Concerning Characters and Class

If I remember correctly, I read Great Expectations, but didn’t read Northanger Abbey. This essay is terrible, just like the other high school essays, but some of the phrasing in here is pretty funny. And notice in the last line the use of the phrase “only just barely.” This classic was uttered by my sophomore year English teacher, only to be cleverly brought back to life by me two years later.

Concerning Characters and Class
Jason Carter
English 400–1

A common theme in the past three novels is the importance of social status to the main characters. The two novels which clearly portray this idea are Great Expectations and Northanger Abbey. These two books show the reader the characters Pip and Catherine trying their hardest to escape the status of “Average Joe,” and their attempts to fit into a higher social class.

In Great Expectations, we see Pip, an orphaned child with a blacksmith father, trying to break free from his foster parents and attempt to put on airs and live the good life with the upper crust. His entire goal in life is to become a better, more educated and refined man so that he can leave the dirty working class and become more aristocratic. Pip gets his first glimpse at this new lifestyle after his first visit to Miss Havisham’s house. During his first visit, Pip falls in love with Estella, but she is very critical of how common he really is. She laughs at how ordinary he is dressed, and she makes Pip feel self conscious of what he looks like to other people. Pip feels that he must change his lifestyle if he is going to become a better person. He asks his friend Biddy to help secretly educate him and he goes over to Miss Havisham’s more frequently in hopes of absorbing their extravagant life.

When Pip finds out that someone is going to give him money on a regular basis, he knows that this is his chance to escape from the bucolic lifestyle of Joe, Mrs. Joe, and Biddy. He realizes that he can leave the house now and move to the big city where he can find a job and learn to be a man. Pip is quick to drop the ordinary blacksmith and family when he is faced with the opportunity of becoming a more refined gentleman in the city. This is important because Pip will eventually feel guilty for his actions and he will realize that he made a mistake in dumping his friends so quickly for money and a new life.

When Pip finally gets to London and finds a job there, he becomes ashamed of his previous life on the farm with the blacksmith. He avoids going to see Joe and Biddy, and when Joe finally comes to the city, Pip is embarrassed and uncomfortable the entire time. He is still loyal to Estella, and he wants to impress her with his new lifestyle, but he can’t do this if an old and poor blacksmith comes to visit him. Pip proves to the reader here that he has sold out his friends in exchange for a new life. Pip’s new attitude proves to us that acquiring money and becoming a more distinguished person does not necessarily mean that you become a better person.

By the end of the book, Pip realizes that his new life is not worth it. He realizes that Estella is psycho and just wants to destroy men. He recognizes that he has ditched his real friends, and he knows now that the real honorable people in this world aren’t necessarily regal, rich, and smart. He sees that people like Joe and Biddy are happy, and they will always be there for him and to help him when he is in need.

In Northanger Abbey, we see another young person who would like to leave her surroundings in order to become a better person with a higher social class. Catherine Morland is a homely country girl with no class. When her parents see her one day, they think she might actually be becoming a pretty girl. When we first see her, Catherine is washed up and there is no hope for her, no chance of her becoming a proper lady.

The Allen’s see a glimmer of hope in Catherine’s eye and they haul her off to Bath to meet men and perhaps a future husband. The Allen’s realized that every girl must make such a pilgrimage if they are to become ladies. Catherine is hopeless when we see her, but the Allen’s inject a little hope into her pitiful and wretched life. So Catherine is shipped off in hopes of teaching her a little culture and hooking her up with some men. Catherine, Isabella, and Mrs. Allen go to all the great, big balls in town, and they meet all sorts of fabulous gents. Catherine meets Mr. Tilney one night, and she falls in love with his charming personality and distinguished and refined manners and attitude and prestigious class. It is during this time that Catherine gets all tied up with Thorpe but she feels obligated to do things with the Tilney’s as well. She is very concerned with offending people, and she will do anything to please everyone. This shows us that she is still an honorable person even though she gaining some class and a position in life. She is not becoming a snotty, snooty, little snob just because she someone special and is superior to some others surrounding her. Catherine is different from Pip because she is not letting her power corrupt her good character traits. She is not deserting those who mean something to her, and, therefore, her transformation into a quality person is beneficial and a good thing.

In these two novels, the main characters leave their common and simple lives in order to become more distinguished people. The results of this transformation affects their personalities in different ways and it makes these two similar people only just barely turn out to be different in the end.

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