How do Dickens and Eliot present the pressures placed on an individual?

Dickens wrote ‘Great Expectations’ in the mid-Victorian era and it was heavily influenced by poverty and the stark differences in social classes in the period. Eliot’s poetry came from a much later epoch where the focus had changed from this intransitive mind set to modernism, this view did not look at the mass of people suffering but focused on the lost individual in a crowd and their life in modern day society (such as the city).

One of the key pressures present in both the novel ‘Great Expectations’ and in poetry such as ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is the influence of city life especially in London. In Great Expectations, in spite of the poverty surrounding Pip, the city represents new life and potential to live like or become one of the upper classes, like the woman he loves Estella. “Morning made a considerable difference in my general prospect of Life, and brightened it so much that it scarcely seemed the same.” The prospect of going to London and the pursuing the life he had dreamt of since meeting Miss Havisham and Estella was exciting and completely different to his “common” existence as a Blacksmiths apprentice. Pip is under the influence of proving himself to the one he loves, in having new found wealth, Pip feels he could be valued by Estella and provide for her lavish lifestyle. Dickens use of the term “metropolis” when describing the capital city has positive connotations and implies an inordinate power, which of course influences Pip into Social Snobbery. Throughout the novel you see the changes gone through by Pip the boy then becoming Pip the man, and the influence of City life perhaps causing his eventual fall from grace. The pressure Pip was under to be a success in spite of his background and upbringing are the backbone of Dickens’ novel, investigating the social classes and the movement of individuals from one level to another. ‘Great Expectations’ makes it clear that it is much easier to fall from a higher class than to climb from a lower one; and perhaps implies that we shouldn’t seek to better our station in society, on the other hand, Pip is perhaps somewhat of a social Icarus, who is only valued by those of the highest classes when he has money.

Many critics would agree that Dickens tends to personify the pressures placed on individuals by moulding other characters to fit a social stereotype for instance Miss Havisham looks down on those of lower classes and teaches Estella to do the same, meanwhile Biddy measures the value of a person based on whether they are comfortable and satisfied with their life.  In contrast to this Eliot’s work of a later era (Edwardian), gives rise to the stance of popular views of the time being the modernist movement in Europe. In this way his poetry and the pressures he presents are limited to those on one or two marginalised characters who are under the influence of their own expectations, rather than that of society. This is represented by the character coming full circle in Prufrock and never having left  for a walk in the city at night, as his mind has created the scenes he would expect to find without having necessarily experienced them. 

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