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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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How does Dickens use foil characters in Great Expectations to lead to theme of social class?

Themes of social class, social mobility, and the individual versus society are all prevalent throughout Great Expectations. The novel is a study of the development of the main character, Pip; from a young boy with great potential to a mature adult who sees that his "great expectations" have changed him in ways he never imagined. A common theme throughout Dickens' work is the idea of class distinction and social mobility. In Great Expectations, this theme can be seen through his characters' treatment of Pip. The characters that are from higher classes treat Pip as an inferior due to his lower class status; however, those in the middle and lower classes acknowledge the fact that he is intelligent and kind and therefore treat him with respect.

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Building on the previous answer, another great example of foils in Great Expectations is Miss Havisham and Magwitch. Though initially, these two characters seem to have nothing in common, it must be noted that Pip believes one is his benefactor, while the latter actually is his benefactor. Both characters are not what they seem.

One might assume that Miss Havisham is Pip's benefactor because she is wealthy, high-bred, and seems to want Pip to be with Estella. One might assume Magwitch is just a no-good criminal because of the initial impression he makes. But in truth, Miss Havisham is selfish and cruel (even though she eventually has a change of heart), while Magwitch has depths of compassion one would not expect of an intimidating convict.

For all her money and breeding, Miss Havisham lives most of her life as a bitter, unkind woman, while the poor Magwitch is much more generous, despite his criminality. Dickens is making a comment on the idea that one's class is a reflection of one's heart or potential for goodness.

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Foils are characters that are alike but different, used to compare and contrast two characters.  Dickens loved to use foils, and he did so in many of his novels.  One example of foils in Great Expectations is Pip and Drummle.  Both are suitors for Estella.  Pip is a poor boy with a hard life.  Drummle is rich and pampered.  Both are or are becoming "gentlemen" by Victorian standards.  Drummle was born a gentleman, Pip has to learn to become one.

In this novel, Dickens explores social class in many ways.  Pip assumes that his life will be better once he has money.  So do his family and friends.  Drummle has money and is absolutely miserable.  One of Dickens's favorite themes is that money does not make you  a better person.  Drummle is not the better person, and Pip starts to become as bad as Drummle.

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