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How would you compare Charles Dickens' Great Expectations to Frank Conroy's Body and...

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tara1996 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 13, 2013 at 5:41 PM via web

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How would you compare Charles Dickens' Great Expectations to Frank Conroy's Body and Soul in the way that they ultimately both become gentleman in the end and this has come to them both by chance and through their endeavours?

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

Posted October 14, 2013 at 5:11 AM (Answer #1)

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It is important to be clear about what actually happens to Pip and Claude in these texts and to establish how they are propelled towards being gentlemen. Pip, for example, is actually made into a gentleman, a member of the upper class, through the incredible wealth that he is gifted by Magwitch, in part for the help that he gave Magwitch when he was an escaped convinct. However, although this makes him a gentleman, it does nothing for his behaviour and understanding of those around him, and Pip, at the end of the book, actually loses all of his wealth and joins the aspiring middle classes when he gets a job and works hard to earn money:

Many a year went round, before I was a partner in the House; but, I lived happily with Herbert and his wife, and lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe. 

Pip therefore does finally become a respectable member of society, and a true gentleman in manners if not in wealth, and it is intimated that he is much happier working for his living and having to live frugally than he ever was when he was gifted with so much money and had to do nothing himself to raise it. Great Expectations is therefore a story of a man who was given tremendous wealth by somebody else, lost it, and then who worked incredibly hard to become a member of the middle class, and who learnt lots of wisdom through this trajectory. 

Body and Soul is a text that is very different, as what helps propel Claude, the protagonist of this text, to stardom and wealth is his own natural musical talent. Although he is lucky in the marriage that he makes and the contacts that this gives him, he is only able to become famous because of his genius for music. This makes him a very different figure from Pip, who has wealth only to lose it and then has to work hard to achieve stability in life. Pip, it is suggested, is a character who has no special talent, except the ability to work hard when he realises he has nothing. For Claude, however, it is obvious from the outset that he is a genius and it is this talent that he uses to become a member of society. Another key difference is the way that Claude's talent keeps him separate and isolated from those around him, because his love of music drowns all other intimacies. The story starts at the end of the first chapter with the young Claude watching the celebrations on VE day and feeling alone:

Claude realized that all these strangers were caught up in something together, that an unseen force had wiped out all differences between them and made them one. They were joined, and as he clung tighter to the lamppost he felt his own tears starting because he felt entirely alone, entirely apart, and knew that nothing could happen to change it.

Pip eventually becomes part of society and is loved and loves in return, whereas Claude is destined to be alone, and this is another difference between these two figures. Genius, it appears, has its cost.

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