Home » An Examination of Class in Jane Eyre and Great Expectations

An Examination of Class in Jane Eyre and Great Expectations

The idea of class and keeping up appearances are very important in many novels of the Victorian Era. Two such novels include Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Associated with class, the idea of gender is also important in both of these novels. Often in the Victorian novel these restrictions upon the female characters have a lot to do with the class that they are forced into. It also has much to do with the way they keep up the appearances of the class they are a part of. In Jane Eyre, we see the world through the eyes of Jane; a strong character who wishes to overcome her birthright as an orphan.

We are also able to see how Jane progresses in her struggle for individuality, as well for love. One example of this struggle can be seen when Jane still lives with her aunt at Gateshead. Jane stands up to her aunt saying You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness, but I cannot live so: and you have no pity (Bronte 29) Jane makes her first declaration of independence, contending that she will no longer be a secondary member of the Reed household. Jane makes this statement after the first meeting with Mr.

Brocklehurst when her aunt spends the whole meeting telling him what a horrible deceitful child she is, but in a passage previous to this Jane comments to the Doctor that she doesnt want to join any relations she may have. Aunt Reed says if I have any, they must be a beggarly set: I should not like to go a-begging. (Bronte 19) From these comments it is easy to see that Jane is not willing to lower her class just to escape from her cruel aunt and cousins. At Gateshead, Janes physical needs were more than adequately met, but her emotional needs were ignored, at Lowood things are different.

Food is scarce and usually tastes poorly, and moderation and humbleness are the key points to be stressed. Jane finds people who will love her and treat her with respect. By learning, Jane earns greater respect and privilege. Eventually she becomes a teacher there, a position of relative power and she is able to advance slightly in her social class. When Jane leaves Lowood she takes on a position as a governess. One of the few positions for a young working woman for those times. She hopes that this new position will fill a void in her life. At first Jane wants something more from her position and is bored with her job.

When Jane meets Mr. Rochester, his presence totally transforms her life. For once a man sincerely pays attention to her and is interested in her opinions and feelings. Jane falls in love with him but she can not bring herself to tell him. She feels that due to physical and social shortcomings, Jane does not see herself as Rochesters equal. Rochester eventually proposes and it takes Jane by surprise, and what is even more astonishing is that it is Rochester who points out their equality when he says, It is my spirit that addresses your spirit just as if both has passed through the grave, and we stood at Gods feet, equal as we are!

Bronte 231) The fact that Mr. Rochester is so in love with her makes it even harder when she finds out that he is already married. She does not want to become a mistress. It is better in her opinion to be a governess and work for her living and her standing in society then to have a dishonorable title of Mistress. Jane feels that the only option that she has is to leave Thornfield Manor and start a new life far from everyone she knows. After Mr. Eyre of Madeiras death, when Jane is wealthy for the first time in her own right, she is able to make the choices for her own life.

Jane is the central female character in this novel, along with the other female characters such as Mrs. Fairfax the housekeeper, or Adele, the illegitimate child; none of them possess any independence. They are all dependent on the men in their lives. The only exception might be Miss Ingram. Although it was believed that she and Mr. Rochester were going to be married and that Mr. Rochester was a suitable match for her social class and status. When Miss Ingram thinks that Rochester is going to not have any money she changes her mind about marrying him. This change of mind tells Rochester that Miss Ingram is not the woman for him.

In Great Expectations, similar events occur. Pip is orphaned as well and needs to make his own way in the world. Little Philip Pirrip is known as Pip, lives in the marshes of Kent with his sister and her simple, kind blacksmith husband Joe. At the beginning of the story Pip is terrified by the appearance of an escaped convict who threatens him with awful things unless some food and file for his shackles are brought to him. Pip manages to hide some of his own supper and then he steals more food from the cupboard. The convict is later captured and says that it is he who stole the food.

Later Pip is taken to see Miss Havisham, she is a middle-aged woman who chooses to live perpetually in the bridal dress she wore on the day she was stood up at the alter. She hates all the male she sees and has sent for Pip just to watch him being tormented by Estella. When Pip is old enough Miss Havisham gives Joe twenty-five guineas as a premium for him and he becomes an apprentice blacksmith. Pips sister is attacked and severely injured by an unknown attacker. After Pips sister is attacked, Joe takes in a young orphan, named Biddy, as his housekeeper. Pip tells Biddy that he wants to be a gentleman.

Pip is unhappy and disgusted at the idea of being a blacksmith all his life. Biddy thinks that this idea is all about Estella but Pip never says so. Pip later finds out that he has received Great Expectations from an unknown benefactor. He is told to never try to figure out who it is. He is going to be brought up as a gentleman. Pip buys some new clothes and says goodbye to Miss Havisham and leaves for London. Pip later finds out that his expectations are from the criminal Mr. Magwich and not from Miss Havisham like he had at first thought. Mr. Magwich wanted to thank Pip for the help a long time ago.

