Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens first serialised in All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. The action of the story takes place from Christmas Eve, 1812, when the protagonist is about seven years old, to the winter of 1840. Great Expectations is written in a semi-autobiographical style, and is the story of the orphan Pip, tracing his life from his early days of childhood until adulthood. The story can also be considered semi-autobiographical of Dickens, like much of his work, drawing on his experiences of life, therefore the main theme of this novel is associated with the Victorian era; being a gentleman, crime, punishment, wealth and education.
Dickens was a social observer and would therefore base his novels on his concerns for the social laws. Great Expectations was an example of this as the narrative is based on Pip, the main character, and how his life changes. He comes into possession of a lot of money from an unknown benefactor, breaking the wall of social mobility and becomes a Gentleman.
The whole novel focuses on Pip looking back on his life, Furthermore most of the events experienced by Pip could also be Dickens’ past experiences as Dickens’ father was sent in to debtor’s prison so Dickens received no privileges and did a number of jobs in order to support himself. This is why Great Expectations is Charles Dickens most semi-autobiographical piece of writing.
The aim of the essay is to describe how Charles Dickens presentation of, the protagonist of the novel, Pip as a young boy contrasts to Pip as an Adult.
The key scenes in this novel will be written about for close analysis. The chosen key scenes are chapter 1-10 where Pip is growing up as a young child and has his first encounter with the convict and also goes to Satis house for the first time. The significance of these chapters is that it shows Pip’s childhood, his social class and also describes his first meeting with Magwitch and Estella, who both play a significant role in the novel. The central point of this essay will be focused on chapter 27 and then chapter 49. Chapter 27 shows Pip as a young adult who isn’t an innocent child anymore but neither is he a gentleman; he has turned into a snob so it’s clear he hasn’t matured yet and isn’t acting like a true gentleman.
This is very vital as it shows the way Pip has changed from his childhood ways. Chapter 49 shows Pip in conversation with Miss. Havisham and having to save her from a fire even thought she put him through a lot of sorrow. This key scene shows a glance of Pip’s maturity and shows he is acting like an adult as he deals with it appropriately. The last key scenes will be chapter 57 and 58. This is when Pip re-unites with Joe hoping to propose to Biddy. The significance of this is that Joe is going to get married to Biddy; therefore, his reaction to this news is very fascinating.
In the Victorian Era being an orphan was very common because of the harsh and disgusting working environments which led to people catching illnesses. Therefore, being an orphan meant they had no future, would be illiterate and would therefore lead a poor life. Pip was in a similar situation at the start of the book. They would usually be homeless or taken in by gentlemen to be their servants. Pip was brought up an orphan. The only living family member of Pip was his sister Mrs Joe Gargery who was married to Mr. Joe. In the first chapter Pip says “My first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones” This quotation emphasises the fact that Pip was an orphan who had never seen his parents. Charles Dickens uses this presentation of Pip’s childhood character so we automatically feel sympathy towards him on the very first page of the novel. This retains empathy towards Pip throughout the novel of his actions as we feel Pip is our good friend and we want to see him happy no matter what so here Charles Dickens reversed these points about a poor person and made social mobility possible for Pip.
From the first stage of Pip’s life, especially in the first chapters we see clearly that Pip is extremely innocent and hardly knows anything about the outside world. He is just a young boy who gets on with his life. Pip suffered abuse from many people. He was bought up ‘by hand’ by his sister Mrs Joe. This showed that Pip was brought up with discipline and wouldn’t dare to do a thing wrong as he would get punished for this. You could say this became a cycle for Pip; do something wrong and you get punished, do it right and you get spared. Mrs. Joe says to Pip “Be grateful boy to them which bought you up by hand” which shows that Mrs. Joe believes that getting raised by hand polishes a person, gives them manners and enables them to becomes a better a person even though Pip was afraid of her punishments and would sometimes get punished for asking a question. This Technique by Charles Dickens was very clever as when we saw Pip getting abused by Mrs. Joe or verbally abused by Mr. Pumblechook or even his love Estella, we would feel sympathy for Pip as he would be going through a lot of guilt and shame.
