The battle of good and evil in literature of the XIX century
Familiarity with the peculiarities of the influence of Chartism, social change and political instability in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. General characteristics of the universal themes of good versus evil in English literature.
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chartism political english literature
Despite the pedants and the precious among the aesthetes, literature is either profoundly moral in its implications, or it is mere trivial entertainment and the secret of its power to express and even dominate whole ages must remain a mystery.
The values of books cannot be understood unless set in a framework of good and evil in life; if our experiences themselves cannot be felt as important, neither can the words which reflect them.
For our purposes, «good» will be understood as a generic term covering all elements which make for the free growth of personality; «evil» those which prevent such growth.
The boundaries of good and evil were once neatly and thoroughly drawn by religious doctrines, and the questioning of such doctrines has been accompanied by deterioration and relativism of standards which, for many, has seemed to make all criticism impossible; the skeptic today echoes Hamlet: «Neither is either good or bad but thinking makes it so».
In this term-paper, we will compare and contrast the themes of good and evil in different works of Charles Dickens and other authors. Through fighting for what they believe in, these individuals achieved their goals for society to change, for the better.
Charles Dickens once wrote, «It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only».
Charles Dickens' works highly regarded him as a social reformer with the power to influence society. During the Victorian Period, Charles Dickens' work played a major role in how the poor class, the criminal underworld, and the industrial revolution were viewed. With the help of Charles Dickens, the poor class was viewed in a different way during the XIX century.
Analyzing more deeply Charles Dickens' Great expectations we will be able to see how there can be both good and evil in most people and that even a good person will do evil things when exposed to evil. The setting can tell many characteristics about the character that lives within. Charles Dickens creates settings that are like subtle characters. Though not named, these «characters» have a big impact on the story.
The object-matter of the research is Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations.
The subject-matter of the work is the examination of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations through the prism of good and evil.
The aim of the term paper is to show the impact of Chartism, social transformations and political instability on Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations.
In order to achieve the aim we have to solve the following objectives:
Ø to emphasize the impact of constant limbo between good and evil on English literature;
Ø to explore the issues of good and evil and their display through Chartist movement in the works of English authors of the XIX century;
Ø to retrace Dickens's unique place in social novels and to observe his representations of good and evil in different characters;
Ø to investigate Dickens's Great Expectations as a sample of evil power of money;
Ø to make analysis of the novel Great Expectations and find out how the themes of good and evil are represented in it.
The methods used are the analysis of critical sources about good and evil manifestations in social life and literature, the analysis of the authors' works, viewpoints, social positions and contributions into literature.
Theoretical value of this term paper is that it investigates the influence of the themes of good and evil on English literature in the beginning of the XIX century and their impact on Charles Dickens's ideology and works.
1. The battle of good and evil in literature of the xix century
1.1 Universal themes of good versus evil in English literature
Since the dawn of time, the forces of evil have always tried to gain an upper hand over the forces of good. The battles between these two forces have transcended time in both different forms and in different places. Every culture since the birth of man has background stories of creation and the battles that are waged between the two forces of light and dark.
Leaving in the aftermath, stories and legends are passed down from generation to generation through the vast cultures and civilizations. Beginning with the use of oral traditions that took these stories and the use of spoken word to both inform and entertain the people of a given society. These tales also had another purpose, which was to remind people of the evils that were around them. Such stories fed on the fears of the people and the uncertainty of the world around them.
Although the stories themselves may differ considerably from region to region, the basic underlying theme has always been identical. With the coming into being of written word, these stories could now be put down for people to read and serve as a reminder of their folklore. We have been lucky in the fact that over the last few hundred years, we have recovered many works from all over the world, dating back through years that had been long forgotten to many of us. In a great many of these works we have come into contact with many tales of heroism and the themes of fight between good and evil.
Readers may determine a theme as an idea, point of view, or perception, embodied and expanded upon in a work. When the writers convey messages of good and evil, they may choose to use symbols of light and dark, innocence and malice, or general opposites. Webster's dictionary defines «good» as virtue, validity, and the possession of desirable or positive qualities; while on those who represent «evil» remain morally wrong or bad, harmful, malicious, and absent of good.
By the time literature appears in the development of a culture, the society comes to share a whole system of stereotypes and archetypes. Often these works reflect the societies in which the authors live or experience. Myths, legends, and folk tales lie at the beginning of literature, while their plots, situations, and allegorical judgments of life repraesent a consistent source of literary inspiration.
First of all, we would like to describe the classical example of the struggle between good and evil - the epic poem Beowulf. The Old English epic Beowulf may have been written during the first half of the eighth century, or it may have been composed at about the year 1000, which is the date of the manuscript.
