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Wealth as Evil in Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Updated on April 24, 2015

Wealth as a corrupting influence in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations

Wealth as a corrupting influence in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations

Wealth or money has over time proved to be one of the key corrupting forces for mankind. Money influences people’s way of life, actions, informs their decisions and even changes their character. Most crimes, cruelties and suffering are as a result of money, either the lack of it or too much of it. Much as wealth is a powerful and important icon especially to man, it is also true that it can corrupt the hearts and minds of all of mankind, and therefore become a source of destruction to man.

Charles Dickens, in his novel Great Expectations, brings out how wealth affected people in the early 1800s. Through the main character, a boy called Pip, an old lady, Miss Havisham, the abusive Drummle, Dickens exemplifies the corrupting effect of wealth and how it was at the centre of the society.

Pip, born and brought up in humble surroundings, wishes to become a gentleman. This means he has to be wealthy, something that his guardians Aunt and Uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Gargery aren’t. But he later realizes that there is more to life than mere money when he becomes miserable his life corrupted. Pip’s desire for wealth begins when he goes to Mrs. Havisham's house where he has a feel of how the rich live. This is when he becomes ashamed of his humble living and confirms that, “It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. […] Within a single year, all this was changed. Now it was all coarse and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on my account” (Dickens 1984. P.86). It is also when he is in Satis House that Pip, for the first time, becomes aware of how thick his are boots are and how dirty his hands are. He realizes that as mere blacksmith’s apprentice he cannot impress Estella, Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter. He is sucked into the intrigues of the power that comes with wealth and status and this leads him to feel that his lifestyle with his blacksmith teacher is inferior. However when Pip gets his fortune from his unlikely and mysterious benefactor, Mr. Magwitch, an ex convict, he soon realizes that he is not as happy as he earlier thought. He says his living conditions with Herbert, “Herbert and I went on from bad to worse, in the way of increasing our debts” (Dickens, 1984 p. 217). He lives expensively, abandons his family but his efforts to win Estella all end in futility. With Herbert in London, Pip spends his money recklessly. He describes their spending as “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintances were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did. To the best of my belief, our case was in the last aspect a rather common one.”

He is not happy and keeps accumulating dates when living in London. The wealth and status only corrupts him, keeps him away from people that care about him and expose him to being arrested for his indebtedness.

Miss Havisham inherits a fortune from her father when she is still a young lady. Sweet and loving, she falls head over heels in love with Compeyson. It however turns out that Compeyson did not truly love Miss Havisham and was interested in her money. Miss Havisham only realizes this on the wedding day when the groom abandons her and goes with her money. This betrayal leaves her corrupted, cruel, bitter and cold at the world. She sees love in a different light and says to Pip, “It is blind devotion, unquestioning humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter-as I did!” (Dickens 1984 p.184). She advises Estella never to truly love but rather, to break men’s hearts. Through Miss Havisham, Dickens illustrates the dangerous effect of wealth when it is used to destroy her love and become a source of her sorrow in life.

Born into a wealthy, prestigious family, Drummle grows into a very spoiled man. He is characterized as abusive and harsh. He is also corrupted by his family’s wealth and the privileges that came with riches especially during those days. Dickens uses Drummle to bring out negative effect wealth has on the children and how the same follows them into their adult life. Through him, the author brings out an apt example of a spoiled child as a result of wealth. Dickens metaphorically brings out Drummle as a spider. Jaggers asks, “Who's the spider?” (Dickens, 1984 p. 164) in reference to Drummle. Drummle is likened to a spider because of his untrustworthy, wily and cunning character. He comes out as a mana full of pride. This is exemplified in the way he looks down upon the other people, especially Herbert and Pip. For instance at dinner, Drummle snubs Pip and Herbert and disparages their spending habits. He declares that he will not lend even sixpence more them. Drummle is the one who ends up marrying Estella later on. He however also treats her cruelly and abuses her a lot (Dickens,1984 p. 356). His dominating personality and pride leads him to even mistreat a horse which eventually leads to his death. However wealthy and noble Drummle is, he also comes out as a self-absorbed man and a jerk who has not respect for others. Through him, Dickens seeks to illustrate to the reader the how wealth can bring out the worst in people.

Dickens also uses several minor characters to bring out the corrupting influence of wealth. Arthur Havisham is Miss Havisham's half-brother, who feels that by their father preferring his half-sister over him in inheritance, he was shortchanged. This drives him to join Compeyson in plotting a scheme to fleece Miss Havisham of her money. He is later haunted by the role he played in scheme and eventually dies in a delirium, where he Miss Havisham coming to kill him. Camilla, Miss Havisham’s relative cares less for Miss Havisham and is only keen on her money. The same is case with Cousin Raymond, another Miss Havisham’s relatives married to Camilla. Georgiana and Sarah Pocket, two aging relatives of Miss Havisham are also only interested in her money and don’t care much about her.


Works Cited.

Charles Dickens. Great Expectations (Barron's Book Notes) (Paperback), Barron's Educational Series, 1984.

Debra A. Bailey (Author), Great Expectations (Cliffs Notes) (Paperback), Cliffs Notes, 2000.

Mckay, David. American Politics and Society. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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      Sharmistha Das 

      14 months ago

      The way of explanation is really commendable. You have done a good job ,keep it up to make us more informative about English literature. Thanks madam.

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