What are the historical aspects of this novel?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Living in an age in which great changes to England took place, Charles Dickens records in Great Expectations the effects of these social changes. For one thing, industrialization brought many of the rural poor into the city of London as these people had lost their farm jobs to such things as the thrashing machine.  Migrating to the city, they came with the hope of finding work and bettering themselves; however, they merely traded one hopeless situation for another as they lived in squalor in the streets of the overcrowded and disease-ridden city.  Even their children had to work long hours, as there yet was no child labor law. Also present in London, to take advantage of the new residents of London were the criminals.  Out of this environment, emerges the gamin Abel Magwitch, who is later exploited by the sinister Compeyson.  Jaggers too, that exigent man, emerges from this dark environment as he defends many a poor man against a corrupt judicial system, but he washes his hands constantly like Pontius Pilate.

These criminals were often petty thieves who pickpocketed the rich or the rising middle class, those who profited from the industrialization of London and the other parts of the country.  In addition, as people earned money, there was a need for the numerous banking houses in which to keep this money, whereas prior to the Industrial Revolution, the Bank of London had always been the only financial institution.  Herbert's opportunity to work at a branch bank is a result of this demographic change. The rising middle class who put much of their money into these branch banks afforded the criminals with a new group from whom to steal, etc. unless they escaped to new areas that were being built outside of London, areas such as that where Mr. Wemmick builds his house with the cannon for his Aged Parent.  Thus, Pip is wary of any stranger on his steps. 

While the city greatly changed with this new middle class and the underclass in the city becoming prey to the smugglers, pickpockets, thieves, and swindlers, those yet in the country lived in their dire poverty or their age-old occupations. In the country little has changed; for instance, when Pip travels, he must go by stagecoach or on foot. For, it was not until the railroad came that way that there would be a better connection between city and town.

 

 

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