A historical study

With little conviction, Mr Wopsle’s Great Aunt teaches a range of different aged children in a class with Pip. Her teaching methods range from falling asleep “into a state of coma” and passing round “faded” books and bibles. He does not learn much, and is illiterate at the age of 13. This sounds terrible to us, but it is much better than Joe’s as he receives none as he had to “move a lot” in his childhood away from his father. Biddy is much more literate than Pip, and later teaches Pip all she knows after he requests her to do so. On the other hand, Estella receives “education for a lady” abroad, which we do not know much about, but is likely to be less academic and preparing Estella to be a wealthy lady of high class in society.

We can tell Dickens is criticising Victorian schooling as the only form of good teaching comes from a child, Biddy. Schools that Pip went to were a waste of time where the boys spent their time “poking sticks” and teachers caning them cruelly and “indiscriminately.” He even sees Estella’s as not very good, as she is not trained to think for herself, but rather to act how a lady is expected to. Education is very important in childhood and helps to shape people into who they are, and seeing as it was so poor back then Dickens could be saying that little can be said to the quality of what they grew up to be.

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Class was extremely important in Victorian times. A strict hierarchy was directly related to the amount of money people possessed. In those times people were either very poor or very rich and so it was very clear and important which class you belonged to. Pip belongs to the working class, and only when he goes to Miss Havisham’s and meets Estella does he see himself as “common”. To get a greater picture of childhood back then some information was given on other people’s childhoods. Joe’s childhood seems to us the most tragic, as he and his mother lived in fear of their father who took them home and “hammered” them, which is an example of men being dominant in Victorian times without the police being able to stop this domestic violence. Little is known about Biddy, including her exact age. All we know is that she is an “orphan”, and we can assume she was educated and stayed in an orphanage.

Therefore, Dickens shows us that many children were orphaned back then. Estella was adopted by Miss Havisham who grew her into a tool of her revenge, to “break men’s hearts”. Instead of being taught about feelings and emotions she was coaxed to be rid of them and thus destroying any of her childhood by making her grow up too fast. Although each childhood is very different, they are linked by the fact that neither of them is very pleasant and differs from most nowadays.

Throughout the novel we are enthralled by Pip’s tale, and it is in fact the first person narrative that influences the empathy we feel for him. Riveted by the personal effect it has on us, as if he’s telling his story specifically to you, the reader, we maintain our interest in his thoughts and feelings throughout the novel. The novel is very rich emotionally, its long sentences building them up whilst the short ones tend to dissipate them.

However, technical devices are not the only ways to entertain; humour plays a large part in engaging the reader by continuing their interest and creating contrasts to the intense atmosphere that is described. Although, most importantly and perhaps most simply is the power of the narrative hook. This cliff-hanger, or cleverly planned tease, leaves the reader craving for the next instalment of Pip’s life, his views and the wonderful places he travels in his progression through childhood.

In conclusion, the presentation of Pip’s fictional life through his own hindsight in its telling still attracts the appeal of many different readers. Since everyone has experience childhood, its subject has a profound relationship to many different readers and so they can engage and relate with Pip with ease, interest and sympathy. The views and opinions presented by people of different ages and classes still have relevance today and they will remain vital to Great Expectations even if they only serve as a historical study for many readers to come.

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