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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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In the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, what are some good quotes that show how society and class play a major roll in the novel.

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As occurs so often in his novels, Charles Dickens exposes what he perceives as a frivolous upperclass that is unconcerned with others not of this class.  Those that aspire to this higher social class, therefore, are often subjects of Dickens's satire.  In his novel Great Expectations, Dickens satirizes the growing middle class that envies the upperclass in the character of the corn merchant, Uncle Pumblechook, as well as in the personage of Mrs. Sarah Pocket, whose thoughts of rising to an elevated social class are all-consuming.

In Chapters 22 and 23, Mrs. Pocket, who is earlier described as one of the "toadies and humbugs" present at Miss Havisham's, has been raised with high expectations, and is brought up to be "highly ornamental and perfectly useless."  Criticising the English obsession with titles, Dickens satirizes Mrs. Pocket's social superiority:

... Mrs. Pocket was the only daughter of a certain quite accidental deceased Knight, who had invented for himself a conviction that his deceased father would have been made a Baronet but for somebody's determined opposition arising out of entirely personal motives—I forget whose, if I ever knew—the Sovereign's, the Prime Minister's, the Lord Chancellor's, the Archbishop of Canterbury's, anybody's—and had tacked himself on to the nobles of the earth in right of this quite supposititious fact.

So obsessed with social class is Mrs. Pocket that she sits and reads a book about titles and is so caught up in the class system that her children suffer neglect and even abuse as she allows them to choke on nuts and nearly be harmed by nutcrackers. In addition, Mrs. Pocket's desire for Miss Havisham's money leads her to "being goaded to madness" at the sight of Pip because she believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor.

Of course, Pumblechook exemplfies well the obsession with social class.  When Pip is chosen to come to Satis House and play, Uncle Pumblechook brings him and seeks entry himself, but Estella closes the gate on him.  Before this day, Pumblechook paid little attention to Pip, but when Pip receives his "great expectations," Pip reads in Chapter 28,

Our readers will reference to the recent romantic rise in fortune of a young artificer in iron of this neighbourhood...that the youth's earliest patron, companion, and friend, was a highly-respected individual not entirely unconnected with the corn and seed trade, and whose eminently convenient and commodious business premises are situate within a hundred miles of the Highstreet. It is not wholly irrespective of our personal feelings that we record HIM as the Mentor of our young Telemachus, for it is good to know that our town produced the founder of the latter's fortunes.

Clearly, this passage shows the importance placed upon social status.  And, guiltiest of all of considering social standing as paramount in one's life is Pip himself.  For, after his visit to Satis House, he is ashamed of his "coarse boots" and desires to become a gentleman after being apprenticed to Joe because it "is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home."  In Chapter 2, Pip tells Biddy on a visit, "I shall always tell you everything," but she replies, "Until you're a gentleman," indicating that then Pip will feel himself too superior.  It is this importance of class also that causes Pip embarrassment when Joe visits him in London in Chapter 27. Joe calls Pip "Sir" and tells him, "Diwisions among us must come."

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