The Benefactor

In reading of Pip’s ascent to fortune and gentleman status, I am reminded of Heathcliff’s ascent in Wuthering Heights. Both Pip and Heathcliff are propelled to a higher social status at a young age with the help of a benefactor–that is, (most likely) Ms. Havisham in Pip’s case and Mr. Earnshaw in Heathcliff’s. Both characters come from a background in which they were once orphans, though Pip has living familial connections whereas Heathcliff was left to fend for himself on the streets before Mr. Earnshaw brought him back to the Heights.

I am sensing a Victorian motif in the form of “the benefactor,” though Dickens and Bronte take a pretty unrealistic approach to the concept—it is as if both authors are writing of benefactors in an imagined, idealized way instead of as they would exist in real life. It is pretty hard to imagine a case in which a perfect stranger would endow penniless boys with the comfort of a high-class life purely out of the goodness of their heart’s, as is essentially the case in both novels. It should be noted that in Great Expectations, there is a certain social status that comes from being a benefactor as is evidenced by Pumblechook trying to take credit for Pip’s social elevation.

With all of this in mind, I think the argument can be made to look at the role of the benefactor in both novels not as a representation of actual life in Victorian England, but rather as an imagined dream of the working class during the time. The real world doesn’t just plant rich men who want to make you rich on your doorstep, but the thought that this could happen must have been comforting to poor working class people. From this viewpoint, the benefactor is not a real person, but rather an imagined reality in which any of us could be like Pip and score big…pay no mind to the legislative, social, and societal road blocks that squash these dreams as soon as they are put into action.

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