The psychological development of Pip’s character in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations can be identified and examined as results of his changing circumstances. Through out the novel, themes of self-improvement, ambition, and innocence and of guilt are all explored and give bearing to the development of Pip’s character. Great Expectations is essentially constructed of three volumes which are scripted to the three volumes of Pip’s life; childhood, adolescence and finally adulthood. Through the influence of social and physical setting and the influence of minor and recurring characters, developments in Pip’s perception of life and true moral understanding change.
At the beginning of Great Expectations we are introduced to Pip, as he is midway through his childhood years. His older sister, and her husband Joe bring him up, as his parents and other relations are dead and buried. It is in the very first pages where we first see the true nature of his character, examining his parent’s graves out on the marshes. Here Charles Dickens uses Pips narration to instil feelings and problems that are so often associated with a lonely childhood. ” I give Pirrip as my fathers family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister- Mrs Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my fancies regarding what they looked like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.” (p.3)
This passage of the text illustrates that not only is Pip wholly alone in the world (it could be seen as though his sister is not a relation to Pip, as she does not share the same name ” Mrs Joe Gargery….” (P.3)), but that he has, not a vague idea, who he is. As a result he was forced to give himself a title. ” I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”(p.3) Because he has no history about himself he essentially has no one and is no one. Pips isolation in the world requires him the need to build relationships with other people in order to discover who he is. As he develops from child to adolescent, and then finally to adult, the quest in discovering a person in himself and a position in the world is paramount, and it’s in the search for this lost identity that his desire for self-improvement and soon social advancement stem from.
The encounter with the escaped convict in the churchyard is where we first see the deep-seated sense of moral obligation within Pip that he is later struggling to find. The picture that Pip paints in his physical description of the convict is important for his characters development. ” A fearful man, all in coarse grey……….and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied around his head…. who limped, shivered and glared and growled….”(P.4). This detailed description of the convict’s appearance later fuels Pip’s desire for social advancement and material gain. This is due to the fact that while conversing with the convict Pip is forced, in the sparing of his life, to steal food and a blacksmiths file from his sister and Joe. The guilt that manifested after the robbery of these items makes him feel as though he has become a criminal. Being only a young child, Pips moral reasoning is unsophisticated, and he is horrified that by committing the crime means that he might become the image of the convict he had met in the cemetery. Consequently his desire to become a better person, to become a gentleman, is Pip’s attempts in preventing his fall into crime and also his first attempts in discovering who he is in this world.
Pips introduction to the world of the upper class, predominantly while he is visiting Satis House, marks the change in what he perceives to signify a moral person and what he sees as the elements that comprise a true gentleman. Characters that are introduced at this point are Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella. It is the cold manner in which Estella treats Pip’s presence and his unwarranted affections, combined with her cruel and blatant reminders of Pip’s common appearance and personality that have the greatest influence in terms of his ‘Great Expectations’. At first Pip was only searching for some kind of identity that he could attach himself to, and as a result of his powerful feelings for the young and beautiful Estella, he takes every word she says to heart, believing that she must be right. “Why, he is a common labouring boy!……… And what coarse hands he has. And what thick boots!” ” Her contempt was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.” After Pip has left Satis house he reflects again on the things that Estella had so crudely pointed out about whom ” he really was”. “I took the opportunity of being alone in the courtyard, to look at my coarse hands and common boots…they had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages.”
As Pip enters adolescence, the presentation of his thoughts and perceptions change. Even though his beloved Estella is still treating him coldly Pips desire to elevate his social standing never leaves him. The introduction of the London lawyer, Jaggers, brings a newfound hope for Pip. He comes to the small village in Kent baring news of Pips sudden inherited fortune, the fulfilment on one of his Greatest Expectations. The money comes from an unknown benefactor with their identity held silent by Jaggers. Pip’s immediately assumes his true benefactor to be Miss Havisham, and assumes also that she is preparing him to be a gentleman so that may later marry Estella. ” Miss Havisham intended me for Estella”. After his sudden rise in social class, Pip travels to London to fulfil his great expectation of becoming a gentleman. The first scene we a presented with in volume two is inside Jaggers office. ” Mr. Jaggers’s room was lighted by a skylight only, and was a most dismal place the skylight, eccentrically patched like a broken head…. Mr. Jaggers’s own high-backed chair was of deadly black horsehair, with rows of brass nails in it, like a coffin…”(P. 164) Pip’s own description of Mr. Jaggers’s room can be seen as a foreshadowing of his own stay in London.
A short while into Pip’s education in London a letter from Biddy, Joe’s newly acquired servant, reaches Pip informing him of Joe’s planned arrival in London and his wish to see Pip. Because Pip worries that Joe will disapprove of his opulent lifestyle and the figures (Pip’s contemptuous and judgemental peers from Hammersmith) in his new life will disapprove and scrutinise him over the “common behaviour and appearance”. After reading the letter written by Biddy, Pip confesses with what feelings he looks forward to Joe’s arrival. ” Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity… If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.” (P. 218). This passage highlights Pip’s changed sense of morality. He fears that his peers from Hammersmith will judge him based on the “lesser worth” of Joe. He fears that if he is rejected from the upper class because of his connection to Joe, he will have to return to the world of poverty and common bearing that he has tried so hard to separate himself from, his great expectations would become great disappointments. ” I had the sharpest sensitiveness s to his being seen by Drummle, whom I held in contempt.” With his own humiliation in mind, Pip’s behaviour towards Joe re-enforces the theme of social contrast.
