Compare and Contrast the Criticism of Social Class in the Novels ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’

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The discussion will focus on the criticism of the social class in the two novels, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Great Expectations’ by Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens respectively. Moreover, the discussion will specifically compare and contrast the criticism of social class in the two novels. According to Savage, social class is the fragmentation of the society by economic and social status (78). The two novels, ‘ The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are set in the environment or society which is fragmented by economic and social status. The texts in the novel reflect the social classification of the society in which the novels were produced. Therefore, the discussion will focus on the similarity of the criticism of social class in the two novels. Additionally, the discussion will distinguish the criticism of the social classes which exists in the two novels.

The Similarity of the Criticism of the Social Class in ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Great Expectations’

In both novels, the social class is fragmented into social and economic status. The upper class consists of the individuals who live privileged and wealthy life. For instance, in ‘Great Expectations’ the upper social class group of individuals is the ones who live a luxurious life like Miss Havisham who is a wealthy woman though has no husband. Moreover, the relatives of Miss Havisham frequently visit her to seek financial assistance because they perceive her to belong to a different social class than theirs. Despite the wealth, Miss Havisham has no one to inherit them, so her relatives identify the opportunity to enjoy her wealth. In addition, Pip, who is an orphan, is directed by his uncle, Pumblechook, to stay with Miss Havisham so that he can receive the financial support of Miss Havisham. The upper social class consists of the rich and wealthy individuals who are ready to support the less privileged, for instance, Miss Havisham sponsored the training of Pip as a blacksmith by paying for his training in cash to the society blacksmith, Joe Gargery. The text ‘Great Expectations’ vividly described Pip as an orphan staying on the Kent marshes. “ Pip is a parentless child staying on the Kent marshes with his abusive sister and her husband, Joe Gargery” (Dickens par. 1). The writer employed vivid description of the situation of Pip to convince the reader that Pip belonged in the lower social class.The novel portrays the rich as generous, unlike in the contemporary society in which the rich are greedy and can utilize every opportunity to increase their wealth. The novel ‘Great Expectations’ further noted that the upper social class individuals were not undergoing any ordinary marriage, but it was accompanied by celebrations in the form of the wedding. Miss Havisham was jilted by her fiancé, Compeyson, after their wedding. “ Pip was later informed by Herbert that Compeyson was the man who broke Miss Havisham’s heart” (Dickens Par. 22). The novel uses idiomatic expression ‘breaking of the heart’ to describe that the love between Compeyson and Miss Havisham no longer existed.The wedding expenses cannot be afforded by anyone in the society, but it is a ceremony reserved for the wealthy class. Similarly, in ‘The Great Gatsby’ the upper-class individuals live a privileged kind of life. For instance, Nick, the narrator of the story in ‘The Great Gatsby’ notes that, “Buchanan's and Jordan Baker live privileged lives in a more fashionable place” (Summeries Par. 23). According to Kates and Warren, Jordan Baker is a professional golfer, a game which is associated with wealthy individuals (86). The description of the kind of life that the Buchanan's and Jordan Baker lives reflect that the social gap between the poor, lower class, and the rich, upper class, is very wide. However, in both the novels, there was no discrimination on the basis of social class. The upper and lower class interacts, though with contempt. Likewise, the game of golf played by Jordan Baker as the Miss Havisham’s wedding in the ‘great expectations’ are events associated with the wealthy class in the society. The game of golf is played by the individuals who have a lot of wealth in terms of money and investments. Additionally, Gatsby’s mentor, Dan Cody like Miss Havisham, supported Gatsby to become rich and wealthy.

Likewise, the two novels portray the wealthy class as individuals who cannot withstand their marriages. For instance, Miss Havisham was abandoned by her fiancée after their wedding. Similarly, Buchanan and Wilson are rich families who experience troubles in their marriages, for instance, “Tom the husband of Daisy Buchanan, is having the extramarital affairs with the Myrtle, Wilson’s wife” (Summeries Par.5) . Besides, Gatsby, a man who had climbed to the upper class is having a love affair with Daisy (Summeries Par. 10). The two novels illustrate that the rich are excited with their wealth to an extent they cannot peacefully settle in their marriage. Moreover, money is illustrated as the tool to win the heart of women in both novels. For instance, Gatsby confesses that he knew Daisy before she was married to Tom, but then he had no money to sustain her. Nick quotes that, “ Gatsby and Daisy met years earlier but could not unite in love because Gatsby did not have the means to support Daisy” (Summeries Par.11). This vividly describes that financial stability is the trap to catch the love for women; and without money it is difficult to sustain marriage. Likewise, Estella, an adopted daughter of Miss Havisham disowns Pip for Bentley since Pip is originating from poor backgrounds; however, their marriage goes tragically wrong, and her husband dies in the process.

