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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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What are some examples of snobbery found in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?  

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One of the examples of snobbery that are most salient in the novel Great Expectationscomes from Pip, the protagonist of the novel. By chapter XXVII, Pip's attitude has changed considerably. Now, he is more aware of class differences and of the stigmas associated with poverty. He knows that, in...

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One of the examples of snobbery that are most salient in the novel Great Expectations comes from Pip, the protagonist of the novel. By chapter XXVII, Pip's attitude has changed considerably. Now, he is more aware of class differences and of the stigmas associated with poverty. He knows that, in his society, the poor are seen as "unfortunate," but also as ignorant and worthless.

As a result, when Pip receives a letter from Biddy telling him that Joe Gargery is coming to London, Pip reacts with hesitation. He is not too excited about it, even though we know that Pip and Joe's relationship is at the heart of the plot. Pip's entrance into higher society has made him realize the differences that have grown between himself and Joe. Mainly, their differences have to do with class and education.

Pip says that he was not excitedly waiting for Joe:

I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.

Notice that, to Pip, he feels that he can buy friendships, company, and appreciation. Moreover, he admits that Joe embarrasses him, so he is willing to bypass his friendship just to "look good" in front of those who are critical of the less fortunate.

So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meanness are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.

In general, snobbery is all over Great Expectations, and it is most evident in the way people treat one another.

  • Estella makes Pip feel unworthy and common
  • Mr. Pumblechook is the epitome of snobbery and brown-nosing
  • Miss Havisham's playing around with Estella and Pip as if they were her toys.

Social prejudice is ever-present in Dickens's works.

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Pip shows a certain degree of snobbery when he finds out that Abel Magwitch has been his benefactor all along. For years, Pip had naturally assumed that it was the wealthy, upper-class Miss Havisham who'd been responsible for giving him the means to become a gentleman about town in London. But now he discovers that the man who's generously bestowed all this money on him was the scary escaped convict he encountered on that fateful day in the churchyard.

To be sure, Pip manages to overcome his snobbery and assist Magwitch in his efforts to leave the country. But there's no doubting that his initial reaction to the news that Magwitch is his benefactor brought Pip's inner snob right to the surface.

A less obvious example of snobbery comes from Jaggers' strange habit of washing his hands several times a day. He does this as a way of symbolically removing the taint of criminality that has accrued to him as part of his legal work.

In his day-to-day work as a lawyer, Jaggers regularly consorts with all manner of unsavory characters such as thieves, pickpockets, even murderers. All of these criminals come from a much lower social class than Jaggers, and so by symbolically washing his hands of them, he's expressing his contempt for his clients' lowly origins.

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We usually think of snobbery as something committed by Miss Havisham and Estella. However, Pip also shows snobbery in Chapter 12 when he and Joe visit Miss Havisham. Even though Joe is dressed in his Sunday clothes, the best he has, Pip is embarrassed by the way Joe looks. He decides that Joe he “looked far better in his working dress.” Pip is even more embarrassed when Joe refuses to talk to Miss Havisham directly and instead talks to her through Pip. Pip says, “I was ashamed of the dear good fellow.” Even then, Pip is showing the beginnings of becoming a snob by wishing Joe would be something he can never be. And yet Joe is the best father-figure a boy could wish for. When Pip begins his apprenticeship, he is ashamed of being a blacksmith. He says, “it is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home.” He is terribly afraid that Estella might come to the forge and see Joe and Pip working and getting dirty at the fire. So Pip tries to teach Joe simply because“wanted to make Joe less ignorant and common, that he might be worthier of my society and less open to Estella’s reproach.” At this point, Pip snobbery makes it impossible for him to truly appreciate Joe's guidance and friendship.

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One example of snobbery is on the part of Estella and her rejection of Pip. While playing a card game, she refers to Pip as a "Jack" which is a pun on the word "knave". She suggests that Pip is below her and that she should not associate with him because of that. Pip is drawn to Estella, whose name means "star", but is snubbed by her. Estella has learned her snobbery from Miss Havisham who was snubbed by her former fiance. The act of snubbing in the novel is an attempt to obtain power over others, and is a major theme in the novel.

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