Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
There are many common, familiar clichs about illusion versus truth. All that glitters is not gold and Things are seldom what they seem are the most universal hackneyed phrases, but they do not cover entirely every aspect of appearance versus reality. In Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, there are several differences between the illusion and the truth. The appearance of certain things is often detrimental to the outcomes of characters when the reality of a situation is revealed. These illusions are revealed through Pip, a lower class boy caught in the struggle of the social classes of 19th century England. Throughout the book, Charles Dickens emphasizes the difference between appearance and reality through Pip’s expectations of something better, social status, and settings in the book.
The most important illusion Great Expectations is Pip’s confident expectations of a better life. Pip began the book out poor, and was sent for to spend time every week with an upper-middle-class crazy woman and her heartless adopted daughter, Estella. From the moment he met Estella, he was in love with her. Later on in the book, he was provided with financial support from an un-named benefactor that should be used to go to London and become a gentleman. Pip assumed that Ms. Havisham, Estella’s adoptive mother, was the benefactress. My dream was out; my wild fancy was surpassed by sober reality; Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale.
This was the reality that Pip had invented for himself, although it was really just a misimpression that his mind had created for himself. Because he thought that Ms. Havisham was his benefactress, Pip anticipated that Estella was meant for him. I was painting brilliant pictures of her plans for me. She had adopted Estella, and 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 a-blazing, tear down the cobwebs, destroy the vermin, — in short, do all the shining deeds of the young knight of romance, and marry the princess…. I had made up a rich attractive mystery, of which I was the hero. This is a very obvious illusion of what Pip anticipates for the future. When the reality of this illusion was revealed, Pip realizes the truth behind the appearance of his false dreams. Miss Havisham’s intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not designed for me. Pip realizes that he is not meant to be with Estella, and that the false appearance of his expectations that he put out for himself were completely untrue. Before he left for London, he thought that it was going to be grand, wonderful, and illustrious. However, when he got there he was very under-impressed by the city.
While I was scared by the immensity of London, I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly, crooked, narrow, and dirty. He had expected it to be the world, the beginning of a new future, and the start of a new life. However, it did not meet up with his anticipated expectations. The reality of London was dreary and dismal, unlike the appearance of it from afar.
High social status seems to have a beautiful appearance, but the veracity of the class system is not as good as it would seem. When Pip realizes that his true benefactor is an escaped convict named Abel Magwich, he instantly does not want the money. Magwich’s intentions were to turn Pip into a gentleman through the use of his money because of a hard lesson that Magwich learned. Magwich had been a poor man and had worked for a rich man named Compeyson. Compeyson had the appearance of a gentleman. He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he’d been to a public boarding-school and had learning. He was a smooth one to talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks. He was good-looking too… but he’d no more heart than an iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the devil afore mentioned. Compeyson’s appearance helped him in a case against him and Magwich. Compeyson said a very divulging quote to Magwich: To judge from appearances, you’re out of luck In the trial, this was very evident. Although Compeyson had been the worse of the two in their crime, Magwich noticed how heavy it all bore on me, and how light on him…warn’t it me as could only say, ‘Gentleman, this man at my side is a most precious rascal?’ And when the verdict come, warn’t it Compeyson as was recommended to mercy on account of good character and bad company… Magwich was sentenced to twice Compeyson’s jail time. When Magwich spoke of Compeyson in front of soldiers deciding their fate, he even stated that the appearance of a gentleman is often confused with the truth. He’s a gentleman, if you please, this villain. When told this, a soldier said, You’re not much to look at. He of course was judging by mien. In this illusion of the social classes of society, one horrible, wealthy man is placed above a good poor man because of the false appearance that the upper class is better. When Estella found out that Pip had come into a vast fortune, she recommended that ‘Since your change of fortune and prospects, you have changed your companions…. And necessarily,’ she added in a haughty tone;’ what was fit company for you once would be quite unfit company for you now.’ Estella’s true father is Magwich and true mother is a servant, but she is raised by a rich woman and is therefore upper-middle-class. By birth, however, she is in the bottom of lower class. In contrast, Biddy, an orphan maid, and Joe, Pip’s brother in law, both maintain the appearance of lowly on the social classes of 19th century England. However, they both have such wonderful personalities and great views on life that in reality, they are better people than the upper class.
Setting in Great Expectations was also an important contrast of illusion and the truth. Pip grew up the beginning of his life in two places: the forge and Satis House. The forge would normally have the appearance of being a dreary place, with fires blazing and the shadow of it lingering everywhere. However, it was actually a place where love was taught from all corners, and good morals were instructed. Satis house, the home of the Havishams, seemed like it should have the appearance of an upper-class home: much more comfortable and wonderful than a lower class home because of the money that the Havishams possessed. Satis means enough and that whoever had this house could want nothing else. The appearance that this house would be enough for the Havishams shows what kind of people that they really are in reality. Satis house was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred. Satis house was not welcoming at all, and in actuality it was very uncomfortable. Another contrast between truth and illusion is of Walworth, Mr. Wemmick’s home. Mr. Wemmick, Pip’s coworker, has a slight case of multiple personality disorder. In the office, he is like a machine. This appearance he puts forth as an illusion of a hard working man while the truth is that he is very vivacious and sprightly.
In more than one instant in this novel, the outcomes of situations are often decided on the appearance of illusions versus the truth of reality.
The mendacity of the characters and the settings in this book enforce that if one can pursue reality, the truth can be found behind an illusion. Pips expectations were thwarted because his actual dreams were shattered when the truth was revealed. The social status of 19th century England was just a forefront to rate people by their financial and economical advantages and disadvantages. In reality, social status does not mean that those richer lead better lives. In actuality, the lower class is above the upper classes because of the moral merit that they possess in comparison to those above them. The settings in Great Expectations emphasize the differences between appearance and reality in that illusions are not always the truth.