Dickens and Thackeray: Punishment and Forgiveness
Attitudes toward punishment and forgiveness in English society of the nineteenth century came, for the most part, out of Christianity. In actual experience the ideal was not often met, but in the literature of the time the model was important. For novelists attempting to tell exciting and dramatic stories, violent and criminal activities played an important role, and, according to convention, had to be corrected through poetic justice or human punishment. Both Dickens' and Thackeray's novels subscribed to the ideal, but dealt with the dilemma it presented in slightly different ways.
At a time when a great deal of attention has been directed toward economic production and consumption as the bases for value, Reed's well-documented study reviving moral belief as a legitimate concern for the analysis of nineteenth-century English texts is particularly illuminating.
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But he asserts that the happy ending that follows “ seems like a literary
confidence - trick which fools us into thinking that the issue of guilt has been
settled ” ( 130 ) . The narrative depends on compulsive , irrational character types
or " humors ...
The greatest historical guilt rests with the French aristocracy . The most obvious
thing about them in this novel is that they are self - indulgent , arrogant , exploitive
, and unjust . They cringe before their superiors and lord it over their inferiors .
Different variations of this attribution of guilt to Pip occur in Stange and Moynahan
, and also in Dorothy Van Ghent , The English Novel : Form and Function ( New
York : Holt , Rinehart and Winston , Inc . , 1953 ) and in Jack P . Rawlins , “ Great
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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