Why does Dickens use a compare and contrast strategy throughout Great Expectations?
Dickens uses this strategy multiple times throughout the novel comparing everything and everyone Pip comes across. The question I have is why?
Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations later in life, as a contrast to his earlier semi-biographical novel David Copperfield. When he wrote his life story from David’s point of view, he was more optimistic. The guy got the girl he belonged with in the end. In Great Expectations, Pip ends up alone.
It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, I can testify. (Pip, Ch 15)
The stark contrast between Pip’s two lives, before and after he becomes a gentleman, is indicative of the class struggle in Victorian England. The idle wealthy and the downtrodden poor are strongly differentiated as Pip moves from one class to another, becoming strongly indoctrinated in the upper class “gentleman’s” values, which ironically contrast strongly with the humble but virtuous focus on home, love and family represented by the working class (Joe, Biddy, and even Wemmick). Pip is so ashamed when Joe comes to visit that he does not treat him well.
Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I ertainly would have paid money. (ch 27)
Pip forgets his humble beginnings, and the importance of simple, honest, love. At this point the reader, tending to sympathize with Joe, knows that Pip is making a mistake. None of his new relationships are as rich as the one he had with Joe.
As Miss Havisham and Estella demonstrate, being rich is not synonymous with being happy. Miss Havisham transforms Estella into an artificial presence, a being that exists only to tease and condemn.
“You should know,” said Estella. “I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me.” (Ch 38)
The change in Estella, and indeed in Miss Havisham, from beginning to end is startling.
“The ground belongs to me. It is the only possession I have not relinquished. Everything else has gone from me, little by little, but I have kept this. It was the subject of the only determined resistance I made in all the wretched years.” (Estella, ch 59)
Estella is broken, but free. Miss Havisham’s power is gone.