Great Expectations and Jane Eyre: Comparing and Contrasting Two Bildungsromans

Charles Dickens (the author of Great Expectations) and Charlotte Bront (the author of Jane Eyre) both grew up during the early 1800s. Growing up during the same time period, each author incorporated elements of the Victorian Society into these novels. Both novels depict the protagonists search for the meaning of life and the nature of the world within the context of a defined social order. In essence, the two novels encompass the all-around self-development of the main characters, by employing similar techniques.

Each spurs the protagonist on their journey by introducing some form of loss or discontent which then results in the main character departing their home or family setting. In both Great Expectations and Jane Eyre the process of maturity is long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the protagonist’s needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order. Eventually, towards the end of each novel, the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in both of the main characters Pip and Jane Eyre, who are then included in society.

Although the novels end differently, both contain an assessment by the protagonists of their new place in that society. Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, despite exhibiting considerable differences in setting, gender roles, and education, nonetheless convey the same overall purpose that of the portrayal of the journey from ignorance to knowledge in Victorian Society, starting from childhood to adulthood, enhanced through the use of the protagonists Pip and Jane Eyre.

Firstly, the title of Charles Dickens work, Great Expectations, directly suggests the idea of a process of anticipation, maturation, and self-discovery through experience as Pip moves from childhood to adulthood. Charles Dickens begins the development of his character Pip as an innocent, unsophisticated orphan boy. Looking at his parents tombstone, Pip draws the conclusion: the shape of the letters on my fathers gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair (1).

Here, Pip is in a sense self-taught. He does not have much communication with his sister Mrs. Joe Gargery (who adopted him) about the background and history of his parents; in fact, they do not talk much at all about anything of substance. Thus, Pip begins his life as a simple, low class individual, lacking any type of superior future status. Pips mindset regarding classes and success in life is drastically altered after his initial visit to the aristocratic Miss Havisham. She said I was common (69) spurs the realization in Pip that he is indeed innocent but unfortunately much oppressed. Pip is very distraught with his birth place into society, to the point that he was discontented (130) — he increasingly desires to be a gentleman.

He primarily desires this as a means of impressing Estella and winning her over. At this point in the novel, Pip is willing to give away what he loves (Joe family setting) to obtain a superficial and insulting girl. One day Pip receives word that he now has the ability to grow up to be his ultimate dream, to be a gentleman. Pip awakens to a new world and those he once loved are no longer good enough for Pip. Moving to London, he becomes far more sophisticated, but at the same time loses his natural goodness. (Chesterton 142). Pip is leaving happiness and his real family to attain a life he thinks will make him more content.

Before departing, he dreams of Fantastic failures of journeys occupied me until the day dawned and the birds were singing (148). This relates the dream that Pip has just before he sets out to London for the first time, with all of his “great expectations” before him. Pips dream is permeated with the sadness and guilt caused by his imminent departure from Joe and Biddy and his aspirations for a new social station. Charles Dickens attempts to show the inner struggles of the characters manifest in their dreams, illusions, and other musings of the unconscious (Leavis 89).

Prior to becoming a gentleman, Pip is unable to make open observations of Miss Havisham, due to his and Mrs. Gargerys lower class standing relative to Miss Havisham’s standing. Pip faces constant difficulty with controlling his emotions. The only thing that occasionally prevents Pip from heading headlong after his great expectations is his guilt at abandoning Joe. In Pip’s case, anxiety comes from giving into his desires instead of following down the most logical path for his training and status (Victorian Web). Once Pip arrives in London, he is exposed to the corruption of a large city.

For half a pound (163) people could enter courts to witness a trial, demonstrates the sheer magnitude of corruption present. Furthermore, Pip experiences the Pocket family first-handedly, giving a critique on how upper class families in the Victorian Society acted. Yet, the downsides of upper class society do not deter Pip. Pip now has the ability to obtain an elevated status as well as formulate a respectable identity. However, when Pip learns that his fortune and success is all from Magwitch, the convict he met on the moors, Pip says then said I after stopping short here (342).

Hence, Pip thought he was special but is now no better than he was. He cannot grasp the idea that he deserted Joe for a convict. However, as time progresses, Pip is able to reconcile his inner moral conscience. Pip becomes friends with Magwitch and decides to put aside his shallow goals and desires in life by helping him escape. Pip disregards Magwitchs external status as a criminal and instead looks at him as a person possessing inner nobility. This is a big step in Pips journey to becoming more knowledgeable.

Furthermore, when Pip makes the decision to assist Herbert in establishing his business, Pip exhibits a high degree of generosity, concern, and dependability. In the end, Great Expectations becomes a sort of circular book, with Pip finding his childhood home at the end of the story finally filled with happiness and a real family. Secondly, the title Jane Eyre, directly suggests the following of one character (such as an autobiography) through the life of an individual from childhood to adulthood.