Both novels criticize rich men as useless. For instance, in ‘Great Expectations,’ “Pip while in London associated himself with Finches a group of useless rich men” (Dickens Par. 12). Similarly, Gatsby, who suddenly climbed to rich class, became extravagant by organizing frequent parties at his house with the aim of winning the heart of a married woman, Daisy. Nick describes the company of Tom, Jordan and Gatsby as disgusting because they were engaging in useless affairs despite their wealth. Both the novels describe the rich as useless, as the rich are the ones who are involved in the immoral acts. According to Niebuhr, in most of the societies, the immoral acts are associated with the people who are poor and less privileged in terms of the financial wealth (53). However, the novels portray that the rich are the ones who are not in a position to sustain moral behaviors in the society. For instance, Nick could take Gatsby, Tom and Jordan as his role model, but he describes them as a disgusting and useless company because of their immoral behaviors. Likewise, Pip thought of denouncing Miss Havisham when he realizes the source of her money. Pip realizes the source of Miss Havisham’s money was from a convict known as Magwitch and he felt bad for associating himself with the money from the convict.

Both the novels also criticize the social class on the basis of the occupation or the kind of work an individual is doing. The kind of work or occupation defines the social class of individuals in the society, Therefore, in both the novels; the occupation is taken as a measure of someone’s financial prowess in the society, which elicits fear and respect among the working classes. For instance, ‘Great Expectations’ there is occupational fear among the working groups. The professionals are respected by individuals who are skilled workers or self-employed. Mr. Jaggers, who is described as a powerful lawyer in London, is respected by Mr. Trabb, a tailor. The moment Mr. Jaggers instructed Mr. Trabb to tailor a suit for Pip, the respect Mr. Trabb has for the lawyer was also transferred to Pip. For instance, the treatment Pip was being accorded by Mr. Trabb and his Uncle Pumblechook changed all over sudden because of Pip’s close association with Mr. Jaggers. The Trabb’s shop boy found himself in trouble one day when he treated Pip with disrespect. This shows that the professionals were treated with much respect than the skilled workers like tailors and blacksmiths. Similarly, ‘The Great Gatsby’ novel, Daisy rejected Gatsby because he was in unprofessional employment, but accepted Tom as his husband since Tom was in professional employment. Daisy was after a husband who could provide her with the financial security. This selection of Daisy illustrates that the Professionals were the highly respected working class in the novel. The respect Daisy gave to Tom is what prompted her to accept him as her husband.

Additionally, both novels criticize the social class based on the lower class individuals. The two novels note that it is the lower class individuals who provide the moral support to the upper class or the rich individuals. For instance, Pip, an orphan boy is sent to Miss Havisham house to provide company for Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter. “Pip’s pompous Uncle Pumblechook organizes for Pip to visit the house of the wealthy woman, Miss Havisham, to play with her adopted daughter” (Dickens Par. 4). Moreover, Pip gives a ride to Miss Havisham who is bound in the wheelchair. The moment Miss Havisham’s dress caught fire; it is Pip who rescued her from sustaining burns from the fire. Additionally, Magwitch, a convict whom Pip encountered while he was living in the Kent Marshes, was the source of Miss Havisham’s wealth, and Pip assisted him in the two instances. In the first instance, Pip provides him with the food and a file to scrap the iron when he escaped from the prison. The second instance took place while Pip was in London when the Magwitch came to remind Pip that he was the source of Pip’s great expectations; Pip organized on the way to help Magwitch to escape out of London since he was not permitted to stay in the city. Other instances of the poor providing the moral support for the rich as illustrated in ‘The Great Gatsby’ is when Nick provided his room as the meeting point for Gatsby and Daisy; since Gatsby wanted to draw Daisy back to his love cycle. Moreover, Nick who is considered as the lower class person assists in the burial of Gatsby when he was abandoned by everyone including the rich persons who used to enjoy in his parties. These portray the lower class individuals as the source of the moral support for the rich or the upper-class persons.