Charles Dickens uses pathetic fallacy effectively too the early stages of the novel. This was the first major event that happened to Pip in the Novel. Described by exaggerated descriptions suck as “The dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard……the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing”. Not only creates atmosphere but links to a fairy-tale motif. This quotation implies the dark setting to indicate that the weather in the marshes was terrible. The bad weather could be a sign a bad event is about to occur. The convict, who is described like a monster, “A fearful man all in coarse grey…… who limped, shivered and glared and growled” shows the scary image that the convict is given. Readers interpret this idea that the convict is a dangerous individual as the next quotation shows this, “You get me a file and wittles or I’ll have your heart and liver out”. As we saw that Pip rapidly became afraid of this figure and he did what ever he said when he could’ve just stayed home and reported the convict. He brought him food and a file which shows that when Pip was young he was almost pure hearted in a way. His fear for the convict was shown when he would do anything he asked for. His actions could be traced back to an earlier chapter when he would do whatever Mrs. Joe made him do. It’s though he got used to these actions and would become a recurring rule in his life.
Throughout these first Chapters of this section Pip is feeling a lot of fear and guilt because of the theft from his own family. As readers we feel this is enough for the young Pip and maybe he will start living happy again but we were so wrong. The police come around to get their hand cuffs fixed by Joe but Pip feels they have come to arrest him so this builds a lot of pressure on to Pip. On an evening Mr. Pumblechuk delivers the news that from now on Pip will be going to Satis house. This is where Pip first encounters and interacts with Estella. He has a deep love for Estella as soon as he lays his eyes on her but she criticizes him because of his social class and looks at him as inferior. This upsets Pip greatly as he starts crying and becomes angry of the social class he was born in to. This could be looked at as a reference of Charles Dickens’ own experience because he also didn’t like social classes.
The second key chapter of the novel for close analysis is Chapter 27. I’m going to focus on when Joe visits Pip in London. Pip was visited by Joe for the first time after his move to London in chapter 27. Biddy wrote Pip a letter saying “I write this by the request of Mr Gargery, to let you know that he is going to London….. To be allowed to see you”. This shows that Joe would like to meet Pip. “I received this letter by post……Not with Pleasure”. Pip’s reaction to reading the letter and hearing the news that Joe is coming to meet him is very fascinating as Charles Dickens uses this dialogue to notify the readers that Pip has turned into a snob. Clearly he isn’t very pleased and is not looking forward to it. This is snobbish behaviour and for the first time we witness Pip as a snob. This is probably due to class issues. “If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have done”. This quote indicates that Pip is very financially minded so much so that he has been blinded from the love of those who actually care for him.
At this point you would expect the readers to feel hatred for this foolish snob but the we know it is the older Pip telling us the story so we feel that he has matured because the older Pip wouldn’t be telling us then so we therefore once again feel sympathy which is recurring in this novel. It also shows how ashamed Pip is of Joe. However, this was typical of upper-class gentleman to behave in such a way with a lower-class man. This was a different attitude of Pip towards Joe compared to that when Pip was younger. At this stage in the novel, Pip thought Joe brought embarrassment to him whilst when he was younger Pip classed Joe as his best friend or even a father figure. This is definitely a contrast between the Child Pip and the snob because they both treat Joe very differently. Charles Dickens used Joe’s visit as a way to highlight Pip’s snobbery whereas when Pip was younger he revealed abuse and guilt as a way to feel sympathetic towards Pip and realise he is just a young innocent child. Pips character in this chapter is very different to what we would have liked to expect.
When Joe finally gets to Pips residence he is very nervous indeed. Joe starts to engage in dialogue with Pip “Pip, how AIR you, Pip?” Joe is trying to be high-class, He knows Pip has changed and wants to try and adapt so that he may speak to Pip. This indicates Joe feels a bit inferior to see Pip as a gentleman and he is a poor working-class person. However another way Joe felt nervous was when Pip asked to take his hat from him but Joe wouldn’t let him and he made a fool of himself. The reason Pip is acting like a snob with Joe is because he worries that Joe will disapprove of his opulent lifestyle and that Bentley Drummle will look down on him because of Joe, Joe’s visit in general was Strained and awkward.
