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Dickens's Treatment of Social Mobility and Education in Our Mutual Friend - Essay Example

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Dickens's Treatment of Social Mobility and Education in Our Mutual Friend

.... as public figures, Dickens and Thackeray were more than just novelists, and even more than just literary figures. Throughout his career, Dickens lent his backing to a number of reform causes: reform of prison conditions, emigration policy, education, the civil service". (Knezevic,2003)
Though Our Mutual Friend received mixed reviews at the time of its publication, it is known today as one of the best social novels by Dickens, whose concern for the ailments of his contemporary society was unflagging and remained undiminished till the end. Of course, through the comic genre Dickens has sought to vanquish the prevalent negatives of education and social mobility. His weapons of choice are humor and scarcely restrained sarcasm. But in this novel more than in any other, the attack is directed not so much at the logistical problems facing education and vertical social movement, but at the moral problems behind them: "Our Mutual Friend may be a searching attack on contemporary society, but it is one which is much more moral than Marxist". (Fielding, 1958)
All Dickensian novels include an aspect of social mobility, whether in the aspirations of Pip in Great Expectations, or the plight of Nicholas in Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens had always felt compelled to examine the phenomenon of social mobility in the Victorian times. And this is a compulsion he retained to the very end, in Our Mutual Friend. This could be because it was so much in evidence in the Victorian times and also because social mobility by its nature is very complex and fascinating,:

"Social mobility processes are integral to the very metabolism and core regulation of societies, both to their continuity and change over time. It is through such processes that basic social structures of class, status, and situs (branches of industry) are reproduced or transformed, emerge or disappear; that societies themselves move forward, consolidate or splinter, that institutions and enterprises recruit, that families launch their children, that individuals imagine and seek personal fulfilment in their lives".(Bertaux, Thompson, 1997)

Britain during Dickens' life and times was a rapidly evolving nation, the very first in the world to be industrialised, and its society was changing in pace with this industrialisation. Social mobility was not only possible in such times of flux, it actually came to be expected, and indeed, taken for granted. The prevalence of social mobility produced the likes of Podsnap, Headstone, Bella and Charles Hexam, each an individual shaped by the socio-economic forces, who Dickens satirised in an effort to highlight the evils of social mobility without at least a degree of moral application.

Dickens himself had moved up in life from having had to work in a shoe-black bottling company as a child, to becoming one of the most prominent personages in Victorian Britain. Social mobility and its various aspects were thus naturally reflected in a major part of his extensive body of work. But in Our Mutual Friend, Dickens takes his concerns regarding social mobility to a new level and examines it with great intensity, and also to quite a great extent:

"We see in Our Mutual Friend what Dickens thinks of wealth for its own sake and how the rich ...Show more


In our Our Mutual Friend Dickens took his critique of social mobility and the role of education in Victorian society further than in all his previous novels. This novel was written during a self-confessed wane in Dickens' creative prowess: "Although I have not been wanting in industry, I have been wanting in invention, and have fallen back with the book".(Letters of Dickens 29July, 1864)…
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Dickenss Treatment of Social Mobility and Education in Our Mutual Friend essay example
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