotionally uninvolved with his clients.  He does his job, and nothing more.  He represents the lack of compassion in the Victorian legal system in general.


We’ve answered 317,894 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question