He had gotten rich from sheep-farming and then devoted all his wealth to Pip. Pip also finds out that Magwich and his partner in crime, Compeyson, were tried jointly but Compeyson was let off with a seven-year sentence because he looked like a gentleman and had a refined speech. Magwich received a fourteen-year sentence for the same crime. Pip also discovers that Magwich is Estellas father and that her mother is a murderer. Later in the story Pip is seriously ill, he realizes that since he became a gentleman he has viewed Joe poorly, and has been ashamed of him in public.

His Great Expectations have done him no good, he is glad to be rid of them. Dickens shows his ideas about his characters, the folly of pretended gentility, Pip trying to be better then Joe, the impossibility of manipulating a human being into becoming a different personality for ones own pleasure. Miss Havisham tries to manipulate Pip into falling in love with Estella just so that her coldnessll hurt him. The ease with which wealth can corrupt, and the essential goodness of simplicity that we see in Joe. Also evident are Dickens ideas about a respectable middle class. The important thing is that people like the Cheerybles and Pickwick represent a stage of capitalist development in which the capitalist is normally an active member of a fairly small firm — that is also what Nicholas [in Nicholas Nickleby], Pip and Arthur Clennam in Little Dorrit] becomea man whose work bears a relation to his income similar to that of professional people to theirs. Such people as this (together with the professional) were the basis of the respectable middle classes that Dickens represented. (House 164-166)

The speculation mania of 1825-1826 and 1837 on the whole endorsed the morality behind this view of society, because they were followed by economic collapse, meaning loss and ruin for people like Mr. Nickleby. The railway boom of 1845-1846 meant ruin, too, for many, but it meant success for others, and by establishing the joint-stock company in a number of enormous undertakings pointed the way to the later developments of investing. By an act of 1844 all joint-stock companies had to be registered. And the principle of limited liability was first recognized in the legislation of 1855-1856.

The years between 1850-1860 were marked by a great increase in the number of small investors, and the later part of the period saw the growth of the system of finance companies These changes are reflected in Dickens work, in the earlier novels finance is very individualistic; from Dombey onwards, through the interest in moneys personal power still continues, and is indeed a main theme of Great Expectations, money as a system is very important. (House 164-166) An example of this can be seen with Pip being given the great expectations and told not to ever try to find out who it is from.

He assumes it is Miss Havisham, but he only later finds out that it is Magwich. When he discovers that it is Magwich he is embarrassed that he fell in love with Magwichs daughter and that her mother is a murderer. Pip is worried that all this new knowledge will affect his standing as a gentleman within society. Gender and class becomes intertwined as Pip pursues Estella, whom he sees as a prize awarded to him by Miss Havisham since he had helped her when he was a young man. Pip knows that Estella does not love him but he figures that she will eventually marry him anyway since he thinks that she has no choice in the matter.

When Pip is summoned by Miss Havisham to tell him that Estella has arrived from France. Pip sees Miss Havisham as a fairy godmother and Estella as a princess that he has earned for saving the castle. Miss Havisham had adopted Estella, she had as good as adopted me, and it could not fail to be her intention to bring us together. She reserved it for me to restore the desolate house, admit the sunshine into the dark rooms, set the clocks a going and the cold hearths ablazing, tear down the cobwebs, destroy the vermin in short, do all the shining deeds of the young Knight of romance, and marry the Princess.

Dickens 253) Pip truly believes that Estella will be his until Magwich returns and ruins that idea. Pip is forced to reassess his expectations about class and gender because Estella is Magwichs daughter. He discovers that the woman who caused him the desire to become a gentleman, is nothing but the daughter of two criminals Truly it was impossible to dissociate her presence from all those wretched hankerings after money that had disturbed my boyhood from all those ill-regulated aspirations that had first made me ashamed of home and Joe (Dickens 257).

Pips desire for Estella is more than just a love for her as she is. He is also in love with her beauty, money, status and prestige. All these things differentiate him from having the thick boots and course hands of a simple blacksmith boy. Estellas image and her character are bound up so tightly with status symbol and Pips own desire to rise that she is more of a symbol of a superior social status than that of a romantic love. Although it is possible that Pip really does love Estella, it seems that the status she carries as a prize is more important to him than her true being and her love and affection for him.

The ambitions he had concerning elevating his social status to match Estellas own turn out to be false. Pip realizes that his dreams were false and that his actions were selfish as he grew older and gained a fortune from his unknown benefactor. The two novels are similar in the way that class is important to the main characters. A major difference is that they are for different reasons. Jane wants a noble position in society, even if that means working for it and refuses a dishonorable one.

Pip feels that he has earned his position and he be rewarded for doing so, by getting what he desires, namely Estella. It is evident from both of these novels that the Authors were aware that money and class would be affecting their protagonists. An interesting point for future study could be the gender differences. Pressures would be put on either gender to achieve the appropriate place in society, and how these novels reflect the accuracy of those social demands.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.