Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What are examples of satire in part 1 of Great Expectations?

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In one respect, Great Expectations is a social satire that criticizes the social justice of the Victorian Age as well as the fawning admiration of the rising middle class for what he perceived as a frivolous aristocracy.

  • In Stage I, the pompous Uncle Pumblechook exemplifies the sycophantic gestures and actions of the merchant towards the upperclass as he affects a superior attitude toward Pip, always chastising him to be grateful "to them which brought [him] up by hand."
  • Then, when he and Mrs. Joe are told that Miss Havisham has asked for Pip to call at Satis House in order to play with her ward, the two act in a ridiculous manner.  Mrs. Joe scrubs Pip unmercifully, and while he stays with Uncle Pumblechook in town the night before his visit, Pumblechook quizzes Pip in number functions while he parsimoniously gives the boys some meager bread and butter to eat.
  • Later on, after Pip is visited by Mr. Jaggers and receives his great expectations, Pumblechook speaks respectfully to Pip, shaking his hand, and he wishes Pip, "the joy of money."
  • When Pip returns from his visit at Satis House, he fabricates a tale of the afternoon's events, describing the carriage in which Miss Havisham sat and waved little flags and then swords as they "hurrahed."  Nevertheless, his sister is impressed with his descriptions.

Two other different instances of satire, but they are again social criticism, that occur in Stage I:

  • Pip as an orphan is mistreated.  But, humorously, Dickens names the switch with which Mrs. Joe batters Pip "The Tickler."  Frequently, too, Mrs. Joe is said to have brought Pip up "by hand," a phrase on which Dickens lays a satirical double entendre.
  • Biddy, too, is exploited by her keeper; Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt runs a school, but it is the orphan child Biddy who teaches Pip his numbers and letters.  And, poor, exploited Biddy is also made to do many other chores.

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