Lots of words in Beowulf define not only their equivalence to things, but also to one another. A symbol stands for something else or remains a sign to represent something else.There are many symbols that represent good in Beowulf. Beowulf himself is a symbol of good in this epic. Beowulf is tamed and civilized which are the characteristics of goodness and purity. Beowulf is pure and shows this before his battle when he removes his armor, and vows not to use a weapon to defeat Grendel. Defeating Grendel, he shows that man, without armor and weapons, can defeat evil in any form including that of his enemy Grendel. This serves as a symbol of Beowulf's Goodness.
Another symbol of goodness is light. Light symbolizes day and rejoicing. When light, such as the sun and moon, are showing it gives people a sense of comfort and they don't seem to be scared of daylight. In connection with light, words like shining and gleaming also prove to show goodness in this epic. Human civilization, in the form of heroic warriors, is often associated with light: the halls are illuminated with rejoicing and treasure.
Just like light symbolizes good, darkness symbolizes evil in Beowulf. Grendel's lair is dark and gray, and he only hunts at night, in darkness. Darkness and night is associated with evil and Grendel's bloody attacks. Hrothgar's warriors face the darkness and the evil, but when the light of day comes, only their blood is there. This shows that Grendel, the monster whose name strikes terror to the people of Herot, is also a symbol of evil.
Another monster associated with evil was the dragon. In the end Beowulf had to fight one last battle and it was with this dragon. The dragon blew breaths of fire upon Beowulf as Beowulf was trying to shelter himself with his shield. But as his shield was melting, the dragon injected poison into Beowulf s neck, which injected him with poison, thus killing Beowulf. So the last battle came down to Good, which was Beowulf, versus Evil, which was the dragon.
The theme of good versus evil is portrayed throughout the entire epic. In the beginning there was Herot, which was good, and Grendel, which was evil. When Grendel killed most of the warriors in Herot, there was little good left. But when Beowulf came to Herot there was more goodness. So when Grendel attacked Herot that night, it was Beowulf and Grendel fighting it off. In the end it was evil which died. Beowulf managed to kill Grendel by tearing off his arm.
The overall effect this theme had on the poem as a piece of literature was by Beowulf, who represented good and Grendel, who represented evil. Beowulf had killed Grendel when Grendel had attacked Hrothgar s kingdom. After he killed Grendel he had to kill Grendel s mother too, who was also evil. So he set out to the murky swamps to kill Grendel s mother. After he swam for a whole day to find Grendel s mother he defeated her. Then all of the people in the kingdom of Herot danced, feasted, and rejoiced for the rest of the night. Beowulf was then seen as a hero and was given the throne to be the king of Geatland.
Everything went well for fifty years, until a stranger stole the chastise from a dragon's lair. The dragon then destroyed Beowulf s kingdom. As revenge Beowulf set out to kill the dragon. As a result, he killed the dragon but also died in the process. Wiglaf, a fearless warrior who helped Beowulf kill the dragon, was then given the throne and the kingdom was good again. Thus, the overall effect of good versus evil in the epic poem was to show that Beowulf was a good hero and to show that goodness will always prevail no matter what obstacles you will have to overcome.
The characters of Beowulf and Grendel are represented in stories throughout history. There will always be the hero looking for fame and glory. There will always be a «monster» that, acting like an overgrown child, throws a temper tantrum insisting on having everything their way and destroys everything that opposes them.
Another masterpiece of literature that perfectly shows the struggle between good and evil comes from Elizabethan England, the age of William Shakespeare, who is renowned as the English playwright and poet whose body of works is considered the greatest in history of English literature.
People believe that when they succumbed to evil temptations, his or her actions would come back on them. When a person does something evil, such as murder, it would be believed that person would be fated to have an unnatural death, by way of divine intervention. In the play King Lear the three main characters King Lear, Ragan and Gonerail demonstrate this concept.
In the King Lear play, Shakespeare creates many conditions in which humans live in the world. The main characters in the play are used to portray Shakespeare's ideas. One of these ideas which Shakespeare is trying to portray is evil between the characters and in the world which are emphasized throughout the play. The evil, created by humans, is outweighed by good in the world of King Lear.
Evil was created by humans who decided to do wrong to others. Duke of Albany, said that all evil people will be justly punished. Albany indicated that it is the people who caused evil and people decided to do evil, not gods. Lear believes that since Edgar is out on the heath he must have given everything to his daughters as well. Since he believes that Edgar gave everything to evil Lear must believe that people are the cause of evil. It were Lear's daughters who decided to do wrong to Lear and it was Lear's fault in giving away all of his land. Humans caused the evil and Lear believes that humans were the ones who created evil.