Like Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bront creates her protagonist character, Jane, as an innocent, mistreated, orphan girl. I never had an idea of replying to it (4) indicates Janes preliminary situation as a child. She is mistreated but in a sense accepts her situation. At this point, she does not yet rebel or question her position. Furthermore, when Mr. Lloyd asks her if she should not like to belong to poor people, (18) Jane sternly replies that she would rather maintain her present level at the expense of ill treatment. This depicts Janes feelings regarding different classes and positions in society.

Here, it is clear that Jane is still undeveloped and has only one perspective of her situation obviously she wants to stay in the class which is considered better. Yet, she has not had an opportunity to enjoy the feeling of being loved and cared for by others. She has no experience to base her answer on; thus, indicating her ignorance. Like Pip, both characters see an elevated status in society as being better. However, both eventually realize that position in society does not necessarily lead to happiness. Although Jane is in a rich household, there is no promise that she will be successful. Mrs.

Reed pledges to her husband that she will take care of Jane; yet, once he dies, she treats Jane with complete and utter animosity. Unlike Pip in Great Expectations, instead of returning to her childhood home to find domesticity, Jane can not find a home until she moves to a totally different place (Gaskell 293). Mrs. Reed plans on sending Jane away to the Lowood School, but first must speak to the head of the school, Mr. Brocklehurst. During the conversation, Mrs. Reed states many degrading and derogatory phrases aimed at producing an unfavorable image of Jane without giving Jane a chance to demonstrate who she is. Thus, Jane responds to Mrs.

Reed later that I am not: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you (29). This is a key development in Janes character this marks the point where Jane realizes and speaks against injustices. In effect, Jane discovers that it is extremely important to look out for oneself. Jane eventually goes to the Lowood School for Girls. Unlike Pip, Jane actually moves down in society by going to a school which the name signifies as being low. At Lowood, Jane meets Helen Burns, a vital part in the development of Jane. Essentially, Helen represents a mode of Christianity that stresses tolerance and acceptance (O’Neill 72).

Helen is a strong character and shows religion to Jane. Essentially, Jane turns those closest people to her into a type of family similarly, Pip does the same with Joe, by making him a type of father figure. Fundamentally, Lowood School shapes who Jane Eyre is. Lowood School is the first phase in Janes development. Her second phase begins when she goes to Rochesters home. She begins to open up with Rochester and starts to speak when she should. Unlike Pip (especially when asked what he thinks of Miss Havisham), Jane is very outspoken and says what she thinks.

For example, when Rochester asks do you think me handsome (122), she replies no sir (122). As opposed to Great Expectations where Pip is afraid to talk about Miss Havisham due to her higher standing, class distinctions disintegrate between Rochester and Jane allowing information to pass freely. Sense would resist delirium, judgment would warn passion. Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned (226) Like Pip, Jane is unhappy with Rochester because of complications relating to another marriage; she therefore decides to leave and has a dream.

Both occur at night, and have the sense of being in the state between sleep and wakefulness, as they describe dream-like images of the mind envisioned during fitful sleep or rest. They are not images of the fully conscious (O’Neill 122). Like Pip, at this point in her life she is engrossed with inner conflict. In contrast to Pip, Jane is more able to control her emotions. She is able to control her excitement and irrational hopes for her passionate love for her master, Mr. Rochester. Settings play an equally important role in Jane Eyre as they do in Great Expectations.

In Jane Eyre, the main character moves from Gateshead Hall to Lowood to Thornfield to Moor House, and finally to Freudian Manor. Unlike Pip, Jane cannot find her domestic ideal at Gateshead, the site of her early childhood, or at Lowood School, or at Thornfield (there she almost becomes a bigamist), or at Moor House (St. Johns presence relentlessly reminds her of the infrequency of true love). Rather than being a circular book, Jane Eyre is a linear novel. Essentially, Jane and Rochester can only create their own refuge in a totally new setting. In order to create the refuge, both Jane and Rochester must mature and attain self-knowledge.

In fact, Rochester’s growth is crucial to complete the development of Jane. Like in Great Expectations, Jane is satisfied and happy indicating the completion of her development. Though exhibiting considerable differences in setting, gender roles, and education, the two novels still nonetheless convey the same overall purpose that of the portrayal of the journey from ignorance to knowledge in Victorian Society, starting from childhood to adulthood, enhanced through the use of the protagonists Pip and Jane Eyre. Both characters started out in very similar situations. Both Pip and Jane Eyre were orphans very early on in their childhood.

Although both characters had varying journeys to adulthood, they were both spurred on by some type of discontent. In Pips case it was love and money, and in Janes case, she was simply trying to survive and find true love. In both stories, the development was long and gradual (Pips journey to London and Janes journey to the Lowood School and several houses thereafter). However, in the end both characters achieve a state in which they are both included in society and content with their accomplishments. In both stories, the characters experience a 360 degree change and apply everything they learn along the way.

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