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Literary Essay Example: The Role of Women in Charles Dickens' Great Expectation

8 pages
2011 words
Boston College
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The classical novelists like Charles Dickens tried to portray the roles of different genders in the real life. The women characters in Dickens novel Great Expectation is a representation of the real life during the classical period in the nineteenth century. The novel presents different female characters with different personalities which help Dickens depict the various gender roles in the 19th century. Among the key gender issues that Dickens has portrayed in his novel include the shifting women from the periphery to the center and the social status of women. Dickens feminism approach to writing the novel further portrays the women role in the text. This paper is going to examine the role of women as portrayed by Charles Dickens in the novel Great Expectations.

Dickens has presented female character with different roles in the society. However, each of these characters helps Dickens construct the classical society in which he wrote. The author gives his audience an overview of the classical society through the characters. Gender roles were one of the key issues in the classical society that many writes including Dickens tried to portray. In great expectation, the female characters that have helped Dickens depict the role of women in the text include Mrs. Gragery, Miss Havisham, Estella, and Biddy. All these characters have different and unique behaviors even though to some extent some of them share some personalities. First, Mrs. Gragery is one of the female characters that Dickens have explored and portrayed in his text. Mrs. Gragery is portrayed with a mother-like personality through the way she brought up Pip. Pip explains that Mrs. Gragery has earned a reputation with herself and the neighbors because she had brought me up by hand (Dickens 11). Dickens has portrayed Mrs. Gragey as a mother who works hard to provide for her family even when the husband is not committed as such. Mrs. Gragery works very hard to feed the family which includes Pip and her husband, Joe Gragery. Therefore, it is not Pip that Mrs. Gragery works hard for or that makes her personality desirable in the text. But, it is the fact that other people like her husband receive recurrent thrashing of her commitment and heavy hand. She also does all the house chores and takes care of her family.

Dickens portrays Mrs. Gragery as the ideal woman of the 19th century through her complicated personality (Saxena, 2). She is depicted as a mother-like character, but she also portrays some bad attitude which can be seen through her reactions to other women who wants to see her husband like Miss Havisham. Even though she has not physically confessed her love for Joe Gragery but it can be presumed that her jealousy when other women come looking for her husband is an indication of love. Her bad attitude can also be witnessed through her brothers description of her that she never was polite, unless there was a company (Dickens 29). Dickens tries to depict all the aspects of the character Mrs. Gragery for the audience to judge. The audience is able to analyze every side of the character presented and draw a conclusion about who she really is as depicted in the text. However, though she has been portrayed with numerous singularities and idiosyncrasies, Mrs. Gragery can be considered an ideal woman not just by the author but her husband as well. Joe Gragery, despite all the shortcomings of his wife, still manages confesses his feelings and affections for her in front of her brother, Pip. He says that whatever family opinions, whatever the worlds opinions, on that subject may be, Pip, your sister is a fine figure of a woman! (Dickens 82). Every person has the bad and good side, but sometimes people overlook one side that makes it difficult to identify the other side. In this case, someone may overlook the bad attitudes that Mrs. Gragery shows without considering the good side which even her brother is not able to see. Joe Gragery, her husband, is able to acknowledge and appreciate the good side of his wife though he is also aware of her weaknesses. Like many of women in the old society, Mrs. Gragery recognizes the need for submissiveness to their husbands. She does everything in the house without complaining which according to Pips opinion, she is proud of. Even though she has not physically confessed her affections for her husband, but from how she handles things in her house such as washing, cooking, and other works seem to portray her submissiveness. Mrs. Gragery is also described using some masculine features; for instance, she almost always wore a coarse apron that had square impregnable bib in front (Dickens 28). This can help the audience understand the reasons why she does everything in the house including providing for the family.

Dickens has also explored the character, Biddy, depicting some of the gender roles portrayed in the 19th century society. Biddy is almost similar to the Mrs. Gragery in some ways, though she is also different in some ways. Just like Mrs. Gragery, Biddy also plays a critical role in the development of the protagonist Pip and the plot of the novel. She is an orphan just like Pip though she is completely different from him. However, unlike Mrs. Gragery she behaves to the people around her in a better way. She is humble and socializing unlike Mrs. Gragery. In the whole text her character can be portrayed as the perfect figure for a female character in the novel. However, Dickens has employed her personality to depict the stereotyped society of the 19th century. Through her, the author is able to depict the self-sacrifice woman who is intelligent, gentle, and humble. It is through these personalities that gets Joe attracted to her. Even though she is introduced to the audience as a trashed and shaggy girl with unkempt hair and shoes that always wanted mending and pulling up at heel, but she is able to conquer all her obstacles in life (Dickens 76). Dickens tries to show the shift of a woman figure from the stereotyped traditional society where women were expected to remain in the same social status forever. She represents a modern woman who is learned and intelligent. she strives to move from her social status and climbed the ladder up to where she could no longer wear shoes that needed to be improved to a status where Pip could say that her shoes came up at the heel, her hair grew bright and neat, and her hands were always clean (Dickens 222). All these achievements she realizes are as a result of her commitment and struggle through the obstacles including the fact that she was an orphan.