Edgar, is another character in the play who believes that evil is caused by humans and not the gods. Edgar clearly says that the gods are right and it is the people who are responsible for promoting evil in the world. It is us who make the instruments necessary for evil to spread and plague the world. In the world of King Lear many characters believe evil was caused by the people and not by the gods.
Even though evil was created by humans good will always exist. After King Lear was captured he showed that even if evil exists, good will always be present. Lear speaks about love with Cordelia in the prison cell and how they will still have each other despite of the evil around them . On another occasion Lear also says that despite all the evil in the world the raw nature, which is good, is still unharmed . Lear discovers nature's beauty by playing with the mice and listening to the signing birds. While all the evil is at its peak and everything seems to be lost, the raw nature in the play is unharmed. The good exists even while the evil dominates the world.
Good will not only exist if evil dominates, good will also outweigh evil eventually. The war which was lost by Cordelia and Lear, the good side, showed evil win. However, good over powered it after the war by Duke of Albany. The good in the play first was diminished to almost nothing but in the end more good was able to defeat evil in the play. When the two sisters began fighting between each other evil began fighting against evil. Eventually, because of that fighting between evil, good was able to over power evil. When the evil seemed strong and good almost non-existent, evil managed to fight itself and give good a chance to get stronger. At the end of the play evil was completely defeated and good once again dominated the world in the play.
A great amount of other writers and poets of all ages used the concept of good and evil in their works. In traditional folk literature, the difference between good and evil are well defined and unchangeable, and are indicative of the moral culture of the society represented in, or by, the story. Regardless of which side triumphs, the moral of the story is intended to reinforce community solidarity and values.
In classical literature, fate plays a major role in the tale and tragedies usually ended happily with good triumphing over evil but for the tragic hero invented by Aristotle. The Aristotelian tragic hero had four characteristics - goodness, superiority in some area such as politics or battle, a tragic flaw and the realisation of the flaw which then leads to his downfall.
Christian literature is concerned with the epitome of the fight between good and evil - the eternal conflict between God and Satan. There is also literature which concentrates on the struggle of mankind to find and keep their religious beliefs.
But why is this dichotomy so important for us? Simple question, not so simple answer. Good is something that will promote a value, and a value is something that advances a life. For human beings good comes from the value of being thoughtful, rational, heedful of what is what. Understending of good and evil helps us to grasp the world we live in. In life, we are in a constant limbo between good and evil.
1.2 Changes in viewpoints on good and evil in English literature of the XIX century
As it had been already said the conflict between good and evil is a popular theme that is very often present in any type of literary text. When these two binaries are combined, they engage in a push-pull type of relationships that are constantly at war with each other throughout a work of literature.
This idea is demonstrated in various works of XIX century British literature in the concepts of optimism (good) versus pessimism (evil). An author may use this notion of optimism against pessimism to teach a moral lesson, to make opposite viewpoints evident to the reader, or to show a transformation of a character whether it is from an optimistic perspective to a pessimistic one or vice versa. Whatever the reason may be, the conflict between a hopeful outlook and a negative viewpoint provide an interesting and an effective means of grabbing the reader's attention and pulling them headfirst into the writing.
The type of pessimistic to optimistic transformation is apparent in an early nineteenth century British poem by William Wordsworth called «I wandered lonely as a cloud». Although it is possible to interpret this poem in an infinite number of ways, one particularly strong reading of the poem has the narrator changing his disposition from that of loneliness and despair to a more happy and cheerful mood by a mere fantastical nature scene. In the beginning of the poem, Wordsworth paints a picture of a person wandering like a lone cloud, seemingly in search of inspiration or simply just wandering about for some company. After seeing a breathtaking view of daffodils «fluttering and dancing in the breeze», the narrator's perspective begins to change. No longer does he feel isolated in a bleak and sad world. Now he has seen the beauty that the world has to offer. This beautiful scene was imprinted on his mind and he even mentions, «For oft, when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude; and then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils». The narrator seems to be going from a hopeless, lonely, and pessimistic view on life to one filled with pleasure and bliss by this simple remembrance. Wordsworth even uses pleasing words like «fluttering», «twinkle», and «gay» in his poem to describe this wondrous view. When things happen to get rough, the narrator simply thinks of the daffodils and his mood is thus transformed.
But character transformations are not always constructed by the author to go from unhappy to pleasurable. They can just as easily convert the other way. For example, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the conversion of the wedding guest goes from a delightful and carefree outlook to a much sadder and yet more knowledgeable one. The targeted wedding guest, who has just come from a wedding and is about to dine upon the merry din, is suddenly stopped by a stranger known as the ancient mariner. After the mariner imparts his sad tale onto the selected wedding guest, it seems that the wedding guest's outlook has suddenly been tainted by what the mariner has said to him. Instead of attending the party, he turns away. «He went like one that hath been stunned, and is of sense forlorn: a sadder and a wiser man, he raised the morrow morn». Unlike that of the narrator in Wordsworth's poem, the wedding guest seems to have changed from a merry guest at a wedding party to a sadder and wiser man. Although he too was given a moral that combats evil and that was «to love both man and bird and beast».
