In relation to historical culture and context, the social expectations of men have an element of continuality over the novels looked at on the module. It is important to look at historical events that have taken place and how they relate to the text. An important concept around the Victorian era is the construction of the gentleman and how this ties in with the idea of male violence, which is a recurrent feature in the texts. Looking at the fighting in Saturday night Sunday morning enables the reader to contextualise the angry young men of the fifty’s.
Around this issue is the idea of normative masculinity. When answering this question it is also important to look at gender identity in relation to class, race and nationality, the expectations of men in different classes. In the Victorian era, to become a gentleman was a cultural goal that men aspired to. “It is considered essential that a gentleman should not only be able to live without manual labour, but also without too visible attention to business, for it was leisure that enabled a man to cultivate the style and pursuits of gentlemanly life” (Glimour, R; Page 7).
This quote portrays the idea of the gentleman at the time of publication; a gentleman shouldn’t have to work for their money and should have time for leisure activities. Dickens’s however takes a different approach to expose gentlemanliness. In Great Expectations, there are two different models of the gentleman, the first is based on social status or class, this is measured by etiquette, dress and speech as well as the standing of ones family. Eagleton and Pierce (1979) state, “The novel not only expresses class as a question of personal identity but as an aspect of social organisation and historical change” (page 10).
The importance of this approach to writing is to illustrate meanings that may have remained hidden. The second type of gentleman in the novel, is quite different and apparent early on in the novel, being a true gentleman is a matter of virtue and honesty. Dickens exploits the ambiguity of the term gentleman within the novel, an example of this is referred to be Allen, G (1981), “Pip want’s to become a gentleman because he want’s to become a gentle man, to escape from the brutality and intimidation that characterises life on the marshes”. (Page 142).
At the start of the novel, Pip wants to become a gentleman so he will be of the same social status as Estella and win her love. At the end of the novel however Pip has become a true gentleman by not caring about other people’s perception of his class, he reconciled to Joe and Biddy and abandoned his romantic delusions. Pip is a character that moves from one class to another. Pips first discovery of his class and behaviour is apparent in his visit to Miss Havisham’s manor. Dickens was a lower middle class writer and had worked in a backing factory as a child.
This can be seen to have been written into Great Expectations in class and the impact of gender identity. Cheadle, R (2001) suggests that Dickens’s home life was far from perfect, “With his wife discarded, his home sold, his family a disappointment, the letters enshrining the past put on a bonfire, and his relationship with Ellen Ternan illicit. He had long despised of the institutions of social power…. a profound questioning of such basic conditions of the Victorian life as class privilege” (page 78). Dickens was born around the into a lower class family and developed his social status to become a gentleman.
This may have enhanced the manner in which the novel was written as Dickens had direct experience of all classes and the discrimination from one to the other. Jagger who is a role model for Pip washes his hands of low life and keeps his emotions under control, these actions label Jagger in the first definition of a gentleman. Pip searches for role models throughout the novel; Magwitch is the role of a male identity and has very different priorities from ‘the gentleman’. There is irony that the money pip has comes from Magwitch who is a criminal.
The irony that Pip becomes a gentle man through Magwitch is seen through the lessons in life that Magwitch gives to Pip and it is through his tales that Pip is able to become a gentle man. The male ideal in Saturday Night Sunday Morning can be seen as an example of aggressive misogynistic masculinity. There are not the Victorian social status represented within this later novel however this novel is related to the Angry Young Man of the Fifties. Arthur Seaton is a young man who works in a bicycle factory in Nottingham. He works hard so he gets enough money to spend on clothes and alcohol.
Drinking in the pubs, fishing and having sex with married women are the main interests in his life. Many young men of the late 1950’s identified with Arthur. The men in Saturday Night Sunday Morning are fighting for a sense of fun before they get captured into their factory jobs and the marriages that they are bound for. Saturday night Sunday Morning can be seen as an example of aggressive misogynistic masculinity. Easthope, E states ” At present in the dominant myth of the masculine ego is imagined as closing itself off completely, maintaining a total defence.
