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How Does Dickens Present Childhood in Great Expectations

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In Victorian times, children had a very suppressive upbringing; “spare the rod and spoil the child” was a common motto. Children were treated poorly and unfairly, they were expected to be seen and not heard. In “Great Expectations”, Pip is treated very harshly by his sister, Mrs Joe, “…she had brought me up by hand…and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand”. This shows that Pip is hit by Mrs Joe, the use of the adjectives “hard and heavy” emphasises the force of her strike. Another example of Pips harsh treatment is, “Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame.” Pip is often caned by Mrs Joe, the personification and irony of “tickler” gives a sense of them not wanting to admit the truth of the “tickle”, and this may contribute to Pips guilt and timidity. It is stated retrospectively by Pip and as such he appreciates the “brutality” of the use of the cane. He uses irony as a method to emphasise the inappropriateness of its use.

Pip is a very sensitive, imaginative and intelligent, “My sister’s bringing-up had made me sensitive.” The beatings by Mrs Joe, Pip’s sister, affect Pip. He has a moral conscience and feels guilty about taking “wittles” for the convict, “I fully expected to find a constable in the kitchen, waiting to take me up.” Pip feels so guilty that he thinks he will be found out. He also feels guilty for thinking he has done something wrong because of his treatment by Mrs Joe, who has constantly reminded him that his existence is nothing but a burden on her and the world, “The gates and dykes and banks came bursting at me… ‘A boy with Somebody-else’s pork pie! Stop him!’ The cattle came upon me… ‘Hollo, young thief!'” The example of anthropomorphism in the cattle’s speech shows his guilt and the use of personification shows his guilty conscience. Pip is affected by his upbringing as well as the atmosphere and environments he endures.

There is a very tense, frightening, gloomy atmosphere when Pip meets the convict; this makes him feel nervous and scared. “‘Oh! Don’t slit my throat sir’ I pleaded”. The use of the negative verb “oh” shows the terror and surprise, his fear is shown by his pleading. Dickens uses pathetic fallacy, “…the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing.” The weather is fierce and the landscape is desolate just like Pip’s fear and sense of loneliness.

Pip is treated very badly, verbally and physically, by Mrs Joe. Mrs Joe abuses Pip vocally, “You young monkey”, “You staring great stuck Pig”. The comments, directed specifically to Pip, made him feel very emotional. Mrs Joe also puts him down and blames him for everything, “‘Trouble’ echoed my sister…” Mrs Joe makes Pip feel guilty through the repetition of trouble. This emphasises Pips feeling that he is a burden to her. As well as being beaten, Pip is also forced to drink tar water, “You come along and be dosed.” Pip is given tar water as a punishment because it tastes ‘nasty’. Although Pip is harshly treated by Mrs Joe, Joe, on the other hand, has a much better relationship with him.

Joe is very kind to Pip and helps him to cope. Joe supports Pip hen he is being abused, “Joe gave me some more gravy.” When Pip is abused by Mr Wopsle, Joe gives him more gravy to make him feel better. Pip trusts and confides in Joe throughout his childhood, “He hammered at me with a wigour.” Joe tells Pip that he had a difficult childhood when his alcoholic father used to beat him and his mother; this helps Pip to cope as it meant that Pip could confide in Joe as he knew what he was going through. Joe also helps to defend Pip in front of Mrs Joe, who Pip is scared of, “Get behind the door old chap, and have the jack-towel betwixt you.” Joe provides suggestions to protect Pip from beatings and to lessen the pain on impact.

Other adults treat Pip differently, although similarly abusive and speak very lowly of him. Uncle Pumblechook thinks that children should not be pampered, “Seven times nine, boy.” When Pip stays at his house, Uncle Pumblechook spends most of his time quizzing Pip; his use of “boy” indicates that he just addresses Pip as a basic form, not personally – as Pip. Mr. Wopsle is verbally abusive to Pip, “What is detestable in a pig is detestable in a boy.” He compares boys to pigs, implying that Pip is no better than a pig, in context, it was an unnecessary comment. Miss Havisham uses Pip and torments him mentally, “You can break his heart.” She tells Estella to break Pip’s heart because she was jilted on her wedding day by her fianc�. Thus, she hates all men and feels that Pip should and will be punished.

When Pip meets with Estella, he experiences her behaviour, upbringing, herself and Satis House. Estella is ‘proud and insulting’ towards Pip, “A common labouring boy.” Estella makes Pip feel inferior. She has a rather strange upbringing, living in an old house with an eccentric old woman, “Sour remembrance of better days lingering.” This describes Satis House, recalling better days and shows that Estella has been living there for a time. Satis House and Estella make Pip feel more miserable, “‘What could I become with these surrounding?’ ‘How could my character fail to be influenced by them?'” Pip is greatly affected by Satis House. The meeting shows the differences between Pip and Estella in all aspects: behaviour, attitude, upbringing, future prospects and education.

Pip has a less than satisfactory education, provided by Biddy and Mr. Wopsle’s great aunt, “I attended evening classes.” Pip’s classes at Mr. Wopsle’s great aunt’s were in the evening but the teacher fell asleep! Estella would have a private tutor, if using the stereotypical upper class child, and later on in the novel, she is sent to finishing school. Estella has prospects because she is upper class whereas Pip is destined to be a blacksmith, as he would become an apprentice for Joe due to the lack of education. The destiny would have come true, until Pip receives money from a mystery guardian; this turns out to be Magwitch, the convict! Pip has his morals beaten into him by Mrs Joe. Estella does not mix socially; therefore she has a jaundiced view of men, thanks to Miss Havisham. However, the differences in their upbringing affect them.

Pip is quite content until he visits Satis House. Here, he becomes unhappy when he realises that he is of Lower Class, “He calls the knaves Jacks.” Estella makes comments about Pip’s use of common language. Estella is unhappy and that is why she is a bully. Whereas Pip feels guilty when he steals from Joe and Mrs Joe, “Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses man or boy.” Pip’s moral conscience is evident whereas Estella seems not to have one. Pip is not as lonely as Estella because he has Joe, she, however, only has Miss Havisham, who is not the most friendly, and does not mix socially.

Victorian language is used to portray the background and class of the character. “What fat cheeks you ha’ got!” The convict speaks fairly roughly. “Has the boy ever made my objection?” Miss Havisham uses more formal language; this indicates that she is of Upper Class. “Meshes” (for marshes). Pip uses a local dialect, showing that he is Lower Class.

Children’s’ futures are largely dependent on their background, not their ability.

In conclusion, Dickens presents Victorian childhood as extremely harsh and suppressed. He uses Pip as a symbol for how gruelling and difficult life was for the poor. Dickens may have modelled Pip on his own childhood, as his family were imprisoned for debt, resulting in him working from a very young age. Estella symbolises the result of vanity and greed in the upper classes, an obnoxious and ostentatious child. “Great Expectations” was a very divisive book for the era because Dickens dared to show what life was really like.

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