Chapter 8 can be seen as a pivotal chapter in “Great Expectations” because it is a chapter in which a lot of important changes happen and Pip has his eyes opened to what he might become. Until that point he has lived a simple life, being looked after by his sister and her husband who is a blacksmith.
In Chapters 1-7 the grown-up Pip remembers the experiences of his life as a young boy in the marshes. Dickens uses the adult Pip to emphasise how simple the young Pip was. He uses language to make the memories funny, such as when Pip is talking about how he misunderstood the meaning of ‘Wife of the Above’ on his parents’ gravestone or when he exaggerates the terror that he and Joe lived under with the violent tyrant Mrs Joe. He gives a great importance to the ‘Tickler’ and goes into great detail as to how both Joe and Pip are afraid of it. The use of the word ‘Tickler’ is an example of Dickens’ use of irony, particularly in his choice of names. In this case the word ‘tickle’ is more or less the opposite of what it is really used for. Dickens also makes fun of Mrs Joe always talking about how she brought him up ‘by hand’. By always repeating it he makes it seem comic.
Another trick Dickens uses to show the simple lives of the village folk is to write what they say phonetically copying their incorrect grammar, pronunciation and accents. When Joe is talking about his dead father he says:
‘Whatsume’er the failings on his part, remember reader he were that good in his hart’.
He also sometimes pokes fun at Joe’s incorrect use of words -‘purple leptic’ instead of epileptic.
When Joe is helping Pip with his reading it is obvious that he can hardly read himself, ‘Why here’s a J,’ said Joe, ‘and a O equal to anythink’.
Dickens use of language in Chapter 8 makes it seem to be a pivotal chapter. Pip though always uses ‘proper’ English so that when he goes to Satis House and meets Miss Havisham and Estella it is as if he is in a place where he might one day belong and feel at home. When he is talking to Miss Havisham, for example, he speaks very formally when he says: ‘I think I should like to go home’. This is a world that he can cope with and aspire to.
Satis House itself is important in the novel. It is used by Dickens as a symbol of everything that Pip is not when he first goes there and its appearance in Chapter 8 suggests that this chapter might be seen as a pivotal point where things will never be the same again afterwards. The house is bigger and grander than anything Pip has seen before – it has a courtyard, gates and a brewery attached to it. The people around him such as Mr Pumblechook and his sister are in awe of it and its owner:
‘everybody for miles around had heard of Miss Havisham’.
He is washed, scrubbed and dressed as if he is going somewhere special where not just anybody is allowed to go:
‘I was soaped and kneaded and towelled and thumped…I was put into linen of the stiffest character’.
When he gets there it is like some kind of exclusive club; he is let in but Pumblechook is not and he is ‘much discomfited’. Pip is intimidated and wonders how he should acquit himself ‘in the house of a lady’. On the other hand, the fact that it is no longer used and is dilapidated also gives a hint that maybe things aren’t as grand as they seem and that there is something rotten about it and everything it represents. The fact that the money to build the house came from a brewery and alcohol also makes it seem a bit immoral and shady. Dickens is maybe using it as a metaphor to show that not only is its owner old and run-down but so too is the social class she represents.
Like Mrs Havisham’s heart the house is protected by bars and locked gates. The windows have also been bricked up. This is symbolic of Miss Havisham’s rejection of daylight and life but it is also a suggestion by Dickens that there is an attempt to pay less tax. Between 1696 and 1851 houses were taxed depending on how many windows they had. This shows the tight-fistedness of Miss Havisham and is maybe a comment by Dickens on the upper classes in general. Dickens’ view in many of his novels is that wealth corrupts. However much money and wealth they have, they want to protect it at all costs and this makes them as bitter and empty as Miss Havisham’s life. This chapter could be pivotal as it lays out all these dilemmas and battles that Pip will have to face. Are money and the trappings of wealth more important than being generous and honest?
The name of the house itself suggests that this chapter is important but maybe not pivotal. The word ‘Satis’, as Estella explains to Pip, means satisfaction. Dickens has named the house ironically because despite having money Estella and Miss Havisham have nothing like satisfaction and Pip gains no satisfaction from its residents. Estella in fact tells Pip that the people who named the house,’ must have been easily satisfied’. He uses the name to give the reader an idea of all the problems and dissatisfaction that Pip will go through in the rest of the book.
Dickens also uses his description of the weather to make a point. A cold wind is howling through the abandoned buildings and:’the cold wind seemed to blow colder there’.
It is as if an era is coming to an end and the upper classes are under pressure – the new middle classes are questioning the privileges of the few and industrialisation and is making change inevitable.
This is continued inside Satis House where it is as if time has stood still:
‘her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine and a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine’.
Miss Havisham is still wearing the wedding dress from the day she was abandoned by her fiancï¿½:
‘the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress’. Dickens uses her physical description to show her emotional death. Her clothes are falling apart and everything is rotting away. At the end of the chapter Dickens uses the imagery of the body hanging from the gibbet to show the horror of Miss Havisham’s character:
‘I saw a figure hanging by the neck… the face was Miss Havisham’s’.
Another reason why this chapter is important, if not pivotal, is that Dickens introduces Miss Favisham who Pip thinks might be his unknown benefactor in a lot of the novel. She pays for his apprenticeship and then when some mysterious stranger is going to pay for him to become a gentleman he thinks:
‘Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale’.