Yet there are times when one or both parties are unable to partake in any type of transformation for whatever the reason. It could be that they are unable to understand the others point of view because of a number of factors like status in society, age, or personality. In William Wordsworth's poem called «We Are Seven», the seemingly wealthy male passerby is unable to comprehend the fact that a poor little cottage girl still counts her deceased brother and sister among the living. Many would have reason to say that the older gentleman seems to have a pessimistic view on life while the little girl a more optimistic one. Although the man tries to push her into seeing the «correct» answer, she refuses to give in and continues to reply in response to his correction that there is only five of them, «Nay, we are seven». Wordsworth is trying to show his readers the black and white worlds these two very different individuals inhabit. The man is much older and wiser and has a scientific perspective on the situation. He is thinking rationally and logically, much the same way an older generation would think. As long as the two little children are not living and breathing, he sees that there are only five children. Also adding to the fact, he never knew these children to be alive so he has had no personal connection with them. It also may be that because they are not of the wealthier upper class but members of the poor lower class that their existence does not account for as much. But to the little girl, her brother and sister were very much a part of this world and are still alive in her memories. Her insistence that her brother and sister still count is quite charming and depicts her childhood innocence. The man soon becomes frustrated that the little maiden would not learn from him. «But they are dead: those two are dead! Their spirits are in heaven! `Twas throwing words away; for still the little Maid would have her will, and said, `Nay, we are seven!» The old gentleman demonstrates his maturity by letting the little girl have her way and get the last word. At the very end of the poem, the reader gets a sense that neither the man nor the little girl is right or wrong (though the child's view is obviously much more optimistic and hopeful). They are simply two individuals from dramatically different backgrounds and places in life, unable to see the other's perspective.
In nearly all works of literature, it is essential to have a point of opposition or conflict acting in the piece. In the previously mentioned works of nineteenth century British literature, there is a common theme present and that is the ongoing battle between goodness and evil, more specifically an optimistic attitude and a pessimistic attitude. The contradiction is used in a number of different ways to portray morals, transformations, and to offer up new sides of an argument that may only be visible to certain persons. Without these opposing concepts, there would be no action, no change, and thus, no story.
Talking about the XIX century we surely must mention the Chartist movement. Chartism was a working-class movement that emerged in 1838 out of the Anti-Poor Law agitation, bringing together several working class groups. Its name derived from the People's Charter, a document based on six points: universal manhood suffrage, equal electoral districts, payment for members of Parliament, elimination of the property qualification for Parliament, vote by ballot, and annual Parliaments. The Chartists circulated petitions calling for these reforms and, in 1839, 1842, and 1848, they massed in London to present their demands to Parliament, each time without success. The mass meetings and several violent confrontations with authorities led many to fear a violent revolution led by the Chartists. A split in the movement between the «physical force» and the «moral force» factions contributed to the popular perception that many Chartists were dangerous and violent agents of French radicalism. Although the movement died after 1848, it was an important precursor to the socialist movement later on. All of the Chartist reforms, except annual parliaments, were adopted by the end of the 19th century.
The Chartists introduced their own literature, which was the lirst attempt to create a literature of the working class. The Chartist writers tried their hand at different genres. They wrote articles, short stories, songs, epigrams, poems. Their leading genre was poetry. Though their verses were not so beautiful as those of their predecessors, the romantic poets, the Chartists used the motives of folk-poetry and dealt with the burning problems of life. They described the struggle of the workers for their rights, they showed the ruthless exploitation and the miserable fate of the poor, the struggle between good and evil. The Chartist writers called the toiling people to struggle for their rights and expressed a firm belief in the final victory of the proletariat.
The ideas of Chartism attracted the attention of many progressive-minded people of the time. Many prominent writers became aware of the social injustices around them and tried to picture them in their works. Thus this period of fierce class struggle was mirrored in literature by the appearance of a new trend, that of «Critical Realism». The greatest novelists of the age are Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell. These writers used the novel as a means to protest against the evils in contemporary social and economic life and to picture the world in a realistic way. The critical realists introduced new characters into literature: they described the new social force in modern history -- the working class. They expressed deep sympathy for the working people; they described the unbearable conditions of their life and work; they voiced a passionate protest against exploitation and described their persistent struggle for their rights.
