How does Great Expectations demonstrate class conflict?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Class conflict is alive and well in Dickens' England.  Through Great Expectations, Dickens illustrates that money and family name do not equate with morality and charitableness.  Below are several examples of class struggles.

1. Magwitch (also Provis) despises Compeyson (Miss Havisham's ex-fiance).  While it is true that Compeyson is part of the reason that Magwitch was arrested and imprisoned, it is also true that Compeyson committed the same (if not worse) crimes as Magwitch, yet he receives a lighter sentence because he is a member of the upper class.  Magwitch makes several comments about this, and his hatred for the unequal treatment that he and Compeyson receive spurs him to make his own gentleman out of Pip, a member of the struggling working class.  In the end, although Magwitch never achieves "gentlemanly" status in the eyes of society, he redeems himself and demonstrates that morality is not linked to social class.

2. Most significantly, Pip at first believes that people such as Miss Havisham and, therefore, Estella and other suitors for Estella's hand are what he should emulate.  The upper class of society has made him feel insignificant; so he strives to become a gentleman so that he can fit in and hopefully find purpose.  What Pip discovers, however, is that none of the people whom he meets from England's "aristocracy" are happy or worth of emulation.  Unfortunately, before he matures in his view of social classes, he treats Joe and Magwitch badly and even forgets the values he was taught early on in life.  By the novel's end, though, Pip returns to his roots, and Dickens uses his character to show that good-hearted people are that way by nature, not by class.

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Great Expectations

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