At first when Biddy is introduced to the audience, Pips opinion is that she is not clean or beautiful like the other women. However, after seeing her grow into a different personality that he could compare with the other beautiful ladies like Estella Pip accepted the beauty that he could not see before. Pip says that she was not beautiful, but she was common and could not be like Estella; but she was pleasant and wholesome (Dickens 222). As time goes, Pip developed more positive perceptions in Biddy that he could not see before as he grew up. He could not stop finding new positive attitudes in her. Dickens has presented Biddy as caring, passionate, and gentle through the way she interacts with other people. She is a true friend of Pip. This can be depicted from the time she advised Pip not be ashamed of Mr and Mrs. Gragery when they come to visit him in London. Further, her gentleness and affection for everyone is seen in her care for Mrs. Gragery when she became ill and was almost bed-ridden. Biddy accepted to come to take care of her and do all the house chores for her. Pip explains that for some time he started to think that Biddy would have been an extraordinary girl (Dickens 222). Even though Pip liked Biddy that much, his loved was meant for Estella. Dickens tries to portray some aspects of stereotyped traditional gender issues in the relationship of Pip and Biddy. Even though Biddy loved Pip, but she never desired her feelings to be reciprocated by Pip because she knew that he loved Estella. Therefore, she sacrifices her affection and feelings for him to accommodate their friendship with Pip and Estella. However, out of her gentle, caring, and humble personalities she also manages to get married to Joe after the death of Mrs. Gragery. Dickens presents the marriage between Joe and Biddy as perfect because both of them possessed unflinching affection for each other. This also explains the difference between the marriage between Joe and Pips sister and also his marriage with Biddy. The first marriage was not accompanied by the unflinching affection as his marriage with Biddy which is described as perfect towards the end of the novel.

Another female character presented in the text with almost complete opposite personalities like Biddy and Mrs. Gragegy is Havisham who is cruel and heartless as she is described in the novel. However, her arrogance and cruelty towards other people can be explained by her social status. People from humble backgrounds like Mrs. Gragery and Biddy are humble, caring and affectionate. The rich like Havisham is completely opposite to these personalities. Miss Havisham is introduced in the novel as a rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers and who led a life of seclusion (Dickens 89). Pips description of her further helps depicts her secluded lifestyle; he describes her as the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see (Dickens 99). She does not know how to relate or interact with people. She commands Pip to play cards with Estella, her adopted daughter.

Miss Havisham not only lived a life of seclusion, but she was also revengeful especially after her fiance dumped and duped her on the wedding day. She embarks on a mission to destroy the lives of men who are faithless like her former fiance. She manipulates people around her including her adopted daughter, Estella to break the hearts of the men because of her faithless experience with the past man in her life. Dickens further depicts her seclusion and loneliness in the way she lives. She almost ruined the life of Pip before he realized that she was only playing with his emotions. She claims that what she has done is nothing but offers help for her adopted daughter so that she cannot pass through same misery that she (Miss Havisham) went through with men. She explains how she ruined the life of Estella and Pip; as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually did worseI stole her heart away and put ice its place (Dickens 711). Through this character, Dickens has managed to portray women as an enemy of their fellow women. The society has always believed that women face violence from their male counterparts. However, Dickens tries to prove that even women can contribute to the suffering, misery, and downfall of their fellow women. Miss Havisham is an exemplary situation where a woman contributes to the suffering of another woman. She manipulates Estella into breaking the hearts of men including Pip for her selfish revenge desire. Estella does everything that Moss Havisham tells her to do. Dickens further portrays the bad influence of mothers on their daughters through the relationship between Estella and Miss Havisham. The author tries to depict that mothers can influence their children to do wrong things which is a bad role model.

Estella is another character that has been explored and portrayed in the novel to advance the gender issues in the text. Dickens uses the character Estella to the influence of other persons around the child. The child grows into the person he or she has been made to be. Estella is considered a created character in the novel. She is a creation of Miss Havisham who teaches her everything she knows;...

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