In England in the 19th century, social class determined your rank within the society. There were aristocrats, middle class, and lower class citizens. The aristocrats were the royal family along with the knights, barons, and country gentlemen. The middle class was split into two parts, the upper middle class and the lower middle class. The upper middle class consisted of the large business owners, bankers, doctors, and lawyers. The lower middle class was the shopkeepers, merchants, blacksmiths, and civil servants. The lower class was the factory and labor workers, miners, and seamstresses. Your job determined your social status within the society and how people treated you.
In Great Expectations, the social class is based on your education henceforth leading to your job which determines your rank in society. For example, Joe is uneducated and works as a blacksmith which is deemed as a lower middle class worker. Because Joe works as a lower middle class worker, the opportunities Pip had for an education were lower, causing Pip to be seen as a “common boy”. Besides, he also wasn’t educated to be a gentleman. Even though he had received education when he was in low class, his gentleman lessons with Mr. Pocket were more useful.
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At the beginning Pip is depicted as a young, naive boy who does not know the differences between social classes. When he first arrives at Miss Havisham’s house, he meets a young girl named Estella. Estella makes a comment towards Pip saying that he is a “common boy” and that he will never become a gentleman. Because of his comment, Pip decides he wants to become more educated and to learn to be a gentleman. Years later, Pip travels to London to learn how to become a gentleman. While learning to be a gentleman, Pip loses sensitivity towards people in the lower class causing him to lose a lot of his friends from Kent. He soon realizes later on in life that he took his old life for granted. He says that he wishes he would have never been influenced by Estella’s comment on being a “common boy”, but he has never truly wished that. Pip learns that life is not just about social class and your rank within society, but about having a family and people you can count on.
The central theme of the novel is social classes. It is demonstrated between characters of higher class and lower class. For example, when Joe comes to see Pip in London, Pip treats Joe in a different manner than before he left because Joe is now in a lower social class than himself. His feelings about Joe’s arrival were “Not with pleasure…” (p. 203). He was afraid that his friends, especially Drummle, would look down on Joe because of his lower class and lack of education, but Pip himself was ashamed being seen with him. Not only does Pip treat Joe differently when he arrives, but Joe also treats Pip differently. Joe begins to call Pip “sir” which bothered him because “sir” was the title given to people of higher class. Joe soon leaves and explains his early parting and creates a metaphor that explains he is a common blacksmith and Pip is a goldsmith. The difference in social classes had brought upon their separation.
The title Great Expectations reflect the ideas of Pip’s great expectations because when Pip starts to learn how to be a gentleman it is not what he thought it was going to be. He became heavily invested in debt, he lost touch with someone he considered a best friend, and never ended up with the girl he changed himself for. When Pip went to London to further his education and learn to be a gentleman, he expected a life full of lavish things and major success, but Pip did not obtain any of that. He realizes now that his life was perfectly fine the way it was and he shouldn’t have been bothered by other people’s judgments.