Social Class and Self Improvement in Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights

As I read the first ten chapters of Great Expectations, one of the prominent themes that I noted was social class. Pip is an uneducated, rough looking, working class boy who is sent to the wealthy Miss Havisham’s home to “play.” The emergence of this drastic class difference between the two in the novel sheds light on this theme. Being that this is a common theme in Victorian Era literature, it makes sense that social class is also a prominent theme in Wuthering Heights. Already, Pip’s relationship with Estella reminds me of Hareton and Cathy’s relationship in Wuthering Heights. Firstly, similarly to Hareton, Pip was raised harshly and violently and without much love. Both Pip and Hareton share a coarse appearance; Pip’s appearance from living in a working class family and Hareton’s from his neglect throughout his childhood. Both are also uneducated as a result of their upbringings. When Pip meets Estella at Miss Havisham’s, she treats him very rudely. She makes it clear that she is disgusted by Pip because of his working class characteristics like his, “thick boots” and “rough hands.” We see a similar dynamic between Cathy and Hareton for a large portion of the novel. Cathy is cruel to Hareton; she makes fun of him for being uneducated, rough and foolish. Both Pip and Hareton are deeply affected and offended by Estella and Cathy’s treatment. As a result, they both decide to improve themselves. At the end of these first ten chapters, Pip, who was brought to tears by Estella’s hurtful words and actions, decides that he will change himself for the better; he wishes to not be “common” anymore. Thus, we see the emergence of the theme of self-improvement in the novel. Pip talks to Joe about his wish to be “uncommon” and asks Biddy to teach him what she knows from school. Similarly, in Wuthering Heights, after Cathy embarrasses and insults Hareton, he also sets out on a mission to improve himself. For example, Hareton reads books and acts kindly towards Cathy. Evidently, self-improvement is also a theme in Wuthering Heights. When it comes to Hareton’s pursuit of self-improvement in the novel, he ends up successfully educating himself with books and the help of Cathy and he seemingly becomes a happier and gentler person. By the end of the novel he even ends up happily together with Cathy. Based on these observations from Wuthering Heights, I am curious to see where Pip’s self-improvement efforts will take him. Will Pip and Estella will form a similar relationship as that of Hareton and Cathy? Or perhaps their rivalry will continue to grow. It will be interesting to see what message emerges about social class through Pip’s self-improvement and his relationship with Estella and Miss Havisham.

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