Structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that attempts to analyze a specific field as a complex system of interrelated parts. Thus, meaning is produced and reproduced within a culture through various practices, phenomena, and activities. Especially after World War II, structuralism rejected the concept of human freedom and choice; instead it focuses on the way that human behavior is determined by various structures.
While Charles Dickens lived much before World War II, his writings evidence this belief in the determination of human behaior by such various structures. His character, Mr. Jaggers, often gives voice to this belief. For instance, when Pip goes to the lawyer to ask about Estella's true history, Mr. Jaggers explains why she was given to Miss Havisham to raise; the act was an attempt to counter the determining control of Victorian society upon the destiny of the poor:
Put the case that he often saw children solemnly tried at the criminal bar, where they were held up to be seen; put the case that he habitually knew of their being imprisoned, whipped, transported, neglected, cast out, qualified in all ways for the hangman, and growing up to be hanged. ...Put the case that here was one pretty little child out of the heap, who could be saved....Put the case that this was done....
Likewise, the history of Abel Magwitch witnesses this determination of behavior for one who is born into what Dickens termed the "prison of poverty." He tells Pip that to survive, he had to be involved in
Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could...[he was] a bit of a poacher, ...a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most things that don't pay and lead to trouble....
When arrested for his involvement with Compeyson, Magwitch received the harsher sentence although Compeyson was the more culpable, because Compeyson looked "the gentleman."
Similarly, Pip is confined to his class in Great Expectations. As a boy, he is told that he is "common." His story is one of an individual's growth within a strict social order. Pip's craving for social advancement outside his own culture is cause for his mistaken values on social prestige and money. His narrow view of the world, brought on by his initial low social status, is, however, much improved by his association with the gentleman Herbert Pocket and Mr. Jaggers clerk, Mr. Wemmick, who both demonstrate kindness and love. Through his experiences, then, Pip's "great expectations" of becoming a gentleman socially mature into the realization that a true gentleman is one who possesses not merely social status, but also humanity.