Criticism of Great Expectations often portrays Joe, a gentle blacksmith, as important to the novel's definition of a true gentleman. While this is understandable, Joe plays a more important role in the novel's discussion of the contemporary literature of success to propagate the ideal of the self-made man. This role is as a wise fool and truth-teller, through whom Dickens highlights a contradiction in the literature's messages about the social mobility of working-class people. This contradiction arises as a result of the self-interested desire of the middle classes to bolster their advantageous position in the hierarchical Victorian society, and Dickens censures this self-interestedness. However, Dickens is also aligned with contemporary success stories in their denial of social climbing of the working classes because he believed that working-class social ambitions had the potential to disturb Victorian class society and his own gentlemanly identity. While he advocates a static stratified society, at the same time he wishes to ameliorate the status quo of Victorian class society and address the way it disadvantages the working classes. The means for social betterment proposed in Great Expectations involve the moral betterment of gentlemanly middle-class people.

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