As to Charles Dickens, he supported the radical goals of the Chartists and agreed with Thomas Carlyle, who blamed an idle aristocracy and an unresponsive Parliament for the rise of the movement. Dickens began to write when the Chartist movement, was at its height. Continuous demonstrations in defence of workers' rights took place in many manufacturing towns and in London as well. The actions of the Chartists had considerable effect on Dickens. Though he did not believe in revolutionary action, he was on the side of the people with all his heart. He wanted what the people wanted. Dickens wrote about the poorest.
In the novel Dombey and Son Dickens unmasked bourgeois respectability and exposed the false morality of the rich behind their cant phrases (insincere talk). Ideas on the power of money form the basis of the novel. With Dombey and Son Dickens's optimism disappears. A sharp laugh takes the place of his former mild humour. He no longer seeks in the individual villain the cause of all poverty and suffering. His pen is already at work making war against social abuses, like corruption in the law-courts and cruelty and starvation at boarding-schools. Dickens describes in detail the social institutions of the day and draws a vivid picture of the life of the English people. He came to be called the Great Literary Commoner, by which people meant the great democrat in literature.
David Copperfield is an autobiographical novel. It describes child labour and the awful cruelty children suffered when at school or at work. Bleak House is a satire directed against the Court of Chancery, which at that time was the civil court of justice. It attacks the law's delay and English bureaucracy. Hard Times is not simply an attack on capitalism but on the soulless and unwholesome industrial life it had brought about.
Unlike his previous works in which he describes the class of the bourgeoisie Dickens now describes the class of the proletariat. The scene is set in a factory town. It is a town of gray streets wrapped in gray smoke coming from black chimneys. Dickens takes the typical features of any English industrial town and makes them the key-note of the book. In Hard Times the writer has lost all hope of finding an ideal happy corner for a worker's family. Dickens changes: he grows indignant at all injustice, and he becomes sarcastic. Dickens demands social reform as well as the regeneration of man.
1.3 The struggle of good against evil in the works of Charles Dickens
Throughout his career, Dickens protested the abuse of children and the corruptionof individual feelings. His portrayal of the destructiveness of society's institutions and values becomes more insistent and savage in his later novels. In his early, hopeful novels, the problems of his protagonists, who are often orphaned or abandoned as children, are solved by the benevolence of good men; the charitable nature of the Cheeryble Brothers in Nicholas Nickleby is indicated by their name, and David Copperfield is rescued from the Murdstones' clutches by Aunt Betsey.
But Dickens lost faith in the ability of individuals to remedy the unjust treatment of individuals; he perceived that injustice, indifference, and cruelty were pervasive and incorporated into society's institutions.
Because of Dickens's moral outrage and his attacks on society's institutions and values, later critics, who were often Marxists, hailed him variously as subversive, rebellious, and even revolutionary. They did not necessarily claim that Dickens was aware of the subversion or revolutionary thrust of his novels. George Bernard Shaw compared Marx and Dickens thus: «The difference between Marx and Dickens was that Marx knew he was a revolutionist whilst Dickens had not the faintest suspicion of that part of his calling».
There was good reason for contrasting the two men; Marx fled to London in 1849, died there in 1883, and was also a writer. Thus, the two men were observing the same society and class structure; both were subject to similar social conditions and pressures. Furthermore, Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities both are set in revolutionary times, identify some of the abuses that sparked the outbreaks, and describe the violent, chaotic behavior of the mobs.
George Orwell, in 1946, viewed Dickens's «rebelliousness» from a different perspective: «In Oliver Twist, Hard Times, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have welcomed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself».
It is true that Dickens's readership remained loyal to him, despite his savage attacks on society and his forcing his wife of twenty-some years to leave their marriage and their home (remember that Dickens was perceived as the upholder of the sacred domestic hearth and the family). One reason that he retained his popularity may be that Dickens had no agenda or systematic program, as Marx did, to tear down society and replace it with a new structure.
Some critics have wondered whether Dickens was really attacking human nature and not society. Granted, Dickens did repeatedly reject the assumptions that class was more important than common humanity or that rank was superior to virtue: «I believe that virtue shows quite as well in rags and palaces as she does in purple and fine linen.... I believe that she goes barefoot as well as shod. I believe that she dwells rather oftener in alleys and by-ways than she does in courts and palaces...»
Nonetheless, Dickens still accepted the existing class structure and distinctions: «Differences of wealth, of rank, of intellect, we know there must be, and we respect them».
His attacks on society were based on traditional moral beliefs and humanism rather than on social or political theories and programs. He urged a secular ideal of human brotherhood. Fraser's Magazine, in its obituary of Dickens, noted this aspect of Dickens's beliefs: «He spent no thought on religious doctrines or religious reforms, but regarded the Sermon on the Mount as good teaching, had a regard for the village church and churchyard, and quarrelled with nothing but intolerance».
