Sophomore Honors English
30 September 2014 Actions Speak Louder than Wealth Characters in Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, learn the bitter reality of wealth and its inability to provide happiness in life. Though many believe that affluence and power can bring one satisfaction, individuals such as Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham learn that money can only provide a fragile illusion of content; they also discover that one’s fortune does not determine one’s true value. In Great Expectations, Dickens demonstrates that wealth and social standing cannot bring one happiness, nor can they determine one’s character.
Because of his humble upbringing in the English countryside, the idea of riches and social class intrigue Pip from a very young age. Yet after Pip is exposed to the aristocracy of London, he begins to see the true nature of his new home and realizes that his environment is filled with unjust, insatiably greedy individuals. He is introduced to Bentley Drummle, a fellow student who illustrates the true nature of the upper class. Bentley Drummle is “idle, proud, and from rich people down in Somersetshire,” (25, 202). He is perhaps the most prominent example of Pip’s growing suspicion that all gentlemen do not have high moral standards, nor is the upper class respectable. Pip becomes disgusted with his acquaintance, wondering why someone as contemptible as Drummle deserves to be valued above someone as honest and amicable as his brother-in-law Joe. Both Joe and Pip’s childhood friend, Biddy, understand that riches do not dictate one’s worth from the beginning, while Pip struggles to grasp this concept throughout the novel.
Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter, Estella, belongs to London’s upper class and maintains her reputation as a perfectly respectable young woman. However, although she is stunningly beautiful, she is also cruel, heartless, and willing to break the heart of any man Miss Havisham instructs her to. Pip falls head over heels in love with Estella, yet she “always has a reason to look down upon [him]” (8, 63). Although Estella treats Pip with disrespect and contempt, Pip is so enamored by her elegance that he is unable to admit to himself she lacks the true beauty that actually matters. Even to the “last hour of [Pip’s] life [Estella] remains part of [his] character, part of the little good in [him], and part of the evil” (44, 365). In a stark contrast to Estella, Magwitch, who is Pip’s anonymous benefactor, is very generous and always able to see the good in others. Even though he is a convict and considered to be a part of the lowest social class, he is willing to devote his entire life to making Pip a man of honor, simply because of Pip’s small act of kindness. Through his drastically different relationships with Magwitch and Estella, Pip discovers that social class has no relevance to one’s character.
Throughout the novel, Dickens has a tendency to portray the upper class as being miserable and the lower class as being content with their lives. Pip is unable to understand this sense of gratification, although his sister, her husband Joe, and Biddy seem like they are truly pleased with their simple lives. In contrast, Miss