Essay on Abusive Women in Great Expectations

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Abusive Women in Great Expectations

    One may infer that Dickens may have been attempting to acknowledge the birth of female freedom, due to the industrial revolution, by way of the female characters' actions within Great Expectations. Considering that he creates such verbal execution performed by many of the female characters within the novel suggests that women were usually treated as equals, this not being the case. By allowing these women to be verbally and physically abusive, Dickens may have been presenting the distorted idea toward female criminals and violent women.


Violence appeared to be a gendered act usually resulting in male over female dominance during the nineteenth century (D'Cruse 21). Within the novel, Dickens creates situations in which the female characters have the upper hand. Since the Victorians considered crime to be "unnatural in women" it is paradoxical that Great Expectations contains so many malicious women (Hughes 86). That may be why Dickens chose Mrs. Joe to act as a "violent woman" throughout her character's life (120; ch. 15). As within Great Expectations, the usual targets of violence by women were men, husbands and lovers (Hughes 86). One witnesses male, physical abuse as the young Estalla slaps Pips face (92; ch. 11).


Due to gender role reversals, Mrs. Joe suffers from some need to display a "compulsive masculinity" (Tomes 338), which is evident in her aggressive need to maintain her power over the men in her home. This need for Mrs. Joe to maintain power is expressed by Joe when Pip shares his desire to learn. Joe tells Pip that Mrs. Joe "an't over partial to having scholars on the premises" (63; ch. 7). This unfavorable attitude toward "scho...

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...meanor, they were still held at a highly rigid standard of morality which often excused physical abuse and murder.


Works Cited

Clark, Ann. "Humanity or Justice? Wifebeating and the Law in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries." Regulating Womenhood Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood, and Sexuality. Ed. Carol Smart. London: Routledge, 1992. 187-206.

D'Cruze, Shani. Crimes of Outrage Sex, Violence and Victorian Working Women. DeKalb: Northern Illinois UP,  1988.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed.  Janice Carlisle.  Boston: Bedford, 1996.

Hart, Lynda. "The Victorian Villainess and Patriarchal Unconscious." Literature and Psychology 40 (1994): 1-24.

Tomes, Nancy. "A Torrent of Abuse: Crimes of Violence Between Working-Class Men and Women in London, 1840-1875." Journal of Social History 11 (1978) 328-345.


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