Great Expectations

Cruelty: A Comparison Between Great Expectations and Tess of the d'Urbervilles College

A key theme in both Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations[1] and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles[2] is cruelty. Both authors treat this cruelty in such a way as to expose the flaws of a society in which the powerful, either in terms of class, physical strength, or otherwise, prey on those without power. Both novels are examples of bildungsroman’s which focus on young characters, such as Pip and Tess, coming of age and growing into adults. As bildungsroman’s, the theme of cruelty becomes ever more prominent, as it is also used to highlight the effects of cruelty on the development and maturing of these children.

One of the principle factors which influenced the distribution of power in the early nineteenth century was social class, a dividing force which remained even through the increasing forces of industrial modernity. In Great Expectations, the dominant example of the upper classes’ cruel treatment of the lower classes is perhaps seen between the characters of Compeyson and Magwitch. The cruelty of Compeyson, who corners Magwitch into acting as his “black slave”[3], culminates in his denial of guilt and accusations of Magwitch when the two are arrested for their illegal activities. He uses Magwitch, who is labelled...

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