Writing of Dickens's belief in domestic life as the source of happiness and the alternative to social evil, Angus Wilson added, «Even more vital to Dickens was the idea of pure love as the means of redemption of flawed, weak, or sinful men. Neither of these beliefs can properly take the weight that he imposed on them...»
Moreover, his contemporaries saw him as a member of and the spokesman for a particular class; a reviewer for Blackwood's in 1855 noted: «We cannot but express our conviction that it is to the fact that he represents a class that he owes his speedy elevation to the top of the wave of popular favour. He is a man of very liberal sentiments-an assailer of constituted wrongs and authorities-one of the advocates in the plea of Poor versus Rich, to the progress of which he has lent no small aid in his day. But he is, notwithstanding, perhaps more distinctly than any other author of his time, a class writer, the historian and representative of one circle in the many ranks in our social scale. Despite their descents into the lowest class, and their occasional flights into the less familiar ground of fashion, it is the air and breath of middle-class respectability which fills the books of Mr. Dickens».
Unlike Thackeray, Dickens was not seen as quite or fully a gentleman. Thackeray's province was, as W.C. Roscoe described it, «the debatableble land between the aristocracy and the middle classes»; Dickens showed the efforts of the lower strata of the middle class to rise from being tradesmen and upper servants into the respectable middle classes.
Thackeray wrote that «an English gentleman knows as much about the people of Lapland or California as he does of the aborigines of the Seven Dials or the natives of Wapping».
Dickens, of course, knew, and wrote with sympathy and understanding, about the classes who lived in such neighborhoods as Seven Dials and Wapping. Furthermore, Dickens was accused of being unable to describe a gentleman. G. K. Chesterton explained that this accusation really meant «… that Dickens could not describe a gentleman as gentlemen feel a gentleman. They mean that he could not take that atmosphere easily, accept it as the normal atmosphere, or describe that world from the inside... Dickens did not describe gentleman in the way that gentlemen describe gentlemen... He described them... from the outside, as he described any other oddity or special trade».
Let's talk more widely about one of the most famous and favourite novels written by Charles Dickens - David Copperfield, in which we can find the themes of good and evil in all their forms.
In David Copperfield social status and class are ubiquitous as issues throughout the novel. In fact, the novel can be viewed in large measure as a commentary on social status and class-based wealth.
Favoritism and undeserved respect are shown constantly for those of a higher class. For example, in the case of Steerforth, it is obvious that he is treated much better than David and the other students at Salem House. Furthermore, he is highly regarded by David and even by Mr. Peggotty and Ham, both of whom are of a lower class, when in fact Steerforth is the one who should be respecting them for their moral character. He constantly puts down those below him in status, such as Mr. Mell and Ham once he gets engaged to Little Emily.
The striving for social status can also be seen through David's and Dora's courtship and marriage. David's first thought after hearing of Miss Betsey's financial downfall is shame at being poor, and Dora cries at the thought of David being poor and of having to do her own housework. David is constantly striving to make money so that he can live and provide Dora with a life of wealth. Little Em'ly also expresses unhappiness at her low social status and longs to be a «lady», which is why she runs off with Steerforth in the first place.
Many times throughout the novel, the search for true happiness takes prominence. The narrator notes in particular the innocent joy David had as a child before his mother married Mr. Murdstone. The plot in general focuses on David's search for true happiness, and it is up to the reader to judge whether or not he has succeeded.
All of the characters find or try to find their own routes to happiness. Some, such as David and the Peggottys, find true happiness through their families and spouses. Others, such as the Micawbers and Uriah, believe that money will bring them great happiness, although the Micawbers are also happy just remaining with one another.
Still others, such as Dora, find happiness in simple, frivolous pleasures. Dickens appears to question whether any of these characters can ever find true happiness, for each of these methods of reaching happiness has its pros and cons.
Dickens makes the symbols of good and evil very easy to distinguish in the novel, although one must note that these concepts are more complex than they might seem, not least because they are embodied as fairly complex characters. The theme of good versus evil is prevalent especially as a symbolic battle for David's soul between Agnes Wickfield and Steerforth. Agnes represents David's «good angel», as he calls her. She is his voice of reason and is the person who is able to calm him and give him the advice that he needs. Steerforth, in contrast, is his «bad angel», as Agnes says. He is the one who feeds David's desire for upper-class, shallow wealth and leads him to do things like get very drunk and embarrass himself in public.
Uriah also is very commonly a symbol of evil. He is eventually defeated by Agnes, Miss Betsey, Mr. Micawber, and Traddles, all of whom are symbols of good. Yet, there are times when the evil wins out, namely in the case of David's mother Clara and the Murdstones. The evil duo overpower her and contribute to her death.
