Recently, I have been studying for the SAT. One thing I have noticed about the SAT verbal section is that their passages the test-writers test you on are very insightful or full of meaning. Well, two days ago, I stumbled on an excerpt from a novel while practicing the SAT. The only thing the test said about this novel was that it was by a British author. So I decided to search up where this passage came from, and it turns out that this passage was from the novel Great Expectations, written by the famous Charles Dickens.
To see the excerpt, download pdf here: Great Expectations Excerpt.
So for today, I will write about this excerpt, and I will attempt to analyze it.
In the first paragraph, one gets a background of the speaker. One can assume that he holds a distinguished and very possibly rich position, as mentioned as to how people react to him and of him saying, “my position was a distinguished one.” Yet, besides his status in society, one also gets something even more important: his attitude. In the paragraph, the speaker speaks in a way as if he was enjoying having people notice him because of his status, even emphasizing on the little details like “as if they had forgotten something.” It is because of this attitude that brings him trouble in this passage. Near the end of the first paragraph, however, he mentions “I was not at all dissatisfied with [his position], until Fate threw me in the way of … Trabb’s boy.” Here, one sees a foreshadowing of Trabb’s boy being the main problem and more significantly, the cause of a change of heart.
Before we continue on, I would like to first analyze the outside context of the story. First of all, who was Charles Dickens? Charles Dickens was a famous author, who grew up poor and through diligence and hard work ended up successful. Many of his famous works include The Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, which all dealt with the poor. Perhaps the reason for this was partially because of his indigent past, but mostly for the fact that he was a social reformer, advocating for good social changes. In a sense, he wrote his stories to describe and show wealthy and not-poor readers the conditions of the poor. He wanted them to sympathize with the helpless and try to win their help.
With this outside-context information, one can make a few assumptions. Since Dickens wanted the wealthy to sympathize, he had to write from their point of view, as in the case with this passage. In a sense, the speaker in this excerpt symbolizes the wealthy during his time as a whole. The gap between wealthy and poor was actually pretty big during Dicken’s time, partly due to the rich’s indifferent attitude towards the needy. So, just as Dickens wanted the rich to have a change of heart, so does he plan to have the speaker here have his own change of opinion.
Now onto the second paragraph. The speaker mentions Trabb’s boy disrupting his “progress,” which implies that the narrator thinks of his stroll as a kind of procession. In the next sentence, he decides to approach him with a supercilious attitude, so as to “most likely quell [Trabb’s boys’] evil mind.” Here, Trabb’s boy resembles the attitude of the poor. When the speaker decides to use the arrogant attitude, Dickens is saying that the rich approach the poor with a similar kind of attitude, thinking wrongly that it will make the poor feel humbled and low. Yet, Dickens shows the reader, that this is not so, as symbolized when Trabb’s boy pretends to be frightened and humbled. One sees that the poor, symbolized by Trabb’s boy, will at first only begin to resent this kind of superiority shown by the rich. But, notice that this is just “at first.”
The next paragraph, Trabb’s boy appears again, to the narrator’s “inexpressible terror, amazement, and indignation.” The narrator was not expecting Trabb’s boy to appear again; in the same way, the rich during Dicken’s time probably assumed that this poverty issue was only a temporary thing and of no important concern. Yet just like the narrator was surprised, so as Dickens implies will the wealthy be amazed and terrorized that this poverty issue will keep on coming up and is unavoidable. Why was the narrator in terror? Because, as the excerpt shows, the second time Trabb’s boy comes along, he mocks and humiliates the rich narrator even more. Similarly, the more the rich keep on ignoring this poverty issue that keeps on coming up, the more resentful the poor will be against the rich, which can always result in the unimaginable worse. In the second encounter, besides the narrator getting even more embarrassed, one sees a difference in that there is “a knot of spectators,” who laughed along while Trabb’s boy was mocking the rich speaker. They were not laughing at the boy, but rather at the narrator himself. Dickens tries to tell his targeted wealthy audience that the commoner too, represented by the spectators, are also resenting against them.
Trabb’s boy appears for the third and final time in the last paragraph, and when the poor resent against the upper class for a supposedly final time, it is usually a violent rebellion. The speaker begins by describing Trabb’s boy as “wearing the blue bag in the manner of my great-coat… accompanied by a company of delighted young friends.” Trabb’s boy is attempting to imitate the wealthy narrator. Since the boy symbolizes the poor, one can derive from this that the poor is in a sense also attempting to imitate the rich, thereby showing that the poor passionately desires and envies what the upper class has. Dickens also tells us through the group of friends that it will not be just one poor guy revolting, but a whole mass of them. Later in the paragraph, the boy mocks the narrator with the words, “Don’t know yah!” Remember from the first paragraph that the narrator’s initial purpose was to make Trabb’s boy humbled and lowered. Rather, as those three words show, the opposite happens, where Trabb’s boy aka the poor is asserting equality and perhaps even superiority towards the narrator aka the rich. In the end, the passage culminates into the boy and his friends chasing the wealthy speaker out of town; Dickens is implying similarly the poor will do the same thing too.
All in all, the lesson from the passage here to the rich is to be nicer to the poor. In the passage, the speaker has this arrogant attitude towards the townspeople and his result is being kicked out by them. Dickens hoped that the rich would not also make the same mistake of being arrogant towards the needy, or else the poor will also rebel, too, and perhaps on an even worse scale.