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Essay: Perception of Children in Victorian England: Great Expectations / The Chimney Sweeper

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
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  • Published: June 18, 2021*
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  • Words: 956 (approx)
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  • Tags: Charles Dickens essays
  • Perception of Children in Victorian England: Great Expectations / The Chimney Sweeper
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Life for children in Victorian Era was very different than childhood in today’s world. Especially life for young children was very cruel. The texts, Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, and “The Chimney Sweeper”, by William Blake, deal with the idea of how children were perceived in Victorian Era. Stage one of the book, Great Expectations, is about a young boy, Pip, and the hardships he encounters in his childhood. The poem, “The Chimney Sweeper”, is about a small boy sold into the chimney sweeping business and a dream another chimney sweeper had. According to Great Expectations and “The Chimney Sweeper”, children in Victorian England were treated unfairly because they were looked down on by the adults in society.

In both Great Expectations and “The Chimney Sweeper”, the children were abused by their family. In the poem, the chimney sweeper’s father sold him at a young age for money. The young chimney sweeper says, “[M]y father sold me” (Blake). His father did not care for the young boy. The boy was sold at such a young age that his “tongue could scarcely cry” (Blake). This was evidently a very traumatic experience for the child because he grew up without being loved. In Great Expectations, Pip is physically and mentally abused multitudinous times throughout the first stage of the book especially by Mrs. Joe. Early in the book, when Pip placed the bread in his pants to save it for the convict, his sister got mad and “concluded by throwing [Pip]” (Dickens 7). This is a prime example of physical abuse. Mrs. Joe continues to mistreat and degrade Pip. An object she uses to beat Pip is the Tickler; the Tickler “was a wax-ended cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame” (Dickens 7). The reader can see that Mrs. Joe has anger issues and she takes it out by harassing Pip and Joe. The parent figures in these texts were very abusive.

In Great Expectations and “The Chimney Sweeper”, children were forced to do tasks that they did not want to do without complaints. An idea in “The Chimney Sweeper” is that if you do your job, no harm will come you to you. The young chimney sweeper says “[I]f all do their duty, they need not fear harm” (Blake). These kids needed this mindset to get through the day because the work they did was truly horrendous. The supervisors tried convincing the kids to work harder and not complain by telling them that if they were good boys, they would have “God for his father and never want joy” (Blake). In Great Expectations, Pip was forced to be an apprentice to Joe. Joe was a blacksmith, and blacksmithship was clearly not suited for Pip. Pip had higher, greater expectations for himself than a blacksmith. He wanted to become a gentlemen and strived hard to become so to impress Estella. Pip hated going to the forge; Pip was “dejected on the first-working day of [his] apprenticeship” (Dickens 107). Even though he did not like the job, he was an apprentice for many months without complaints to Joe. Children did not have the right to talk back or complain to their superiors in Victorian Era. Plus, Pip was also forced to go to Miss Havisham’s house. Mrs. Joe threatened Pip and “pounced on [him]” (Dickens 51) if he did not go to Miss Havisham. Pip’s opinion and thoughts did not matter. These ideas were not just present with Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook; it was present all over Victorian Britain. Children were treated poorly and had to listen to their elders.

The texts, “The Chimney Sweeper” and Great Expectations, show how some children are deprived from the basic necessities of living. In the poem, the chimney sweepers are very harshly treated. They do not have beds and the narrator says, “in soot I sleep” (Blake). The young chimney sweepers have to sleep on the same blanket they cleaned the chimneys with. They are covered in filth and are in hazardous living conditions. The children are very depressed by their situation and hate their jobs. They are only happy when they are “naked and white, [with] all their bags left behind” (Blake). The author is showing that the children are not happy which is a very important necessity in childhood especially. In Great Expectations, the book starts out with Pip “among the graves at the side of the church porch” (Dickens 2) visiting his dead parents to show that he wants to be loved. In stage one, Pip is lacking close friends and affection. In the book, it is not only Pip that is deprived of the basic necessities of living. Estella is also deprive of freedom. When Pip and Estella are conversing in stage two of Great Expectations about their relationship status, Estella says that she, “It’s is apart of Miss Havisham’s plans for me’” (Dickens 271). This displays how Estella is being oppressed, and Miss Havisham makes all decisions for her. Estella would like to have the right of freedom, but since she is a child she does not have those rights. These basic necessities of living were not provided for the children in Victorian Era.
In the texts, children were treated appallingly because they were viewed as a lower class by the adults in Victorian England. The children were unjustly by their family members. They were supposed to be obedient without complaining. Plus, they were destitute. Children are treated much differently today and for the better.

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