Great Expectations

by: Charles Dickens

Money

1

[I]t had the appearance of being expensive, for the servants felt it was a duty they owed to themselves, to be nice in their eating and drinking, and to keep a deal of company down stairs.

Here, Pip describes the household of his tutor, Matthew Pocket. As with many of Pip’s descriptions of how the upper classes and their servants interact, here he sees irony: The servants are the ones who are truly in charge and thus live very well. The problem in the Pocket family is that Mrs. Pocket was raised to believe herself practically a noblewoman. She received no training in useful skills such as overseeing the household management, but she believes she is entitled to many servants. Thus the family lives well above its means.

2

These people hated me with the hatred of cupidity and disappointment. As a matter of course, they fawned upon me in my prosperity with the basest meanness.

Pip recognizes how Miss Havisham’s relatives dislike and resent him. They believe Miss Havisham is supporting Pip at the expense of their own potential inheritances. However, because Pip now has money, they treat him with far more respect and feigned admiration than they did when he was poor, like many others the “new” Pip encounters. Perhaps these people hope to ingratiate themselves in case Pip can help them in the future, or they may believe that simply having money makes someone admirable.

3

I had got on so fast of late, that I had even started a boy in boots—top boots—in bondage and slavery to whom I might have been said to pass my days.

Here Pip ironically describes the financial reality of being “in bondage” to the new servant he has hired. The servant is a young boy who is unskilled and basically useless, but who has to be dressed expensively and paid. Servants were among items gentlemen were expected to spend their money on in order to appear to be gentlemen, like fancy clothing, jewelry, a membership at a private club, or thoroughbred horses.

4

So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt. I could hardly begin but Herbert must begin too, so he soon followed.

Pip reveals that meeting all the expenses that go with appearing to be a gentleman has put him in a situation of living beyond his means, even with his far greater income. Unfortunately, his friend and roommate Herbert also goes into debt to share Pip’s lifestyle, as Herbert’s means are less than Pip’s. Ironically, a gentleman living in this time and place was far more likely to incur big debts than a lower-class person, because a bank would extend credit to a gentleman but not to a member of the lower class.

5

We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.

Pip reflects on his past and realizes that as young men with money, he and his friends were extremely irresponsible. They never learned how to spend their money wisely, to judge what was of good or bad value, or to live within their financial limits. As naïve young men, they were also taken advantage of by the people who sold them the “necessities” of their lifestyle. Here, Pip suggests that both buyer and seller were to blame for excessive spending that took place.