The fact that she is described so negatively in this chapter gives clues that this might not be as straightforward as it looks.
Estella and Miss Havisham are the first ‘upper-class’ people that Pip meets and, appearing in Chapter 8, they are very different from the characters in the first seven chapters. When Mrs Joe first mentions to Pip that he has been invited to Mrs Havisham’s house she is described as ‘an immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house’. Their life is completely cut off from the world in which Pip has lived until then. From Chapter 7 we are told that she lives in ‘seclusion’. In fact, as Miss Havisham herself says, she has not even seen the light of day since before Pip was born. She is almost described as being of the living dead, ‘waxwork and skeleton’ that ‘seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me’. This again suggests something sinister about her and that she is not someone to be admired and looked up to. Her name maybe suggests that there is something false or a sham about her despite her high status.
Estella is a big influence on Pip’s life and because she appears in Chapter 8 this makes it important if not pivotal. Dickens uses her name to emphasise the role that he has in mind for her in the novel. ‘Stella’ is the Latin for star and she is a kind of bright light who Pip follows throughout the novel. His ‘great expectations’ are inspired by her. He partly feels that he needs to become a ‘gentleman’ to be worthy of her love. At the end he realises that the light she symbolised was a false one and that there is more to being a gentleman than just money and status – but it takes him a long time to realise this. You can also say that a star isn’t something you can have – it isn’t human and is ultimately cold and untouchable. It isn’t just her name that suggests that she will be a kind of guiding light or beacon. In his descriptions of her in the house Dickens develops this theme. She walks through the dark house guiding them both with a candle, ‘and still it was dark and only the candle lighted us’. Dickens seems to want us to see her as both beautiful and unattainable. Just before Pip leaves the house he says, ‘I saw her pass …and go out …as if she were going out into the sky ‘.
It is during this chapter that Pip’s expectations for his future appear and where he first becomes aware of how the upper classes and ‘gentlemen’ might live. This chapter gives him a reference point that he can judge his life by and so it is very important in the story. He begins to see how he has lived before and his background very negatively. Dickens suggests that this is mainly because of his interaction with Estella. She comments on the way he dresses and the way he speaks and he becomes aware that he is ‘common’. She says about him, ‘what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots’. Also during ‘Beggar my neighbour’ she calls him common for calling jacks knaves. The name of the game itself is important because it is like the selfish code that she relishes and that he lives by before he realises what being a real gentleman means. By having Pip choose the game Dickens gives the reader a hint of how Pip will start to live his life, how selfish he will become and the experiences that he will go through. The fact that he is just copying Estella’s opinions of him show that he is still childish and has a long way to go in his life. This shows that while Chapter 8 is important it might not be the pivotal chapter.
The path that Pip wants to follow towards social improvement was one that was becoming possible for lots of people at the time and was something that happened to Dickens himself. He was born very poor and even spent some of his life in the poor house but through his writing he became relatively comfortable and well-known. He never forgot his time spent there and all his life he was a campaigner against social injustice and inequality. ‘Great Expectations’ is not the most autobiographical of his novels but the gain and loss of money and its effect on people is a major theme that reflects his own life
In some ways, though, Chapter Eight is not the most pivotal point. Perhaps he does not start to make choices and to influence his future, but maybe Dickens just confirms what we already know about Pip. He reacts to Estella in Chapter 8 in the same way that he reacts to his elder sister in Chapters 1-7. His sister makes him feel small and frightened and so does she. At the end of Chapter 8 we are left wondering if Pip has really begun to change or whether Pip in his immaturity is simply adopting what Estella says.
As well as Chapter 8 there are other chapters that are just as important in the novel and possibly more so. Chapter 1 is very important as it is here that Pip meets Magwitch, the convict he helps in the marshes, who eventually turns out to be his real benefactor. In Chapter 39 he says to Pip:
‘it was a recompense to me to know in secret that I was making a gentleman’
Despite his rough appearance and manners he is a far more genuine and admirable character than his former partner Compeyson who is a gentleman but completely corrupt.
Perhaps Chapter 3 is even more important as a pivot in the novel as it is here that Pip makes the decision to help Magwitch and calls him ‘my friend’. As well as setting up all that comes afterwards in terms of the different relationships it shows the good side of Pip that is hidden when he is trying to become a gentleman. Magwitch later tells Pip:
‘You acted noble, my boy. …Noble, Pip! And I never forgot it!’.
This is developed later in the novel when Pip as a young man decides to help Magwitch to escape when he has been sentenced to death. It is not just a young boy but a man who can choose what he wants to do.
The last chapter of the novel concentrates on Pip and Estella and makes you think that perhaps Dickens wants to think that their relationship is very important. There were two different endings to the novel. Originally Estella remarried and Pip went back to Egypt but Dickens was persuaded to give the novel a happy ending. In the ‘second’ ending the reader is left at the end wondering if maybe they do get together. Pip says, ‘I saw the shadow of no parting from her’. By doing this he concentrates attention on their relationship.
I think that Chapter 8 is a key chapter in the novel and is very important in keeping the story going. Since Dickens wrote ‘Great Expectations’ as a serial in a magazine he would have had to have several pivotal chapters to keep the pot boiling and the readers interested. Everything that appears in Chapter 8 turns out to be a false trail and the ‘real’ Pip is revealed in other chapters. I think therefore that this chapter is pivotal but there are others as well which might be just as important.