David's «undisciplined heart» is his tendency to fall victim to passion. He falls very quickly and very strongly for girls. This is especially the case regarding Dora, with whom he falls in love even before he has had the chance to say one word to her. He learns that she does not like to work around the house and is unwilling to learn about keeping a house, but he still decides to marry her.
Minor examples of David's undisciplined heart include his feelings for Miss Shepherd, a brief crush on a person he barely knew, and his impractical crush on another woman much older than he.
It is not until the very end of the novel that he learns to control or understand his undisciplined heart, and it is then that he finally realizes that Agnes is the person whom he truly loves maturely.
Dickens apparently is fascinated with children, and this novel examines in detail how children are treated. The narrator mentions near the beginning of the novel how impressive it is that children can remember so many details so clearly, and he claims that he is proud to have such a childlike memory himself.
Furthermore, the simpler, more childlike characters are among the sweetest in the novel. For example, Tommy Traddles is very simple and sweet in demeanor, and he goes on to be a successful lawyer, engaged to a beautiful, generous woman. Dora Spenlow may not know how to do household chores, but her devotion to David is extremely touching and admirable, and it wins David's heart. Finally, Mr. Dick, very simple-minded, is perhaps the best-liked character in the novel.
Childlike simplicity and innocence thus are valued in the moral world of the novel. When Dickens writes scenes that show cruelty to children, he most likely is demonstrating an evil to raise readers' passions against such cruelty.
The novel explores feminine power to some degree, seeming to favor strong, powerful women, such as Peggotty and Miss Betsey. In contrast, women who do not hold much power or who simply exist in their marriages, such as Clara Copperfield, do not fare very well.
Miss Betsey, an admired character throughout the novel, fights against her husband and manages to acquire a divorce, a feat that was not simple for women at the time (although he continues to bother her for money some time afterward).
Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, however, are a good example of a married couple in which each spouse holds almost an equal amount of power, and they are a very happy couple, even though they are broke. Thus, Dickens seems to be a proponent of feminine power in the sense of basic equality in institutions such as marriage.
The role of the father figure is one of the first issues that comes up in the novel, for David is born six months after his father dies. Dickens is apparently suggesting that a father figure is essential for happiness and developing a good character. Still, not all fathers or father figures fit the norm or are even beneficial. Peggotty seems to be David's father figure growing up, for he describes her as large and «hard». Thus, he has a disciplinary figure along with his warm, loving mother to give him a balanced childhood.
Little Emily and Ham have Mr. Peggotty, and both turn out to be very good people, especially Ham. Little Emily is simply seduced by Steerforth, who, as it turns out, never had a father figure and even admits that he regrets that and wishes that he could have had a father figure so that he could be a better person. Uriah has no father mentioned either, and he is one of the most evil characters in the novel.
1.4 Good and evil manifestations of wealth in Great Expectations
Great Expectations's characters define wealth in different ways. Some solely consider wealth to be monetary. Others perceive wealth in more general terms and as the means by which one might access society. Wealth serves to motivate individuals and to drive them to destroy others. Wealth promises freedom and the realization of dreams, but it never delivers upon these promises.
Throughout Dickens's creations the language and metaphor of money, the terms of indebtedness, lending, borrowing, rates of payment and return tell us what money can do, how it can change distinctions of class, how it can completely alter the conditions of life.
While money is not in itself evil, we see that the drive to get money accounts for large areas of human wickednesss - depending on what is done to obtain it and how it is finally spent. Money affects such a vast area of human nature and human activity that it stands for things and men as they are.
In the nineteenth century money came to represent and make accessible to human ambition the means to satisfy vanity and selfish materialism, to gain advantage, power, and luxury.
Dickens attacks money, then, because it corrupts morality and all decent values.Throughout his work, those without money tend to be better people than those who have it or those who are bent on attaining it. Getting money raises the question of the means used to obtain it and the source from which money comes. The pursuit of money clashes with one of Dickens's declared moral absolutes: work. Nothing of value can be had without work.
The moral problems raised by money are numerous and contradictory. Money tends to corrupt when it is divorced from work, when it is obtained solely by chance, by merely shrewd business operations, by inheritance, or undeserved acquisition. Ruin lies ahead, he warns, for young men who depend not on their own efforts but on their «expectations.»
The case against money is not complete until its role in fostering illusion is exposed, as in the moral realism of the title, Great Expectations. That title suggests the disillusion of the author and raises great human questions, symbolic either of defeat or acceptance of things as they are. Here Dickens's attack on nineteenth century optimism reaches its fulfillment. He questions the very nature of the age that gave hope to the young, that roused Hazlitt's feeling of youth's immortality, when it was glorious to be alive, when an obscure Corsican might become emperor of France, and when an impoverished English artisan might attain to unimagined riches and a seat in the House of Lords.
