“I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair.”
Great expectations, the finding of one’s true identity, the journey from boyhood to adult maturity. In this novel, Pip encounters many characters that will end up having influence upon what he considers to be right and wrong, two of these characters being Joe (his brother-in-law) and Ms Havisham (his mentor), Dickens wrote these two characters to be similar but also rather contrasting. Dicken’s presents both characters distinctively.
Great expectations is based upon traditional Victorian life, the period of time when all boys aspired to be gentlemen and all ladies desired to be ladies. Our main character, Pip is tackling the troubles we still encounter up to this day. He is troubled with the traditional themes of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, love vs. hate, rich vs. poor, general decisions that will effect his outcome. This relevance attracts readers.
The character Joe is presented as Pip’s first male influence. A tender man with a big heart, although this seems to be his main weakness as he and Pip are constantly abused by the ironclad grip of Mrs Joe.
Joe shows his nobility by marrying Mrs Joe and taking Pip in too, when he was merely an orphan.
” And bring the poor little child, there’s room for him at the forge”
At this moment, Joe is portrayed as a humble superhero doing his duty to protect the innocent. Joe did not have to take Pip too as there is no biological bond between them and he is only a blacksmith, so he has barely enough to feed himself let alone two more mouths, but Joe grew him as his own, constantly nurturing and encouraging him. In return, Pip loved Joe because Joe was the only person who expressed love for him,
“but I loved Joe- perhaps for no better reason in those early days than because the dear fellow let me love him.”
Joe taught Pip the value of real work; although only a modest worker himself, Joe was happy not to live with riches, to be the lower class in society’ eyes and the end Pip learnt to value people like Joe as the real victors who inspired him.
Dickens’ hardly physically describes Joe; this could be because Pip’s relationship with Joe is so deep that it surpasses any physical appearance. Pip’s depictions of Joe’s clothes are that they are common for the working class man,
” Joe had got his coat and waistcoat and cravat off, and his leather apron on.”
Joe’s look was meek one, which reflects his personality. Although, Pip hardly describes Joe he makes mention of his eyes twice during chapter 6,
“Cried Joe, opening his blue eyes wide,””
“Joe’s blue eyes turned a little watery.”
Dickens’ describes Joe’s ‘Blue eyes’ as though they entice Pip and linger in his mind as a striking feature.
Joe’s language towards Pip is very informal and friendly; he constantly refers to Pip as ‘old chap,’ as though they are both on the same level. Joe helps Pip get out of trouble with Mrs Joe and is constantly supportive when Pip wants to learn to write, something Joe himself had never learnt. Joe confides in Pip making Pip himself feel guilty if he does not do the same with Joe.
“I dated a new admiration of Joe from that night. We were equals afterwards, as we had been before.”
In this quote, Joe had just explained to Pip why he took him in and why he puts up with Mrs Joe’s cruelty. Here we learn of his violent background, when Joe was a child his mother and himself were abused by his drunkard of a father. Joe’s father frequently hit his mother; this caused Joe to get no education, securing him a future in the blacksmith field of work. Joe was mentally affected by all of this and vowed himself never to raise his hand to a woman even that meant him being abused himself. This makes Joe seem spineless to the readers who would have read this book in the Victorian ages as it goes against the cultural context for that period of time for a man to be commanded by a woman. Men were supposed to have dominion over the house and take charge, but in this case, it is the other way around. Joe never would like to hurt a lady and because of his background, there is no grey area to Joe, he is a character who is either weak or strong, there is no middle to him.
” I’m dead afeered of going wrong in the way of not doing what’s right by a woman”
However, the way Joe chooses to handle his past also brings out his forgiving side; He forgives his father for doing such abusive things and moves on with his life, rather than dwell on the past,
“My father were that good in his hart, don’t you see?”
He teaches Pip to forgive and the need to learn. Joe wants to see Pip succeed in ways that he could not succeed himself and is therefore ecstatic when he learns that Pip will be going to spend time with Ms Havisham.
Ms Havisham is quite similar to Joe in many ways but the two also thoroughly diverse. Ms Havisham is Dickens’ stereotype of a Victorian spinster; she is bitter, cold, vengeful and heartless. In this novel, Pip seems to meet hard women and Ms Havisham is no exception. She is Pip’s first experience of someone in upper class and makes him feel quite ashamed of his poor heritage. Joe gave Pip a positive feeling about himself but Ms Havisham made him feel low and common.
