Regardless of the two novels differences in location and time “Great Expectations” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” have many connections in their storylines. The two texts are bildungsroman in their style. This means that the two stories are written from the perspective of an adult looking back on their childhood.
The storyline of “To Kill A Mockingbird” confronts many prejudicial issues of the time (mid 1930s) and setting (Maycomb County, Alabama). The main ‘evil’ confronted in the novel is racism, with the trial of Tom Robinson. Tom is a young black man charged with the rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Even though Atticus Finch proves Mr. Robinson’s innocence in court, the conscience of the town, steeped in injustice, violence and hypocrisy, finds him guilty of a crime he could not have committed.
“Great Expectations” is the story of Philip Pirrip ‘Pip’ and follows his life from the age of seven to twenty-four. Pip helps a convict, Magwitch, to escape the law by supplying him with “a file and wittles”, this later proves gainful because Pip is rewarded with his dream, to become hierarchy and win the heart of Estella, but Miss Havisham wishes her to break his heart.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is told from the perspective of a maturing Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, but only covers a four year period from Scouts being six until she becomes ten. Of the two narrative characters, Pip and Scout, Scout enjoys a more privileged way of life with the lawyer’s wage provided by her father Atticus, whereas Pip, an orphan, lives in poverty with his sister and her husband, Joe. Scout also benefits from the presence of their family cook, Calpurnia, and the brotherly love of Jem. This creates a loving and secure family environment for her to be raised in. In “Great Expectations”, Pip lives in the care of his sister who beats and mistreats him and is without the family love that Scout enjoys. However he does enjoy the care of Joe, who looks after him and undermines his sister’s punishments.
Both Joe and Atticus are portrayed as a representation of “the true gentleman”. They both illustrate forgiveness and love in their daily attitudes to other people. They are both morally aware of their duties to the other characters in both books. They mutually have the same opinion on the judging of others and believe that one should not judge another until you “climb into their skin and walk around in it”. Atticus and Joe both teach the younger characters in the books how to be courageous and that courage is not “a man with a gun in his hand.”
Both men are at first a cause of embarrassment to the children. Scout and Jem feel that Atticus is too old so cannot play the games that other fathers play with their children, “Atticus can’t do anything”. It takes the shooting of the ‘mad’ dog, Tim Johnson, to change her mind and make her respect him. However Scout is always ready to defend him if he is criticised. Joe embarrasses Pip because he thinks Joe “is rather backward in some things…. In his learning and his manners.” Biddy (a friend of Pip) defends Joe at this time. Pip remains on these terms until toward the end of the book, when Pip is taken ill, and Joe becomes his carer and Pip is dependant upon him once more. As Pip becomes stronger, Joe starts to become more subservient and this saddens Pip.
The differences in the education of the narrative characters are apparent. Atticus is an educated lawyer and so Scout absorbs information due to Atticus reading to her from a very early age, “reading was something that just came to me”. In contrast Pip “struggled through the alphabet as if it had been a bramble bush”. Obviously Atticus aids Scout in her learning, whereas Pip offers to help Joe to read and write when he has learned himself.
Pip’s desires of becoming a gentleman are initially inaccessible due to his poverty stricken upbringing. “I had seen how rich people lived, I wanted to live like them”. Being an orphan means that Pip has no reliable source of income.
These differences would, at first glance, appear to describe two completely different books. With the differences there are also similarities.
The texts both introduce a figure of fear. In “Great Expectations” this person is Magwitch and in “To Kill A Mockingbird” he is Boo Radley. Both these characters at first seem frightening but in the end they save the narrative characters in some way. Magwitch assists Pip in a financial sense and Boo Radley physically aids Scout. These helpings out come about as a reward for earlier actions. Pip helps Magwitch escape with the fetching of a file and Scout defends Boo’s actions and visits him in the period of the trial.
In both novels the writer puts the readers ethical standings to the test. The law is a large part of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and Pip becomes a lawyer in “Great Expectations”. In both texts the law differs from the typical social views of the time.
