Gender Roles in Great Expectations Essay

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Gender Roles in Great Expectations The importance of the Victorian ideal of motherhood is glimpsed in Charles Dickens's personal life. Dickens's main complaint against his wife when he separated from her was her terrible parenting. Around the time that his separation from his wife was being finalized, Dickens complains of Catherine in a letter to his friend Angela Burdett Coutts: "'She does not -- and never did -- care for the children; and the children do not -- and they never did -- care for her'" (qtd. in Slater 146). From evidence in other letters and the seeming abruptness with which Dickens took on this point of view, Dickens biographer Michael Slater suggests that this was "something that Dickens had to get…show more content…
From the writing on his gravestone, Pip perceives his father as"square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair" (23; ch. 1). Similarly, Pip reports Mrs. Joe as having "black hair and eyes" (28; ch. 1).Pip infers his mother's appearance from her gravestone as well: "from the turn of the inscription ... I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly" (23; ch. 1). Joe, although not freckled, has light skin with features far more feminine than Mrs. Joe's: "Joe was a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue" (28; ch. 1). Pip's physical description of all these parent figures reveals the ambivalent gender identities in the Gargery home. Joe's physical appearance seems more feminine, and he is much more nurturing than Mrs. Joe, who is described in terms similar to Pip's deceased father. Mrs. Joe is described in some masculine ways, but her behavior is the most significant indicator of her desire not to be trapped in the traditional feminine domestic role. Mrs. Joe's emotional distance from her family is exemplified in the apron that she wears: she "almost always wore a coarse apron ... having a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles" (28; ch. 2). Dickens use of the word "impregnable" evinces many non-maternal associations
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