To be unified it must be masculine all the way through and so the feminine will always appear as something other or different and so a security risk”. This portrays the image of the fortified masculine ego and relates to the common ideology at the time of Freudian psychology. This is the image of control and the boundaries that are to be defended at all costs. This can give reason for the violence that can be seen in the texts of the module, the best form of defence is attack; part of the male psychological structure is aggression, which is linked in art throughout the centuries to sexual acts.
The violence can be seen to be an act of protecting the idea of masculinity. There are two opposing faces of masculinity in the novel; Segal, L, outlines these, “In short, there were at least two opposing faces of masculinity in the fifties. There was the new family man, content with house and garden. And there was the old wartime hero, who put ‘freedom’ before family and loved ones’ (page 20). This quote portrays the new ideology of domestic masculinity in the fifties. Masculinity became associated with a sense of security for men based upon material wealth, breadwinners and consumers.
This can be seen as a transformation of working class attitudes to middle class attitudes and aspirations. This can be seen in the difference between Arthur and Jack, Jack is the new family man settling down and working for his family while Arthur does what he sees fit no matter what the consequences for example sleeping with two sisters at the same time and having two squaddies after you. The working class men in Saturday Night Sunday Morning are regarded as ‘real men’ as they are very masculine men. Arthur is an example of normative masculinity, manual work, drinking, and fighting.
The gentlemanly men of leisure within Great Expectations however do not fit into the definitions of masculinities within the fifties. This portrays the idea of masculinity being a social construction, that is it varies according to time and culture. In the Victorian era, it was manly to sit round a table and have a meal. This in the fifties would not have been described as masculine. An explanation for this could be that the dinner parties could be perceived as very feminine and the working class men don’t want to be perceived in the feminine/ domestic sphere.
The male competition over the dinner parties can be seen as a way of the Victorian gentlemen removing themselves from the feminine and also as erotic rivalry. Another example of diverting the dinner party away form the feminine is by proving how muscular the men were, this is a stereotype of normative masculinity. Men in the novel are a social group completely separate from women and the women are not trusted within the text women are all the same whores, shrews, fools, enticing the suckers into the ‘hell that men call marriage’. It can be seen here how separate the two sexes are and how different their aspirations are.
Nonetheless, it is women who get what they want in the end and Arthur does conform to the norm at the end of the novel living with his girlfriend and having a baby. Within Chapter 11 of Great Expectations, Herbert suggests that male violence is an initiation and males forge friendships through fighting. Dickens is suggesting that a fight is needed to clear the air and move on. The fights are set up by the women and can be seen as an example of homosocial links within the text. The working class males within the novel (Saturday Night Sunday Morning) can be seen to oppose all authority, ‘fighting everyday until I die… ighting for mothers and wives, landlords and gaffers, coopers and government’ (page 48. ) The reality of the male struggle within the text is with mothers and wives.
The males within the text fight the authorities verbally and they fight the women with their fists. There is an institutional support of violence that is continually aimed at men. In conclusion, throughout Great Expectations, Dicken’s explores the class system of Victorian England ranging from the criminal, Magwitch, to the poor peasants of the marsh country in Joe and Biddy the middleclass characters of the novel include Pumblechook and Miss Havisham.
The issue of social class is one of the main issues running through the novel, and also the moral theme Pip’s realisation that wealth and class are not as important as loyalty and family values. Pip achieves this realisation when he understands that an individual’s social status is not connected to their real character. This contrast can be seen in Drummle who is upper class and has no politeness and Magwitch who is a criminal but there is a deeper meaning to his character. The class system that is portrayed in Dicken’s novels is that of post Industrial Revolution model in Victorian England.
Dicken’s often ignores hereditary wealth for characters whose fortunes have been earned through commerce. An example of this is Miss Havisham’s family fortune that is made through the brewery that is still connected to her manor. The link between class and work enables the theme of self-advancement and self-improvement. Masculinity within both novels can be seen as a social construction and therefore relevant to a particular time and culture. To be masculine does not remain static.
Though there are obvious connections to working class men who appear more masculine in terms of normative masculinity, we must bear in mind the social surroundings and aspirations of males within any class. Not all middle class men see the characteristic of masculinity as important therefore they are less likely to be portrayed as such. Working class males are strongly linked to violence which is very masculine however is seen as a social norm within the working class communities. It is possible to conclude therefore that working class men are portrayed using normative masculinity whereas middle classes tend to be portrayed as gentlemen.