The novel Great Expectations is a first-person narrative, ostensibly by Philip Pirrip who as a child was renamed Pip. The novel is also a bildungsroman, which means that the main theme of the novel is the education and experiences of one person, in this case Pip. Throughout the novel Pip comes into contact with four main women, all of whom have a significant influence on Pip, his life, and emotional feelings. Each of these women is portrayed in different ways throughout the novel as aggressive and unloving, fantastic and eccentric, cold and beautiful, and patient and warm-hearted.
It is these women and their influences on Pip that cause his emotional development and thus his problems. In the novel we are first introduced to Mrs. Joe, Pip’s sister and effectively his surrogate mother, as Pip is an orphan from a young age. She is presented as antagonistic and violent towards her husband and Pip. She is “… hard and heavy handed, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me.
” She often beats Pip with a cane she has playfully nicknamed tickler, described by Pip as “a wax ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my body”. When Mrs.
Joe first enters the novel her initial reaction is to beat Pip for being out late. She treats him as an inferior. She shows no compassion for Pip as her brother as she refers to him as a “monkey” whilst stamping her foot.
These acts of brutality and cruelty towards Pip are frequent throughout the first part of the novel. Pip knows that her violence towards him is unfair: “I had known, from the age I could speak, that my sister in her capricious and violent coercion, was unjust to me. ” The phrase ‘by hand’ usually implies love and care, but in Mrs. Joe’s case means the very opposite.
She is proud of having brought Pip up “by hand” and this confirms she has no guilt or remorse about beating Pip. Her main influence on Pip is through this violence and abuse, which is primarily responsible for Pip’s insecurity and guilt. Ultimately she makes Pip sensitive, as he says: “My sister’s upbringing made me sensitive. ” It is because of Pip’s sensitivity that he is vulnerable to Estella’s malice and verbal abuse. We do know that Pip is terrified of Mrs. Joe. A clear and obvious example of this is early on in the novel when Pip has stolen a pork pie for Magwitch the convict. The terror that Pip feels as Mrs.
Joe goes to get the pork pie seems to match the fear that he felt in the presence of Magwitch: ” I have never been absolutely certain whether I uttered a shrill yell of terror, merely in spirit, or in the bodily hearing of the company. ” Mrs. Joe isn’t a good-looking woman and Pip describes her early on in the novel as “having a prevailing redness of skin, that I sometimes used to wonder if she washed herself with a nutmeg grater. ” So even Mrs. Joe’s appearance is unloving and harsh which should have no effect on her actions but this is the manner in which she behaves. Another example of Mrs.
Joe’s ruthless conduct in the novel is when Pip attempts to hold some bread back for Magwitch and is accused of “bolting his food” which surely cannot be considered a serious offence. However Mrs. Joe brutally forces Pip to consume a pint of foul tar water: ” Mrs. Joe held my head under her arm, as a boot would be held in a boot jack,” says Pip. This shows her vicious manner and sheer brutality towards Pip. Once more she even manages to discomfort Joe by making him have half a pint of the foul mixture whilst he has committed no wrong. Throughout the novel Mrs. Joe’s real name is never revealed and she is always referred to as Mrs.
Joe after her husband Joe Gargery. This is almost as if she belongs to Joe and he is the dominant partner in the relationship. This is quite ironic as it is Mrs. Joe who controls the relationship and is dominant over her husband by using a sharp and abusive tongue and her violent nature. The fact the Mrs. Joe is missing a first (Christian) name also makes her seem a little inhuman. Mrs. Joe is a very proud and hardworking housekeeper. She constantly wears an apron, as a reproach against Joe to show is she continually doing housework and chores and make him thinks she works hard.
By this she tries to make Pip and Joe guilty: “It’s bad enough to be a blacksmith’s wife (and him a Gargery), without being your mother. ” These incessant tactics to make Pip feel guilty and unwanted would be hard for a young child to deal with and be depressing. This guilt imposed by Mrs Joe lies heavily on his conscience and this sense of guilt remains with him for much of the story. Pip also knows she does not want him and is unloved: “All the times she had wished me into my grave”. The emotional stress this would have on a young child, that his surrogate mother does not love him, is unimaginable.
Another example in the novel of Mrs. Joe’s heartless and unloving attitude towards Pip is when Pip is called to see Miss Havisham for the first time. Mrs. Joe doesn’t care about Pip and his feelings about going to see Miss Havisham; all she thinks and cares about is what this visit could do for her financially. It is these reactions and thoughts from Mrs. Joe and Pumplechook that make Pip believe Miss Havisham is his benefactor: “Then he and my sister would just pair off in such nonsensical speculations about Miss Havisham, and about what she do with me and for me…
” Despite Mrs. Joe’s cruelty and violence towards Pip and Joe, after she has been struck by Orlick with a convict’s iron and is on the verge of death her last three words are “Joe pardon Pip. ” So she asks forgiveness and shows sorrow towards Pip at the end. So in her last few moment of the novel she is final presented as human. Mrs. Joe is the first of the four major women in Pip’s life. As a result of this her influence on Pip is the strongest as when children are young they are fickle and their opinions and beliefs can be moulded easily by those closest to them.
Miss Havisham is another of the main women in Pip’s life. She presides in isolation over her macabre home, Satis House. She is surrounded by images of decay and death, which suggest the kind of influence she has on Pip and Estella. In Pip she instils expectations, which are cruelly false, and comes close to ruining his life before realising the enormity of her actions. She no longer lives in a world that resembles reality as shown by the stopped clocks, decomposed wedding feast and her mouldering wedding dress. She has turned into this strange and cold character because her heart was broken.
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