A person’s position in the social class hierarchy often has far-reaching effects on their health, family life, education and even on how they view themselves. In Great Expectations, Pip feels those effects to the fullest. Throughout the novel, he is being constantly reminded of how his low social status marks him as incompetent to those who belong to the higher ranks of society. Coming from a lower class background inspired Pip to go on a journey of self improvement that consequently caused him to stray from his family in order to fit in with the higher class.
When Pip was invited to Miss Havisham’s house to play with her daughter Estella, he was exposed to the stark differences in social class. Estella was undeniably rude, calling Pip common and ridiculing him for having coarse hands and run down clothing. In that moment, Pip began to feel aware of his social status and was ashamed of it. He was so ashamed, mainly because he wanted to impress the beautiful Estella and knew that he could not do so properly due to his class. It was then that Pip set the great expectation for himself of becoming the proper gentleman he thought he needed to be in order to fit in with the members of high society and finally manage to win Estella and Miss Havisham over.
When Pip was a child, he lost both his parents and was left in the care of his older sister, Mrs. Joe. Pip cared for her since she was his only family but on the other hand, he was fearful of her and often felt like he was stuck in that family. However, he still established a great reputation with her and the neighbors because she had brought me [pip] up by hand(Dickens 11). Pip also felt empathy towards his brother in law Joe as he felt that they were both trapped in a similar kind of situation by Mrs. Joe. This is why he thought so highly of Joe. Pip always treated him as a larger species of child and as no more than my equal(Dickens 13).
He appreciated Joe and was very fond of him. He longed to grow up and one day work alongside Joe in his workshop. He was proud of Joe and his trade. Like any other child, Pip was innocent and good. He tried his best to follow the rules and stay out of trouble. Pips story began to take a turn for the worst when he encountered a convict when visiting his parents grave. He was forced to comply with the convicts demands which required him to steal food and a file from his sister.
This was the first crack in Pips innocence as he was forced to both lie and steal from his family. He didn’t care that they were poor and belonged to a low social class. In fact, he never truly realized what his social class was nor its importance until he was invited to Miss Havisham’s house to play with her daughter Estella. From that moment on, Pip’s life was changed. He was so taken aback from Estella’s beauty that he longed to conquer her. He was willing to do anything it took to win her heart. He quickly realized that his social class was one of the biggest obstacles in his way as there was absolutely no way that Miss.
Havisham would approve of their relationship if Pip wasn’t a gentleman. Pip begins to grow apart from his family, confiding in Biddy instead of Joe. Pip’s obsession with climbing the social ladder and his sudden inheritance of a fortune makes him arrogant and rude, especially to the people in his childhood. He is suddenly ashamed of Joe, the person who showed him compassion and love from the beginning. He is embarrassed of his trade, something that he so desperately wanted to learn when he was younger. He believed that any sort of tie to Joe or his past would soil the persona of a suave gentleman that he was so desperately trying to build in order to woo Estella and gain Miss Havisham’s approval. He was so caught up in this that he didn’t see how much he had changed for the worst.
The themes of ambition and social advancement are one of the most central aspects in Great Expectations. In his novel, Dickens struggles to fully express to what extent a person is capable of deciding their own fate. Dickens represents this struggle through Pip, who is searching for his own identity and where he fit in the social hierarchy. Pip’s determination to embark on his self-improvement journey is spurred by his treatment by Miss Havisham and Estella. He so desperately wants both of them to accept him that he is willing to do anything, which is dangerous. He attempts to take his destiny into his own hands.
He no longer wants to be an apprentice in Joe’s workshop as was expected. Instead, he set out to become a gentleman. Pip’s obsession with social ambition causes him to lose his innocence and he becomes detached from his natural, sympathetic, kind nature. He strays further and further from the scared, innocent little boy he was in the beginning of the novel. He morphs into an arrogant adolescent, driven almost insanely by the desire to be more than he was made out to be, to one day beat society’s expectations of him and fulfill his own great expectations for what he wants to be. Pip is in a way controlled by this obsession in an external manner. Therefore, has more power to think independently and form his own new identity of being a gentleman. This is what allowed him to redeem himself at the end, once he was able to separate his fantasy from reality.
Pip, throughout his life was enraged by the behavior of Mrs. Joe, by snobbishness of Estella which ultimately came to his realization to reform himself into a stronger man. He realized that the position he was in being in his sister’s family, he will never be able to marry Estella, so he had great expectations to change himself and be a part of the upper class family and finally marry Estella. Waters further states Pip is desperately laying claim to a position within the discourse of middle class domesticity and assumptions in forming his representations of the family and female nature are one of the means by which he established to seek his identity.(waters154). He dreamt of living a wealthy life, dreamt of getting education abroad and most significantly thus marrying Estella, for that reason he forced himself to come out from his low class family and reforming his own self.