Literature is essentially the mirror of life. It reflects the good and the bad aspects of a society in a manner that is not only imaginary but also creative. Writers develop stories that reflect the situations and conditions which people go through in their lives. In line with the above assertions, Charles Dickens highlights the disparity between classes which existed in the society through two stories, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Charles Dickens conveys the message of class disparity through the various characters, environment plot theme, and conflict. In the two stories, the difference between classes is created by the perceptions held by the members of the society and their financial capability. Those in the lower classes are depicted as being unhappy while the well-off are contented with their lives.
Dickens utilizes conflict to highlight the class disparity. In the story Oliver Twist it is evident that in spite of Noah being at the lower rank of the social class, he perceives himself as being better off compared to Oliver. Apparently, Noah knew his father while Oliver had been brought up by only his mother. In this case, Noah perceived himself to be better than Oliver as reflected in the following excerpt But now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with interest (Dickens 51). Dickens reflects on the apparent contrast and theme of conflict between classes in the relationship between Oliver and Noah by stating This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature is, and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy (Dickens, 51). In this case, it is evident that the perception of being better off than other is the primary dividing factor between people of different classes rather than the financial capacity. Manaoui (14) describes the class conflicts in Oliver Twist using the Marxist theory. According to the author conflicts in classes arises due to the different interests of individuals from the various classes. In the case of Oliver and Noah, for instance, the different interests held by the two characters is the primary source of conflict which exists between them. The presence of Oliver who is an orphan gives Noah an opportunity to exert his superiority.
A similar distinction and conflict between classes are reflected in the story Great Expectations whereby Pip learns of Miss Havisham who lived in a different part of the town which was considered uptown. Pips, on the other hand, lives in the village: I had heard of Miss Havisham up towneverybody for miles round, had heard of Miss Havisham up townas an immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion (Dickens 89). The distinction between classes, in this case, is evident in the location where the individuals live. The Uptown is considered as a place for the upper-class individuals while the village is for the less privileged individuals in the society. It is clear that the financial capabilities and the perceptions of both groups are great determiners of where they are located within the community. According to Upham, Pips is depicted in the story as an individual confused by class and hierarchy in the society (1). In the story, Pips after attaining his gentleman status ultimately looks down upon the individuals whom he had lived whit in his childhood.
The author also shows class disparity through environmental plot, for instance, Oliver is delighted with his new environment which sharply contrasts to what he had been used to all his life. Furthermore, he is glad when he realizes that he will not be able to wear his old ragged clothes again. Oliver had always worn tattered garments which had been a symbol of poverty. His movement up the social class, however, is characterized by him having to leave his old clothes behind: They were happy days, those of Olivers recovery. Everything was so quiet, and neat, and orderly; everybody so kind and gentle; that after the noise and turbulence in the midst of which he had always lived, it seemed like Heaven itself. (Dickens 150). From this statement, it is clear that happiness characterizes the transition from the less privileged class to the wealthy level (Bowen 7). In fact, Oliver likens his new experience to being in heaven which is a clear sign of being content as opposed to the troublesome experience he had earlier.
Charles Dickens also highlights environmental plot to depict class differences in the case of Great Expectation. Pip is excited to meet Miss Havisham who he considers to be better off and having a better life as attributed to her lifestyle and possessions: as I went along, on all I had seen, and deeply revolving that I was a common labouring-boy; that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks; that I was much more ignorant than I had considered myself last night, and generally that I was in a low-lived bad way (Dickens 113). From the onset, Pips believes that Miss Havishams place is better than his even though most of the devices in the latters house had stopped working while others were decaying. Pips is critical of how he dresses from his shoes to the softness of his hands. The statement I was low lived in a bad way (Dickens 113) effectively communicates how Pips compared his living quarters to that of Miss Havisham. Similarly, we see that Pips was not contented with his lifestyle in the following excerpt I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too (Dickens 108). The regrets communicated in the stamen reflect the fact that Pip was not happy with the living conditions that he was going through. He was living in a poor neighborhood. The difference, in this case, is brought about by perception rather than reality (Upham 5).
