Dickens's Great Expectations: Social Mobility

Lesson rationale

This lesson will explore this theme of social mobility through a reading of extracts from Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help (1859), the handbook that many young men in 19th-century Britain turned to in seeking advice as to how to better themselves. Students will look at these extracts alongside key moments in Pip’s life, and will also consider why Charles Dickens was so concerned with the theme of social mobility, drawing on what they know of the author’s early experiences.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • What are the defining qualities of a ‘gentleman’?
  • Why was the idea of social mobility such an important one in Victorian Britain?
  • What advice did Samuel Smiles give to aspiring gentlemen?
  • What are the key points in Pip’s quest to become a gentleman?
  • In what ways can the theme of social mobility be linked to Dickens’s early experiences?