” I was a common labouring-boy; that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling Knaves Jacks; that I was much more ignorant than I had considered myself last night, and generally that I was in low-lived bad way.”
Pip thinks this of himself after his first meeting with Ms Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella. Estella constantly refers to Pip as ‘boy’ although they are almost the same age, this language confirms Estella feels she is superior to Pip due to the fact she is richer.
Pip was invited to ‘play’ at Ms Havisham’s house, but in fact he was just a pawn in Ms Havisham’s scheme of revenge. He was brought to the house to fall in love with Estella so she could break his heart, just as someone had broken Ms Havisham’s. Ms Havisham treats Estella as a weapon, moulding her young heart to be hostile to affection, whereas, Pip has been brought up to be responsive to such emotions.
“Miss Havisham beckoned her to come close, and took up a jewel from her table, and tried its effect… ‘Your own, one day, my dear, and you will use it well'”
Ms Havisham is denoting she will use the necklace to break a boy’s heart. Ms Havisham wants to know hurt as she knows hurt, and Joe wants Pip to succeed how he could not succeed, the two have very different plans for Pip. Pip describes Estella as being insulting, but she knows no better after years in Ms Havisham’s care. This is also another difference between Ms Havisham and Joe; Pip was raised as Joe’s surrogate son and has turned out to be positive and content, however, Estella is raised as Ms Havisham’s surrogate daughter and has turned out to be as negative and disgruntled as Ms Havisham herself. The two children display the characteristics of their surrogate parents.
Pip had never seen such a mansion as he lived in a forge himself. When Pip steps into the property he does not like what he sees, the house is desolate, dark and depressing, hardly a place for children. Pip is used to a warm family atmosphere, it seemed to me at that moment that Ms Havisham is rich and lives in a big house, which is, empty and bleak, however Joe is poor, lives in a small forge, which is filled with love and family, the theme of money cannot buy happiness became apparent at this point.
Ms Havisham lives in Manor House also known as Saris House (Greek for enough), this is ironic as it is said ‘whoever had this house, could want nothing else’ but Ms Havisham wants so much more than material items, she’s still not happy.
“No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it.”
This is a description of the room Ms Havisham stayed in, the room was lighted with candles, Dickens describes the house as though it is a metaphor for Ms Havisham’s soul, the room reflects her heart and the daylight is love, none is to be seen.
“In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.”
Dickens’ describes Ms Havisham as though she’s a faded core. Pip illustrates Ms Havisham a good deal more than he does with Joe, this may be due to the fact she seems so bizarre to him that he cannot surpass the physical features.
“All of white… shoes were white… long white veil… hair was white”
Ms Havisham only wears white because she is still wearing her wedding outfit, she has not changed since the day she was due to be married, but was jilted by her lover Compeyson; this is another similarity Ms Havisham and Joe share both have been hurt in the past, however they both have very different ways of coping with these issues, Joe chooses to move on, whilst Ms Havisham stops all time and dwells on her past.
“that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine.”
Ms Havisham leaves everything in its original position as from the moment she found out she was not to be married. She wears white at the time to show her innocence (this was traditional for Victorian women) but now all white has faded to yellow and the innocence becomes vengeance, determined to hurt a male. Dickens compares her to a withered flower, no brightness. She speaks to Pip eerily which is quite a contrast from the informal tone which he was used to with Joe.
“what do I touch?’ ‘your heart.’ ‘Broken!’
She touches her heart as a gesture to signify how much pain she feels even after so many years. She emphasises the ‘broken!’ She is seen as Victorian spinster, unmarried and resentful.
Ms Havisham makes Pip feel ashamed of being poor yet Joe makes him proud, Joe represents money can’t buy love yet Ms Havisham represents money can buy material items. Later on throughout Pip’s life he will need a balance between both characters in order to prevail in the modern world.
I personally think Dickens presents the characters so differently to represent the two moral choices Pip could choose to follow. They are similar but the way they choose to make decisions differ significantly, this is due to the fact that they come from the two opposite sides of society.