Explore BrainMass

Charles Dickens' Female Characters

Charles Dickens uses marriage as a vehicle for explaining how strong female characters were able to thrive in a male dominant society. This paper examines how the personality traits of his characters clearly align with the struggle for power between men and women and highlights the strengths of several of the female personalities.

Solution Preview

If you want to start a heated debate with your friends, bring up the issue of feminism in Charles Dickens novels. Dickens has a charming way of addressing social issues by exposing the mistreatment of orphans and many other unfortunate groups; so well that he even invokes sympathy for criminals, while giving readers a good laugh. It is through his innovative use of words and description that we are able to live through his characters and personally identify with their experiences. Although Dickens does a great job of addressing the perils of society, the female characters that are chosen to represent the feminist movement, are often harshly portrayed and have manly characteristics. There are a few who harbor angelic demeanors, but through weak countenances, are often shortchanged by death, controlled by men, and spoken for. Through marriage, many of these characters are subjected to stifling their desires in exchange for dominance, which in some cases, transforms them into bitter individuals and binds them to unhealthily submissive lifestyles.

It is not apparent whether Dickens meant for any of his characters to appear weak or helpless in any way, but it is evident that many of these personalities possess these unfortunate attributes. There are several personalities who represent strong standpoints against the dehumanization and subjugation of women, as dainty little creatures, bound by kitchens and other housework. But, there are, nevertheless, a few others who are poor representations of the strong, Eve-like creatures that God destined them to be. Therefore, it can be concluded that many of the women who appear in Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations, have a way of representing feminism both positively and negatively. Not only do they complement and mirror each other, but they strongly embody female ladies of dominance, which exacerbates the effects of marriage on women.

Here, we begin our discussion with Great Expectations, which is comprised of several good feminist characters, many of which abuse the confines of marriage and befall terrible fates. For much of the novel, they are somehow able to remain strong through mischance, but their own selfish desires seem to get the best of them. These ladies of dominance are great contrast to the idea that women are pieces of property, created merely to perform housework and rear children; perhaps because they were dominant in both their homes and with certain members of society. The characters that stand out the most in this novel are Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, and Estella. Through their interaction with other characters, it is proven that they possess strong feminist characteristics and rebel against the confines of marital restrictions.

Mrs. Joe is the first lady that the reader is introduced to. She is the sister of the main character, Pip, and the wife of, his confidant, Joe. It is apparent that Mrs. Joe has dreams of being accepted into high society and that she will do just about anything to get there, but she feeds into the stereotype that in order for a woman to raise her position in society, she must marry. To follow through with her plan of beating the system, she teams up with Mr. Pumblechook, who also wishes to raise his social status. Mr. Pumblechook too is a member of the middle-class, but becomes bound by unwanted obligations when faced with the responsibility of fixing the mess that she has made with their child. Although Mrs. Joe is strong in many aspects, she does have a few weaknesses. This can be seen through the ill treatment of her child and the fact that she doesn't take responsibility for being a parent.

"She concluded by throwing me- I often served as a connubial missle- at Joe, who, glad to get hold of me on any terms, passed me on into the chimney quietly fenced me up there with his great leg," her child explains, (7). This is done at Joe's expense, a person who can be characterized as being both domineering and submissive at times. It's apparent from their interactions that he needs some direction in life, but does not deserve to be bullied. He gives the impression that he is marrying into to a life of companionship and possibly love, but never comes into the realization that he has married a hardened woman. The abuse that the child and Joe receive from Mrs. Joe takes away from the positive development of the other characters, and serves as a mechanism designed to destroy what little love remains inside of her child and the husband.

Mrs. Joe also isn't on such great terms with Pip. She takes full responsibility for Pip during his infancy after their parents die, but seems to hold him responsible for the misfortune that they experience. She seldom acknowledges that it was her "choice" to care for him, not an obligation, but she only chose to with ulterior motive. Mrs. Joe also tries to use Pip to gain income and move up in society. If she can win Miss Havisham's favor by sending Pip to play for her, that's all she ...

Solution Summary

Charles Dickens novels are long but enjoyable reads. Each story takes the audience on adventurous journeys through history and asks them to ponder how they would handle different life situations. The lifelike qualities and experiences of these characters, help readers better identify with their personalities, and portray an understanding of the hardship that many endured throughout that era.