Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations' reflects many of the values and attitudes of nineteenth century England. It is a novel of social realism in the sense that it illustrates the lifestyles of most people in the Victorian era. Dickens uses the distinctive traits of characters, comical exaggeration of caricature and biblical allusions to achieve this. The point of view narration contains dramatic dialogue and realistic imagery help to further resonate and criticise the values and attitudes of the times. A wide division in the classes, harsh punishments for crime and distinct gender roles are depicted. Industrialisation and its effects on the growing differences between city and country life are also shown in the novel.
Gender roles were quite clear-cut in 19th century England, with men and women living in separate spheres. Men were the breadwinners, educated, and held positions of power. Women often endured demanding house work, especially if they were of the lower class.
Higher class women played rather ornamental roles, spending most their time sewing, painting or undertaking similar such activities. Society valued women who were passive, nurturing and gentle. Beauty was also admired, especially in the upper class. Biddy and Estella represent these ideals in their respective classes. Dickens use of characterisation portrays Biddy as a simple, kind-hearted country lass who is "the wisest of girls" and "never insulting or capricious." Estella is portrayed as a young lady who is "more beautiful than anybody ever was".
Men were the dominant gender partly because of the inheritance laws which only allowed male heirs. Women could not inherit property directly - only indirectly through trusteeships. Moreover land-ownership was important in determining one's social status. The importance of this is manifested through symbolism. Miss Havisham's rotting wedding cake is a visible expression of her resentful, self-destructive psyche. Its "black fungus" is...