What evidence of capitalism is apparent in the novel?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Set in the Victorian Age, a time of great industrialization in England, the narrative of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations presents a tableau of a London characterized by industrialism which brought about the influx of many people in hopes of work.  However, because all were not able to procure jobs, they turned to crime or died in poverty.  The character Magwitch, a gamin of the streets of London, who engaged in theft and other crimes as a young man is representative of these poor people. Mr. Jaggers, the rather unscrupulous and exigent barrister deals with some of these people from London's lower class.  Poorhouses, workhouses, and Newgate prison housed many in London. And, it is in the area of Newgate that Jaggers works and that Pip arrives in the Second Stage to witness a dismal sight:

...I saw the great black dome of Saint Paul's bulging at me behind a grim stone building which a bystander said was Newgate Prison.  Following the wall of the jail, I found the roadway covered with straw to deaden the noise of passing vehicles; and from this and from the quantity of people standing about smelling strongly of spirits and beer, I inferred that the trials were on.

However, because there were many people working in the factories, there were demands from these people for merchandise; thus a new middle class arose from the shopkeepers who supplied products for the Londoners.  Uncle Pumblechook is representative of these shopkeepers, who often aspired to the upper class and foolishly imitated them as does Pumblechook and Melinda Pocket, Matthew's wife.

Free enterprise is represented by the brewery of the Havishams;  although it is now in ruins. at one time it has made a fortune for the family.  And, with production of goods and the promise of new wealth for borrowers and lenders, new banking houses arose to serve the middle class whereas before the Industrial Revolution the Bank of England was sufficient as there was little money to exchange except by a well-known few.  Clarikers' Banking House where Pip procures Herbert a position is an example of the new banks that was built to meet the needs of the rising middle class. 

Those with sufficient funds to escape the dirt and dangers of London began to build up the outlying towns.  Walworth, Wemmick's home is located in such a town; Wemmick walks to and from work each day and cleanses himself of what London has dealt him that day.

Certainly, the London of Pip's dreams is not what he has imagined.  Instead it is a noisy, bustling city of merchants and bankers, but,  it is also a sooty city in which crime abounds.

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Great Expectations

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