The guilt that has come with his poor treatment of Joe in London, pressures Pip into returning home to apologize for his actions. The theme of guilt that originated from Pip’s earlier encounter with the mysterious convict on the marshes, returns as Pip finds himself stuck in a coach with two escaped convicts. Pip tries to go unnoticed when he recognises one of the convicts to be the mysterious stranger that gave him money in the pub. Though the man does not recognise Pip, Pip overhears the two explaining that the convict that Pip had helped during his childhood had asked him to deliver the money to Pip.
So terrified by his encounter with the two convicts Pip returns to London. After continuing his education further, Pip then returns to Satis house where he hopes Estella will be waiting and his marriage to her is anticipated. What happens here at Satis House is possibly the most crucial moment within in the novel and the one that influences significantly the development of Pip’s character. Pip’s hopes and great expectations of a joyous and welcomed return and his eventual marriage a prospect ” her intention to bring us together” (P 231), Pip is anxious to see Estella. Upon his arrival at Satis House Pip is stunned by the beauty of which Estella has become. As he admires her blossomed beauty he feels inadequate and unworthy of her still. “But she was so much changed, was so much more beautiful…I fancied, as I looked at her, that I slipped hopelessly back into the coarse and common boy again.”(P. 235). Realising that Pip may be feeling this way, Miss Havisham cruelly plays on Pips emotions, and pushes the continuation for his love of Estella. Pip is pushed on but Estella treats him as coldly and cruelly as she had when they were growing up.
Pip’s guilt over his treatment of Joe and Biddy is concreted by the sudden death of his sister Mrs Joe Gargery. The shock of his sister’s death is the point in the novel in which Pip’s perception of morality changes for the last time. Pip means to rid himself of the manifested guilt, which was created by his poor treatment of the only ones that truly love him in his world by his promise to remain in regular contact with them. This event in Pip’s life is what marks his final transition into adulthood and the discovery of his true “great expectations.
As Pip enters, his final stages within the novel, adulthood, and his perception of morality his thoughts and the realisations of the true nature of his great expectations are discovered. The sudden death of his sister has made Pip think about the way in which he treats people and at the time when he had come of age the attempt to rid himself of the guilt he carried had risen. At the time of his twenty-first birthday Pip had gained access to his large fortune. He decides that he will use his large income with Herbert as a means of countering his underlying guilt. ” Day by day as his hopes grew stronger and his face brighter, he must have thought me a more and more affectionate friend, for I had the greatest difficulty in restraining my tears of triumph when I saw him so happy.”(P.299)
This passage illustrates Pip’s release of the guilt that has been bottled up within in him for so long. Pip feels that this expression of compassion and kindness has made him a better person and is thankful that something good has come from his greater expectations. “…I did really cry in good earnest when I went to bed, to think that my expectations had done some good to somebody. (P. 299). It can be seen that as a result of the events that Pip experienced to the later of his adolescence, he has legitimately matured and developed more sympathetic qualities. Time passes and the development of Pip’s character is evident. One night the mysterious convict that Pip first encountered on the marshes so long ago returns. He then reveals to Pip that he, the convict, had been his secret benefactor and was now on the run from the law.
At first Pip is utterly disgusted by the news that his wealth had sprung from such a common hand but through the admirable qualities that he has since rediscovered within himself, he cannot find it in himself to abandon his “second father” and leave him for hanging. “… The wretched man, after loading wretched me with his gold and silver chains for years, had risked his life to come to me, and I held it there in my keeping! If I had loved him instead of abhorring him; I had been attracted to him by the strongest admiration and affection, instead of shrinking from him with the strongest repugnance…”(P.322, 333). Pip learns that his wealth and social standing come form the labour of an uneducated convict, which is where his perceptions and ideas of what a true gentleman really is. The discovery of his true benefactor leads Pip into a state of depression as his hopes in marrying Estella are threatened. Because Pip has lost the hope that he and Estella are destined to be together he travels to Satis House to break of his connections with Miss Havisham and Estella.
At this point in the novel we finally see the sympathetic side to Miss Havisham. ” I saw Miss Havisham put her hand to her heart and hold it there, as she sat looking by turns Estella and me.”(P.362) The passage from the text is highly symbolic. It appears that Miss Havisham is holding her heart as it breaks again at the thought of causing someone such pain as she had endured from a broken heart. As the planned escape of Magwitch approaches, Pips love for him grows and he begins to see in him virtues that he himself has been searching for. It is after the capture and death of Magwitch that Pip learns his greatest lesson. He realises that what he has been searching for his whole life, identity and morality has been in front of him the whole way in his journey through life. He realises that real self-improvement is in no way connected to social advancement or material gain, but rather portraying virtues of honesty, empathy and above all kindness. The one figure within his life that embodies all of these characteristics is his life long friend Joe Gargery.
The psychological development of Pip’s character in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations can be identified and examined as results of his changing circumstances. Through out the novel, themes of self-improvement, ambition, and innocence and of guilt are all explored and give bearing to the development of Pip’s character. Pips perception of morality, the nature of real self-improvement and the search for identity developed through the three stages of his life. In childhood he longs desperately for a sense of identity, but the confrontation with the convict in the cemetery introduces his new desire for social advancement.
During His adolescence he meets the beautiful Estella and falls in love with her despite her coldness towards him. Themes of social advancement and material gain are at the forefront as his desire to be with her is unobtainable through his “common bearings”. His sudden inheritance of a large fortune obscures his perception of the world and therefore acts snobbishly towards his “lower class” loved ones. With the death of his sister and his transition from adolescence to adulthood, a newfound innocence the emergence of Pip’s lost childhood qualities marks the change within in himself and the realisation of what it really means to be a gentleman.