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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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How does Dickens satirize the funeral business in Great Expectations?

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In Chapter XXXV ofGreat Expectationsthe passage about the funeral of Mrs. Joe is a parody the solemnity of funerals and those who organize them. For the funeral directors, Trabb & Co., are more concerned for the ostentation of the proceedings prior to the funeral and the pageantry...

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In Chapter XXXV of Great Expectationsthe passage about the funeral of Mrs. Joe is a parody the solemnity of funerals and those who organize them. For the funeral directors, Trabb & Co., are more concerned for the ostentation of the proceedings prior to the funeral and the pageantry of the funeral procession itself than they are for the grief of the family and the respect due them.

Much as he does in Oliver Twist when poor, little Oliver is successful in work for the undertaker because of his effective "expression of melancholy" as he is in the funeral processions, Dickens satirizes the foolish ostentation of Trabb & Co. who take control of Mrs. Joe's funeral proceedings. For, when Pip returns from London, he finds what he calls two "dismally absurd persons" standing at the front door as though guarding it. They each have a crutch wrapped in black--"as if that instrument could possibly communicate any comfort to anybody." And, yet, the children and women of the village seem to watch these two men in admiration. Then, when Pip approaches, one of these guards knocks at the door as though Pip is too overcome with grief to be able to do so himself. Then, when Pip enters the parlor, he sees Mr. Trabb seated there:

Mr. Trabb had taken unto himself the best table, and had got all the leaves up, and was holding a kind of black Bazaar, with the aid of a quantity of black pins. At the moment of my arrival, he had just finished putting somebody's hat into black long-clothes, like an African baby; so he held out his hand for mine.

Pip mistakenly shakes Trabb's hand when the undertaker merely wanted his hat. After handing this item over to receive its black ribbons, Pip notices Joe sitting uncomfortably in a small black cloak tied under his chin in a large bow. As the "chief mourner," Joe is positioned in the upper end of the room, apart from others. Of course, the "foolish imposter" Pumblechook has himself attired in a black cloak and copious ribbons of hatband as he alternates between stuffing himself with the foods laid out and "making obsequious movements" to attract Pip's attention. Pip glances around and also sees Mr. and Mrs. Hubble huddled in a corner.

With a signal from Trabb, Joe and all the others must rise and form a procession. Joe whispers to Pip that he would simply have carried Mrs. Joe's casket with a few neighbors, but Trabb would not permit this action, arguing that the neighbors would scorn such action and "would be of opinions as it were wanting in respect.” So, on Trabb's cue--"Pocket handkerchiefs out"--they file out of the house two by two, along with the six pallbearers, who seem buried themselves under a long black cover over the casket as they march blindly:

...the whole looked like a blind monster with twelve human legs, shuffling and blundering along under the guidance of two keepers—the postboy and his comrade.

As they proceed to town, boys of the village break in and out of crowd of onlookers, shouting "Here they are!" and the villagers do everything but cheer. Certainly, Mrs. Joe has never been such a celebrity in life.

Once the funeral is over and Trabb and his men are gone, having "crammed their mummery into bags," Pip remarks that the house seems wholesome again.

 

 

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