Thus, the nineteenth century created illusions destined to be lost and inspired «great» expectations. Once again, the villain is money, whose very existence creates illusion.When one has money, from whatever source, illusions are possible. So Pip recovers his moral dignity only after he has lost everything he once considered precious.
Dickens accuses the age of encouraging illusion in the young and then frustrating their hopes, of inspiring excessive ambition and then requiring calculated acts of cruelty to fulfill that ambition, of depriving youth of its grace, vitiating its generous sentiments.
Youth is led from a wholesome past into a corrupt future. Selfish meanness of spirit is encouraged, as youth is led to cherish desires that are false because they are satisfied by money alone, without work.
Pip lives as a parasite, using people who love him as instruments. He makes disastrous choices, shamefully betraying primary human relationships because the laws of the world demand the sacrifice of those who have nothing to contribute to the fulfillment of his «great expectations.» These wholesome relationships are doomed, the moral and human price exacted as Pip journeys to London, the city which symbolizes the ultimate illusion, the one that encompasses all other illusions.
All of this is suggested by the title, which introduces a book that is quite unlike any other among the fifteen of Dickens's novels. The earlier works tend to resemble the eighteenth century's loose, semi-biographical tales that have for a title the protagonist's name.Yet even without the hero's name in the title, Great Expectations is intensely biographical, reaching out from the career of a single youth to comment upon the world.
Pip finds that money, like original genius, radiates energy. Once acquired, it transforms a man's position, elevates him in the general esteem, and gives a new value and dignity to his opinions. It changes all of his relationships with others, inviting deference, servility on all sides. Money, being what all others have desired, has the effect of changing Pip from an object of contempt or indifference to one who has in fact obtained what all have been seeking. He is suddenly what they all want to be, and they give him the deference they would themselves expect in his place. Money in turn deceives, in persuading one of his own merit in acquiring it, so Pip's money must reward his merit as Pumblechook loses no time in saying that his fortune
is «well deserved.» Pumblechook's servility and asininity are forgotten as he now seems a sensible, «prime fellow.» Once one has money then, from whatever source, the mystery or fortune in it fades away, and the money becomes a just reward to a deserving man. Luck has simply displayed good judgement.
In Great Expectations, Pip must survive the clashing influences of Joe's wholesome forge and the dark rottenness of Satis House.That mansion has the effect of quickening the hero's fatal desire for wealth and social place, of fixing until it is too late the illusions certain to be lost.
This dualism of place leads us immediately to London and country with their manifold associations; to the journeys, the unceasing movements to and fro that give such life and variety to Dickens's action; to the houses, seen from without and within, that tell us what the life and character of their inhabitants must be, given the surroundings in which they pass their lives. London is viewed throughout as a place of bewildering variety and contradiction, where «life and death went hand in hand; wealth and poverty stood side by side; repletion and starvation laid them down together.» Money returns us to London as the goal of ambition, a concentration of wealth and the desire for it, remaining a continuous, massive presence in Dickens's world.
Thus all that money can buy begins to flow into Pip's new life. It can buy the fulfillment of his «great expectations» in all their forms external to himself, in all their hollowness and final disillusion. Can it buy Estella too? What can money buy in women but the favors of a prostitute? What is Estella if she can be obtained for Pip by money alone? In the end, however, Estella will be his, only when money is lost and cannot be offered to her.
In Great Expectations the dream corrupts the dreamer, and the nearer to being realized, the more it corrupts. Pip repudiates those who have loved and aided him; he becomes idle and wasteful, he does no work for the money he spends; he loses his dignity as a man, becoming almost unfit for the society of others.
Great Expectations is a fiction, not a statement of fact subject to analysis as such, so we must beware of reasoning about Pip and what he could or should have known outside the realm of Dickens's imagined possibilities. Pip is finally the beneficiary of a larg sum of money, about whose source he is at first mistaken, but which he is to accept under three main conditions: he must keep his name as it is; he must never inquire into the identity of his benefactor or try to discuss it in any way; he must enter at once on a course of education suited to his new circumstances.
The first of these conditions means that Pip will finally be saved. Pip's name reveals his common origin, and his being not anyone or anything in particular through its being spelled the same either way. He has started from the discontent inspired by Satis House, the desire to be a gentleman, the coming of great expectations and the acceptance of illusory values. Yet he finds that everything in his life may change except his name; he does not see that therefore his nature cannot change, that he is destined to be what he has been. He is forced to stay with an original natural value in his own identity, giving him a base to which he can always return. The meaning is that the illusions can come to nothing, Pip has to go back to what he was in his moral being.
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