The author also communicates class disparity through characters. In Oliver Twist, the major character Oliver is born in the poor background. According to the author, Oliver did not know much regarding his parents. These events result in Oliver being raised in a workhouse which was characterized by poverty and misfortune. Evidently, one of the major scenarios which highlight the poor conditions of Oliver are reflected in the following excerpt: Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, oering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take Oliver Twist o the hands of the parish. In other words, five pounds and Oliver Twist were oered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling (Dickens 21). The above statements highlight how Oliver had been affected by poverty to the extent that he was being considered for sale. Conversely, Charles presents Mr. Losberne who is a doctor in the society. As highlighted in the following statement describing Mr losberne a surgeon in the neighbourhood, known through a circuit of ten miles round as the doctor, had grown fat, more from good-humour than from good living (Dickens 333). It is evident that he was well off and lived a better life compared to that of Oliver who was described as a meek-looking, pale-faced boy (Dickens 429). According to Manaoui (28) the some characters are depicted living a happy life while others live a miserable life as reflected in the case of Oliver and Mr. Losberne.
Similar to Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens also conveys class disparity through characters the story Great Expectation. Some of the major characters who are used to convey class disparity entail Pips who happens to be the main character in the story. Specifically, the Pips early life is characterized by hardships and changes for the better at his adulthood. As reflected in the following statement I had heard of Miss Havisham up towneverybody for miles round had heard of Miss Havisham up townas an immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion (Dickens 89). In this statement, there is a sharp contrast in the life that Miss Havisham lived with that of Pips. In other words, it reflects a sharp contrast between the living conditions of Pips to that of Miss Havisham. The latter was well known in the society, living a house which was barricaded against robbers. Furthermore, as Pips progressed in life he acquired wealth and moved up the social ladder. The following statement highlights the changes that came with Pips progression up the social ladder: First," said Mr. Jaggers, "you should have some new clothes to come in, and they should not be working clothes. Say this day week. You'll want some money. Shall I leave you twenty guineas? (Dickens 250). Clearly Pips had acquired immense wealth, and he perceived himself as not being equal to the other members of the society. This mindset informs his decision to advice, Mr. Jaggers, to purchase new clothes before being allowed to come into his house. In this case, Mr. Jaggers is portrayed as being poor while Mr. Pips is depicted as being well off in the society. Teubler, Lisa-Marie in the reflection of the progress that Pips made in life indicates argue that he never achieves the much desired domestic happiness. As highlighted in the story, Pips had a troublesome childhood characterized by a problematic relationship with his caregivers (Bowen 14). This gave him the motivation to achieve success in life by acquiring wealth and becoming a gentleman. According to Teubler, Lisa-Marie (17) this objective is not successful as Pips does not turn out to be happy as he had expected.
From the above-highlighted instances, it is evident that Charles Dickens was succesful in underscoring class disparities through the use of various themes, characters, and settings. Primarily, the activities of the major characters, Oliver Twist and Pips reflect class struggles which existed in the societies which they lived. In the case of Oliver Twist, for instance, he was born and raised in a parish after which he went ahead to engage in crime. The primary determining factor in Olivers life is the fact that he could not fend for himself. Similarly, Pips are brought up in a poor background with his caregivers being his significant tormentors. The challenging conditions make Pips to come up with solid plans to improve his life. In both stories, therefore, the main characters stressful circumstances do not hamper their determination to succeed in life. Their primary objective is to ascend the social ladder, a fact which is ultimately achieved.
Bowen John, Great Expectations, and class. 2014
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. TB Peterson, 1861.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Jovian Press, 2017.
Manaoui, Yezza. Poverty in Charles Dickenss Oliver Twist. Diss. 2017.
Teubler, Lisa-Marie. "Mollifying the Masses: Obscuring Class and Alleviating Inequalities in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Little Dorrit." 2013.
Upham, Alicia. "Class Structure in Great Expectations: Dictate Your Own Fate." 2012.
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