Great Expectations is a novel written by Charles Dickens during 1860-61. Similar to the traditional Bildungsroman this story presents the life of the protagonist (in this case Pip) through the eyes of older Pip. Some describe it as a semi-autobiographical novel. This novel guides us through a poor orphan boy’s life. We see how experience transforms the innocence of the child and develops new ideas and expectations for him.. Thanks to some unexpected encounters Pip finds himself growing from a blacksmith’s apprentice to a London gentleman. This novel concerns the different emotions and experiences Pip encounters during his transformation and the development of his psychological and intellectual self.
In the first chapter we can learn a lot about Pip’s background and life. He is introduced to the reader as a crying boy, who is alone looking at his family’s grave, imagining what his parents would look like. When the convict begins to handle him roughly and threateningly him he becomes ‘dreadfully frightened’ and clings onto the convict. He is shown to be helpless and dependent, a lot like a small young chararacter at the start of a bildungsroman.
Pip lives in a forge on the edge of the marshes. His stepfather is a blacksmith and his stepmother is someone Pip thought made Joe ‘marry her by hand’ because she has little tolerance for either character. He has very little freedom at the forge, Mrs Joe has an iron grip on both Pip and Joe. The cane was ‘worn smooth by collisions with my tickled frame’. They were given the same slices of bread which ‘ sometimes got a pin into it’, they ate under Pip’s ‘sisters observation’. In these conditions Joe and Pip were unhappy and depressed, and during these times they show support and friendship towards one another e.g. while Pip was being thrown about Joe ‘glad to get hold of me … passed me (Pip) on into the chimney’ away from harm.’ Another good example is during meals ‘as fellow-sufferers, and in his (Joe’s) good-natured companionship … it was our even habit to compare the way we bit through our slices’. This strange habit shows the dept of their relationship, the fact that Joe was willing enough to step down to Pips level show how much he cares for Pip. But this strange habit may also just show the desperate boredom they are experiencing.
In chapter 3 Pip steals food from Mrs Joe and secretly gives it to a runaway convict. Pip is very suspicious and dubious about the task. He had an ‘oppressed conscience; everything seemed to run at Pip ‘very disagreeable to a guilty mind’. He imagines still lifeless objects bursting out shouting ‘stop him!’, ‘young thief!’. We see how innocent Pip is, he is very frightened of doing wrong, he acts like a little boy who is committing his first crime. Dickens manages to create a tense situation for the reader as they are aware of how small and obedient Pip is and how much he would worry about stealing the ‘wittles’ from his sister to feed such a dark and sinister character as the convict.
Charles Dickens uses setting to help convey Pip’s feelings. The morning is very damp, as if ‘some goblin had been crying there all night’. The marsh mist was … thick!’ The dampness is depressing, the mist creates mystery as if there’s a danger hidden somewhere, even more so after a creature like a goblin is mentioned. Its a lot like how Pip would feel about his situation. He feels guilty scared dubious and miserable about what he has to do.
Pip was invited to play at a huge old house for a very rich old lady. This invite causes Mrs Joe to move with’ haste and excitement’.She believes that the rich old lady, Miss Havisham will reward Pip financially for his ‘play’. Pip had heard of this lady. She was an ‘immensely grim lady’, who lived in a ‘large and dismal house’ who lived a ‘life of seclusion’. We can see how worried and nervous Pip would be about going there to play. Despite this Pip ‘looked as grateful as any boy possible could’ afraid of what Mrs Joe might do to him. The only reason Mrs Joe welcomes miss Havisham’s invite is probably because of her wealth, she is afterall an old dying lady with no real children, strange and isolated from the outside world. Mrs Joe must have thought of the money especially after we’ve seen how much she hated Pip, she hopes he ‘won’t be Pompeyed’.
To make Pip more likely to succeed in getting money, Mrs Joe tries to make him look as handsome as possible, not really caring how Pip feels about anything. He was ‘pounced’ on, ‘face was squeezed into wooden bowls’, ‘head was out under taps of water hutts’, ‘I (Pip) was soaked and kneaded and towelled, and thumped, and harrowed and rasped’, Treated rather roughly, its as if it doesn’t matter what Pip felt, he was powerless. After being cleaned in such a cruel way by Mrs Joe, Pip ‘supposed myself to be better acquainted then any living authority’. This just shows what a poor, low quality life Pip has lived and became used to and symbolises the struggle Pip will have rising from this status in the future. Then when Mrs Joe thought he was ready he was taken to Mr Pumblechook Pip’s uncle. He gives a speech Pip just knew he was ‘dying to say all along’, ‘be for ever grateful … especially unto them which brought you up by hand’ who’s is of course Mrs Joe. The fact that Mr Pumblechook was dieing to make that speech shows the desperation for wealth by the family, most likely meaning the family and Pip isn’t rich but poor and powerless.
As Pip was carried in Mr Pumblechook’s wagon constantly being asked difficult mathematical questions, he wonders ‘what on earth I (Pip) was expected to play at’ in the old strange lady’s house. He gives the impression of being nervous and worried ‘not at all at my ease’. And the first impression of the house doesn’t improve things for Pip. The house was of ‘old bricks’, ‘dismal’ and bleak. The ‘windows had been walled up … rustily barred’. The large brewery was all abandoned. The place was dead, it seems to be old and abandoned. It must have been hard for Pip as a boy to believe anyone could live in such a place. Pip would have been intimidated by the house and Miss Havisham even more looking at a place so grave, especially with the imagination he was shown by Dickens to have before.