“Pip dear old chap, life is made of every so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come” After their awkward meeting in London. Pip now a ‘gentleman’, has been uncomfortably embarrassed by both Joe’s commonness and his own opulent lifestyle. With this quotation Joe tells Pip that he does not blame him for the awkwardness of their meeting, but he blames it up instead to the natural divisions of life. Joe arrives at a wise and resigned attitude toward the changes in Pip’s social class that have driven them apart, and he shows his essential goodness and loyalty by blaming the division not on Pip but on the unalterable nature of the human condition.
Joe tells a few home truths such as Estella wants to see him, This suddenly makes Pip feel more kindly towards Joe but Joe is long gone before Pip can improve his snobbish behaviour. Joe’s final words to Pip upon departure were very emotional with many emotive language used to emphasise the amount of love shown by Joe towards Pip. “He touched me gently on the forehead, and went out”. This quotation which is towards the end of chapter 27 after Joe’s departing speech is said by older Pip. The strong bond between Pip and Joe is broken. However this is from Pip’s point of view. Joe is still a caring ‘father-like’ figure towards Pip as shown later in Chapter 57. The readers in Chapter 27 feel sympathy for Joe instead of Pip because it’s as if you raise a puppy and when it’s grown up it bites you. This is how we can link the relationship between Pip and Joe at this point. The main reasons for the way Pip acted the way he did in Chapter 27 were so he wanted to become a upper-class gentleman to attract Estella and Joe coming in the way would ruin everything for him.
However, Pip changes greatly in the third section of the novel. Pip was portrayed across as a thoughtful and mature character compared to who he was in the middle section of the narrative. It was common in the genre of Victorian literature to reform a character after an illness or an event, This technique applied to Pip in this narrative. Charles Dickens used this technique many times. Another example from a different novel of Charles Dickens was “A Christmas Carol” when the character “Scrooge” changed after being in contact with a few ghosts. Throughout the whole novel Charles Dickens was portraying the changes in Pip’s life such as growing up as a working class and having to work from a young age. This was similar to Pip’s circumstances until he came into possession of money. This showed in this novel that money can change a person a lot, physically and mentally.
In Chapter 49 we see a hint of a true gentleman in Pip. Pip visits Miss. Havisham, who feels unbearably guilty for having caused Estella to break his heart. Sobbing, she clings to Pip’s feet, pleading with him to forgive her. He acts kindly toward her, and then goes for a walk in the garden. There he has a morbid fantasy that Miss. Havisham is dead. He looks up at her window just in time to see her bend over the fire and go up in flames. Pip rushes in to save her which is a sign of maturity and like a true gentleman. Miss. Havisham lives and Pip stays with her after the doctors have departed. If he was still the snob he was he probably would have walked off and let her rot in her own misery but he went and risked his own life to save her.
Pip proves him self even more from the time when he is reunited with his benefactor, Magwitch and is told that the money came from Magwitch. He tries to save Magwitch from being arrested when he tries to help him flee away from London. To his very moment of death, Pip is there next to Magwitch accompanying him and helping him. Even though Pip has been afraid of the convict and at the beginning showed signs of arrogance, slowly matured and started to show love for this ‘father-like’ figure Magwitch is to Pip. From all 3 stages of the novel it is clear when pip is the innocent child, the snob or the gentleman because of the way Charles Dickens portrays them.
In conclusion, therefore the reason of writing this novel was to prove the fact that being a gentleman was not only attributed to having wealth but rather having good qualities. Also that being given wealth does not make you a gentlemen, rather it will be more respectable if the money was earned by yourself; emphasising the fact of becoming a ‘self-made man’. He represented Pip as an example of a gentleman with snobbish behaviour in the middle section of the novel and was portrayed as a gentleman of good nature at the end of the narrative. The fairy tale motif allows the writer to distribute rewards and punishments.
Joe was an example of what a true gentleman should be like throughout the novel with his good personality and character even though he did not have wealth and was illiterate. Also the reappearance of the convict in Pip’s life acts as a major turning point and forces Pip to return to his youthful compassionate ways because the arrival of Magwtich maybe brings loads of memories to Pip and he realises he cant run away from his past, he will always be the same Pip. Dickens clearly achieved his point in this novel by making people realise that social class is a horrible thing and wealth and fancy clothes only makes u worse, it’s the personality and kindness that makes you a gentleman.