The novels illustrate that even though the lower class individuals are not in a position to provide financial support to the rich, they can provide moral support instead. It is against the expectations of many individuals for the lower class individuals to be of benefit to the rich, but both the novels describe scenarios where the lower class persons provide significant assistance to the rich. In both the novels, the upper-class persons seek the moral support from the lower class persons. This is in contrary to the expectation of many individuals in the contemporary society where there exists a large social gap between the rich and the poor. To some extent, the rich in the contemporary society does not recognize any kind of support from the lower class persons. For instance, according to Hill, the rich in the modern society usually perceive the poor or persons from the lower social class as a less human being who cannot guarantee the rich class any form of support (102). The rich individual in the modern society perceives the poor as a bother.

The Difference between the Criticism of the Social Class in ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Great Expectations'

In ‘The Great Gatsby’ the rich or the upper social class is described as the quarrelsome persons. For instance, Tom Buchanan, who was having an extramarital affair with Myrtle engages in the fight with her one occasion while they were drinking in one of the pubs. Myrtle, Wilson’s wife, fights with Tom, her lover over Tom’s wife, Daisy. The novel illustrates the rich as disorganized and troublesome. On the other hand, ‘Great Expectations’ portrays both the rich and the poor as quarrelsome. For instance, “Mr. Trabb, a middle-class person quarrels with his shop-boy because he treated Pip with disrespect” (Dickens Par. 8). Additionally, the two convicts, Magwitch and Compeyson, who both happen to be from the rich social class, are engaged in the war. Pip and Herbert also engage in a fight when they were staying with Miss Havisham. In ‘Great Expectations’ the stubbornness or quarrelsome is not specific to one social class. It is distributed among the different social classes as opposed to ‘The Great Gatsby’ where the stubbornness is only specific to individuals who are rich or from the upper social class.

Moreover, in ‘The Great Gatsby’ the love among the individual of the same social class is very rare or not there at all. For instance, it is only Nick who stood with Gatsby up to the point he was buried, signifying solidarity and love he had for Gatsby. However, the individuals who happen to fall into the same social class as Gatsby abandoned him the moment he was in trouble. For instance, Tom and Daisy abandoned Gatsby after the accident which saw the death of Myrtle; the couples, Tom and Daisy never even attended the funeral of Gatsby. As well as, Gatsby’s business partner, Meyer Wolshiem never attended the burial of Gatsby showing there was a lack of love for the individuals who happen to be in the same social class. Therefore, according to Fulcher and John, the novels criticize the individuals of the same social class, especially, those from the rich social class as careless and lack love for one another (77). However, the novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ portrays the individuals of the same social class as loving by appearance, but the reality reveals otherwise.

On the other hand, ‘Great Expectations’ portrays love among the persons of different social classes. The rich love lower-class individuals and are ready to support them in their life endeavors. For instance, Miss Havisham loved Pip and even sponsored him to train as a blacksmith. The powerful lawyer from London, Mr. Jaggers, also loved Pip and even bought him a suit. These acts of charity performed to Pip, who was an orphan by Mr. Jaggers and Miss Havisham shows the extent to which the rich were touched by the plight of the poor. Additionally, these acts of a charity show that there was love for the poor persons by the rich persons. The novel, ‘Great Expectations’ also criticizes the love which exists among the poor class. For instance, Pip loves his sister even though she was abusive; Pip demonstrated the love she had for his sister the moment he felt sorry for her when she was beaten and Pip even attended the burial of his sister. The poor also loves the rich; for instance, Pip shows the love he had for Miss Havisham by rescuing her from burning by putting out the fire which caught her dress. As well as, Pip provides a ride for Miss Havisham to demonstrate the love he had for her even though she was bound in the wheel-chair. Pip demonstrated his love for Miss Havisham to make her feel accepted in the society since she had not given birth. “Miss Havisham’s husband abandoned her on the wedding day and still she puts on her old wedding gown, despite she is now elderly and wheel-chair bound.” (Dickens Par. 6). The writer employed vivid description of Miss Havisham’s desperate situation even though she was having wealth. The novel, ‘Great Expectations’ criticizes the love which exists among social class as the one which is not specific for individuals in the same social class.

The novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticizes the marriage as an affair which is not a class-bound. For instance, Wilson married Myrtle who is a middle-class woman. However, the love affair in the novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ is attached to the financial prowess of an individual. For instance, Gatsby confesses how he loved Daisy while he was in the Army, but he had no money to sustain her. Therefore, Daisy, who was a wife to Tom, later comes to accept involvement in the love relationship with Gatsby because Gatsby had attained the financial threshold to guarantee her love. The novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticizes that the marriage between two individuals was not inclined to the social class of the couples, but the man was to have enough money to maintain his wife. On the other hand, ‘Great Expectations’ criticizes that the marriage was inclined to the individuals who belong to the same social class. For instance, Miss Havisham was preparing Pip to climb to the rich social class with the aim of marrying her adopted daughter, Estella. Moreover, the novel, ‘Great Expectations’ illustrates the marriage between Joe and Biddy, of which both belong in the middle social class.

The novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticizes that the rich persons do not adhere to the laws that govern the society; in other words, they do not recognize the authorities. For instance, Mr. Wilson took the laws into his own hands by retaliating against Gatsby for killing his wife in the car accident. On the other hand, the novel ‘Great Expectations’ criticizes how the rich were strictly adhering to the rule of law. For instance, the two convicts, Magwitch and Compeyson, were convicted for breaking the laws. This illustrates that the authorities also recognize the rich as lawbreakers and the laws are applied in their cases, as opposed to the case of Mr. Wilson murdering Gatsby and the authorities remained silent on the matter, in the novel, ‘The Great Gatsby.’ The novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ reveals the negligence on the part of the authorities as Mr. Wilson murdered Gatsby at Gatsby’s home showing that the level of security for the rich individuals was not given the priority. “Wilson kills Gatsby and then turns the gun on himself” (Summeries Par. 46). The act by Wilson vividly describes that the authorities were not vigilant on the supervison of how the public utilizes the guns. In contrast, the novel, ‘Great expectations’ illustrates how Magwitch was apprehended when he wanted to escape from the boundaries of London city where he was not permitted to stay. Additionally, the novel also narrates how Pip was apprehended for not paying his debts, showing that the authorities were vigilant in executing their duties without any nature of discrimination.


In conclusion, the two novels, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Great Expectations’ criticize the social class by the social and economic status. Both the novels criticize those individuals who have money and live a luxurious life as the rich or the upper-class persons like Miss Havisham, Tom, and Gatsby. Additionally, both the novels criticize the rich men as useless, for instance, Pip while staying in London was associating himself with a group of useless rich men known as Finches. Mr. Tom Buchanan and Jordan, who both are rich individuals, are associated with useless kinds of stuff like adultery and substance abuse. On the other hand, the novels differ in the illustration of the nature of stubbornness of different social classes. For instance, the novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’ describes the rich as the individuals who are troublesome and chaotic in the society. Tom and Myrtle engage in a fight on one of the occasions while drinking in the pub. On the other hand, the novel, ‘Great Expectations’ describe both the rich and the poor as troublesome. Pip engages in a fight with Hebert. And the two convicts, Magwitch and Compeyson, both from the rich backgrounds engage in a war.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. New York: Rinehart, 1948.PDF.

Fulcher, James, and John Scott. Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 77. PDF.

Hill, Shirley A. Families: A Social Class Perspective. Los Angeles: SAGE/Pine Forge Press, 2012. 102. PDF.

Kates, Ronald, and Warren Tormey. Baseball and Social Class: Essays on the Democratic Game That Isn't. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. 86. PDF.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. , 2013. 53. PDF.

Savage, Michael. Social Class in the 21st Century. , 2015. 78. PDF.

Summaries, Bright. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (book Analysis): Detailed Summary, Analysis and Reading Guide. Cork: Primento Digital, 2018. PDF.

August 21, 2023




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