Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

Prison Conditions During The Victorian Era

While reading The Ballad of Reading Gaol, the part in which Oscar Wilde discussed the conditions of prison struck me. He questions how one man could place another man in such an awful setting. His true feelings are evident when he states “that every prison that men build is built with bricks of shame, and bound with bars lest Christ should see how men their brothers maim.” As soon as I read this ballad, I was reminded of the journal titled “The Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prison Inmates: A Brief History and Review of the Literature.” In Group 4, we read and did a writeup on Charles Dickens’ feelings about the prison system. As soon as he visited Cherry Hill Prison, he remarked “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment… inflicts upon the sufferers… I hold this slow and daily tampering… to be worse than any torture of the body.” Both of these men were taken aback by prison conditions. They understood that the people in prison were criminals, but they questioned how people could treat other human beings in such a torturous way. Sadly, prison conditions are still pretty horrendous today and it has been almost 200 years since Wilde and Dickens wrote about their experiences with the system. It causes me to wonder if the circumstances will ever improve.

Experiences Help Shape Our Identities

In Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, I found paragraph 26 to be the most interesting. Here Wilde writes about how people had advised him to forget his past when he entered prison and is now being advised to forget prison when he is released. Wilde describes how if he did this it would be disgraceful as he would be forgetting all of the different experiences that had made him who he had become. He says, “To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul” (Par. 26).

I thought this could be related to Pip’s experiences in Great Expectations as he tried to live up to his expectations in becoming a gentleman, but retrospectively admits that it did not go as he had intended. Although nobody directly told him to forget his past and where he came from young Pip felt as though he had to because he saw his life there with Joe at the forge as an embarrassment after being told by Estella that he was coarse and common. Narrator Pip admits that this was wrong and he is ashamed of the way in which he treated the people who mattered most to him in life.

Through Pip retrospectively narrating his life from childhood to present, it is demonstrated how Pip is trying not to forget all of the experiences that made him who he is now. Throughout the narration as exemplified above, narrator Pip indicates where he may have gone wrong in life and is demonstrating that he has learned from these experiences. Your experiences make you who you are whether they are good or bad. It is up to you to learn from them and better yourself as a result.