What themes of social reform and injustice are addressed in the novel Great Expectations?

Expert Answers
podunc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of Dickens' main social concerns in this novel is undoubtedly England's penal system during the Victorian Era. By creating in Magwitch a character who is both a criminal and a generous, loving person, Dickens suggests that labels of "guilty" and "innocent" do not tell the whole truth about a person's life or morality. In Dickens' time, criminal sentences were extremely harsh; a theft could get one banished to Australia or even sentenced to death.

lit24 | Student

Some of the important themes of social reform and injustice are as follows:

1.Child abuse:the childhood of Joe, Pip, Estella and Magwitch is pitiably abusive. Ch.7 "And he hammered at me (Joe) with a wigour."  Ch.8 "Within myself,I (Pip) had sustained, from my babyhood a perpetual conflict with injustice."  Ch.33 "You had not your little wits sharpened by their intriguing against you...I (Estella) had." Ch.42 "I (Magwitch) was a ragged little creetur as much to be pitied as ever I see."

 2. The Crooked Legal System: Compeyson is treated sympathetically by the judge and is awarded a lesser jail term. Ch.42 "And when we're sentenced ain't it him as gets seven years and me (Compeyson) fourteen."

3. The Educational System : Ch.10, Mr. Wopsle's great aunt's school. Ch.23 Mr.Pocket's method of tutoring Pip and his companions.

4. The hypocrisy of the prevailing Class System: The central theme of the novel,of course, is "Who is a true gentleman?" Ch.22 "It is a principle of his(Matthew pocket) that no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner. He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will exress itself." In which case the true gentleman in the novel would  be Joe and only Joe.

Read the study guide:
Great Expectations

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question