What influenced the manner of Belinda Pocket's upbringing in Chapter 23 of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter XXIII of Great Expectations, which presents a portrait of the "toadie" of a previous chapter, Mrs. Pocket, sets her in contrast to Mr. Matthew Pocket, a true gentleman. This juxtaposition of Mrs. Pocket, who asks Pip if he likes orange-water in "general conversational condescension," as Pip remarks, presents again to the reader the hypocrisy of those who aspire to be upper class.

With characteristic humor, Dickens describes the fabricated nobility of Mrs. Pocket. She is supposedly the daughter of a knight, who is "a quite accidental deceased Knight."  Thus, there is no proof of her lineage.  As Dickens's narrator, Pip continues to describe her family with confused humor:

...his father would have been made a Baronet but for someone's determined opposition, the Sovereign's, the Prime Minister's, the Chancellor's...I forget whose, if I ever knew....I believe he had been knighted himself for storming the English grammar at the point of a pen in a desperate address...for the laying of a stone for some building or another.

In reality, Mr. Pocket, a distinguished scholar at Cambridge, has lowered himself by marrying Mrs. Pocket, yet, Mrs. Pocket is treated with respect because she never married anyone with a title while he is treated with reproach for not having earned one. And, as the chapter continues, Pip perceives the true emptiness of Mrs. Pocket's supposed entitlement.  For, she ignores her children who are only saved from peril by the close observation of the servants.  When, for instance, Jane saves the baby from harm with a nutcracker, Mrs. Pocket berates her for interfering, as she has previously done when a neighbor contacts her about a servant's mistreatment of another child.  It is also futile for Mr. Pocket, who wrings his hair in despair, to correct her because, as she remarks, "Am I grandpapa's granddaughter to be nothing in the house?"

Mrs. Pocket is a characterization of those who aspire to be aristocrats, just as is Uncle Pumblechook's.  In several episodes of his novel, Charles Dickens ridicules the rising middle class that wishes to arise to what he considers a frivolous aristocracy.  Indeed, Mrs. Pocket is perfect for such satire.


lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Pocket has been raised to think that she is an aristocrat, so she is useless as a wife and mother. She has many children, but all she can do all day is sit and read her “book of dignities” which outlines the genealogy of aristocratic families. She has not been taught any useful skills, so she cannot cook nor sew nor keep house nor raise children. She has servants, that her put-upon husband can hardly afford, and she is in denial about the reality of her life. Her character is a foil to Pip, who is also in a sort of denial of reality. He believes that his newfound wealth will be able to turn him into a gentlemen, but he has no clue as to how a true gentlemen should act, so he becomes a snob for quite awhile. Mrs. Pocket on the other hand, knows how a gentlewoman is supposed to act, like a princess, but she is really not a gentlewoman because she has married an impoverished teacher who is much below what she perceives is her proper station in life.

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Great Expectations

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