In both novels the reader is persuaded to feel that the law is too harsh on both Magwitch and Tom Robinson. Magwitch is banned from the country and because he returns, is sentenced to death despite the fact that he has achieved lawful success.
Mrs Dubose and Miss Havisham play a similar role in both books. They are both spiteful to the leading characters. Mrs Dubose says nasty things to Jem and Scout about their father whenever they pass by her door. While Miss Havisham causes Pip to be unhappy, by using him for her revenge on men. She was left standing at the altar on her wedding day.
A further comparison between the books is the presence of a building of some significance to the main characters. In “To Kill A Mockingbird” this building is the Radley place. “Rain rotten shingles” and “a swept yard that was never swept” give the impression of neglect to the appearance of the house. “The shutters were closed on Sundays” and “Oak trees kept the sun away” both create the image that the owners of the house want to keep the world at bay. In “Great Expectations” the building in question is The Salis House, Miss Havishams house, it is described as “of old brick and dismal”. The courtyard has “grass growing in every crevice”. The house is also run down, “some of the windows were walled up and those that remained were rustily barred”, again the feeling of abandonment and the keeping away of outsiders.
The two buildings are of different interest to the characters however. When Pip goes to Miss Havishams house he is sent for. He does not go there unless he is asked to. Alternatively Scout, Jem and Dill (Their friend who comes in the summer months) visit the Radley place out of curiosity tinged with fear and excitement due to the mystery-shrouded house.
Another comparison can be drawn between Compeyson and Bob Ewell. These are the true villains in the stories.
Magwitch once worked for Compeyson, who, it transpires, is the man who jilts Miss Havisham. The two men are convicted of “putting stolen notes in circulation”. When they get to court Magwitch notices “what a gentleman Compeyson looked… And what a common sort of wretch I looked.” Compeyson puts all the blame onto Magwitch. When both men escape from the prison ship, Magwitch finds Compeyson and ‘beats him up’, but again Compeyson manages to convince people that “he was made half wild by me (Magwitch) and my murderous intentions.” So Magwitch is sentenced to life while Compeyson’s “punishment was light”. While Pip and his friends are trying to get Magwitch out of the country Compeyson brings officers to re-arrest Magwitch. Both convicts topple over-board and the reader has to assume Compeyson is killed.
The father of the rape victim, Mayella, Bob Ewell and family are described as “living as guests of the county.” He has numerous offspring and they live off the refuse of the town. He also gets away with hunting out of season because the towns people feel sorry for his children. He makes out he is better than the Negro, Tom Robinson. Scout describes him on the witness stand as a “red little rooster”. Tom Robinson, on trial for the rape of Mayella Ewell, maintains that it is she who accosts him and the Bob Ewell is angry with her, saying “you god-damn whore I’ll kill ya.” After the trial, although Tom is found guilty, the reader is left in little doubt of Ewell’s part in the attack. Toward the end of the book, Ewell carries out a vendetta against Atticus and Tom’s widow.
At the climax of the book someone follows and attacks Jem and Scout, braking Jem’s arm. When everything calms down Bob Ewell is found “lyin’ on the ground… With a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs.” Again there is a question as to whether he fell on the knife or whether he was stabbed.
There is a clear character development of the two story-telling characters. Pip learns, at the end of the book, that social status is not everything, but being true to oneself is the true way to happiness. Scout is brought up by Atticus to see that racial prejudices are immoral and ethnic minorities should not be segregated from the rest of society. Scout also matures in her attitude and dress-sense. She is, at the beginning of the book, a tomboy, but grows to become a lady. As that lady she tells the story of her childhood.
Victorian readers of “Great Expectations” would have had their views of the class ‘system’ put on trial. They would have seen how a young boy struggles from extreme poverty to become a gentleman. They would have seen the restrictions put in place, by people like themselves, on the poorer classes.
The two books reach a similar conclusion, the recognition that prejudicial attitudes towards either race or social status are unjustified.