In what ways can we look at fiction as history in the novel Great Expectations?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Very concerned with the effects of the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens perceived the changes to Victorian society.  A migration to London began with the poor who lost jobs in the agrarian countryside to machinery which could do the harvesting.  In London they willingly worked long hours and also sent their children to work in factories.  Great Expectations also evinces Dickens's awareness of the rise in criminality in London as destitute people lived in the streets.  Such characters as Magwitch reflect this desperate life that many spent. 

With the rising working class, the need for merchants increased.  Shops opened throughout London, such as that of the corn chandler, Mr. Pumblechook.  Prior to the rise in the middle class, banking had been left to business and had been relatively informal. Since there was not much exchange of money except by a small circle who knew each other, there was no need for banks other than the Bank of England which mainly handled government accounts. With the industrialization of England, more people had money, so new banks opened to provide services as well as money for new businesses to open.  It is a position in one of the new banks that Pip procures for his friend Herbert.  Evidence of the new merchant class occurs in the chapter in which Pip goes to stay with Uncle Pumblechook and Pumblechook watches all the other merchants. Moreover, the portrayal of Pumblechook who enviously watches the other merchants and fawns before the eccentric Miss Havisham depicts the admiration of the rising middle class for what Dickens felt was a frivolous upper class. In addition, with the rising middle class, there also was a move away from the soot and crime in the city.  Wemmick's house in the little town outside London evinces this migration from London.

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