As Pip and Mr Pumblechook gets near the gate a ‘young lady who was very pretty and seemed very proud’ greets them in a disrespectful manner (because of their position in society). The young lady seems to have more power than a grown man. As the young lady leads Pip to Mr Havisham they have a conversation, The young lady treats him no better. She keeps on addressing him as ‘ boy’ and Pip calls her ‘miss’. Pip thought it ‘was far from complimentary’ an yet he does nothing. He knew he had little power, When he meets Mrs Havisham Pip wanted to ‘cry out’ in fear. She look like ‘waxwork and skeleton’, she looked so dead and withered. Jus like ‘skeleton in ashes … under the church pavement’. Pip was now even more frightened and intimidated then he ever had been on this visit. Out of ‘desperation’ with the thought of Mrs Joe in his mind he is forced to play by the words ‘play, play, play!’ Soon the young lady is asked to join him. She responds ‘With this boy! … Common labouring-boy!’. Miss Havisham replies ‘you can break his heart’. They talk so openly as if Pip was just an object they can have fun with, its so obvious they aren’t equals and the young lady keeps on going at how different Pip is not caring about how Pip felt. ‘What coarse hands he has. And what thick boots!’ she makes Pip feel ashamed of himself, the rich seems to be enjoying themselves bullying a poor orphan boy. By the end he almost felt like ‘a dog in disgrace’ so low and little. ‘So humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry and sorry’ ‘that tears started to my eyes’.
By the time Pip leaves he is changed. The experience has changed his ideas and expectations. His thoughts were ‘deeply revolving’, he now saw himself as a ‘common labouring boy … hands were coarse … boots were thick’. ‘More ignorant … how-lived had nag’. His idea of living with Joe being a blacksmith didn’t seem so satisfying as it seemed yesterday. He learns he’s a lower class and sees higher-class people living; he starts feeling sorry for himself for being so low. Now he probably wants to see more in his life.
From the beginning of volume 1 to the end we can see the change of Pip’s life by looking at the language he uses. In one of our first encounters Pip is introduced as a crying boy alone in a churchyard in front of his families grave. A convict who Pip saw someone who’s been ‘lamed by stone, cut by flints and stung by nettles’ ceases him. Pips begs ‘ If you would kindly please to let me keep upright sir’ we immediately notice he is scared we feel pity for him. His language is very friendly in general ‘ I was glad you enjoyed it’. He didn’t treat anyone unfairly or judge them.
When the generous donations were given to Pip by a mysterious benefactor, he became determined to become a London gentleman. The taunts of Estella are ever clear in is head. He begins to eat good food and wine, he has a pleasant flat and wears fine clothing. We can learn from his attitude and language he uses when he comes back to the marshes for a visit, exactly how much he changed. As he passes the very same church he used to go to with the very same people he used to be, he sees the people and now describes them as ‘poor creatures’ whom he had ‘sublime compassion’. He is educated and different now, his attitude toward the marshes ‘ farewell … I was for London and greatness’. Pip believes that he is now better than others, he just abandons his previous identity almost ashamed. He now is becoming closer to the likes Miss Havisham and the young lady. He speaks in a superior tone clearly transformed by the money and power he has.
Great Expectations may tell us more than that can be just read. During the time this book was written a new revolutionary idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ was introduced. The idea was that the strongest survived and the weakest did not cope as well, it was harsh. Before this idea was introduced Dickens’ books had been different e.g. ‘David Copperfield’ the book played along with the previous Victorian idea of life. All those that tried hard in life got their rewards. We can see Dickens isn’t very sympathetic to the new idea because he through Pips life shows the cruelty and suffering the weak may have to go through, through it Dickens criticises the Victiorian life where money is power.
His idea about convicts differ from the Victorian society as well. Victorian views on convicts were very harsh. They were treated like animals, people hated convicts. Almost every convict were executed even if there wasn’t real evidence. In Great Expectations the convict is shown to be respectable and loyal. Pips convict voluntarily admitted on stealing the food and file to cover up for Pip, and after the long years he remembers Pip and pays him back handsomely. This is the exact opposite of Victorian views. Dickens ideas were easily portrayed in this autobiographical writing. This may have been the reason he chose to write in this style in the first place, in order to express his own ideas and feelings.
Great Expectations charts a poor orphan boy developing into a rich London gentleman. We can see Dickens own ideas about the worl portrayed in the protagonist and his world which isn’t that different from what Dickens world was like at the time. During the development Dickens made it easy for the readers to understand how experience and knowledge changes the mind and expectations of a innocent boy by letting him speak his thoughts and feelings. Through the use of devices such as setting, other characters and Pip’s thoughts Dickens establishes Pip’s young identity. This book is autobiographical. Dickens chose a sensible genre to write his book by and he successfully achieved his purposes of letting the readers understand the development of and boy and giving Pip his identity.