Through Pip’s eyes we are introduced to Victorian adult society. In the first twelve chapters of Great Expectations, how does Dickens show the harsh and strange nature of this adult world?
In the first twelve chapters of Great Expectations, Dickens, through clever use of language, shows the harsh and strange nature of the adult world in Victorian society through Pip’s point of view. Dickens uses Pip as a narrator telling the story as a matured adult and through this narrative viewpoint, the reader can recognise the characteristics of the adult world in Victorian times, which are shaped by the experiences of Pip. Pip’s childhood demonstrates to the reader the social injustices in Victorian society.
Pip is an orphan taken in by his sister, Mrs Joe Gargery and her blacksmith husband, Joe, who is to take Pip as an apprentice when he is old enough. Being raised by Mrs Joe, Pip is bought up by hand, as many orphans in the nineteenth century were. He is isolated from the world in a land where only marshes lie and a graveyard stands where his parents and five brothers were buried. This upbringing of being surrounded by adults, and his sister’s philosophy of “spare the rod and spoil the child” has led Pip to be very sensitive and self-conscious.
Dickens uses clever language to describe how the characters show different forms of harshness and cruelty. Mrs Joe is a brilliant example of this. Throughout the chapters she shows no mercy toward Pip. In her mind raising a child consists of hard spanking and the occasional dose of tar-water. Dickens tells us that she nearly always wore a bib. “…a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles”. This bib ought to offer a snug lap but only would give pricks and cuts all over. On page six, she asks Pip why he thinks she bought him up. He replies: “I don’t know.” She goes on to say ” “I don’t!” said my sister “I’d never do it again! I know that. “
Her actions and behavior suggests that she didn’t have any love to give to Pip; it implies that she wishes he never existed and maybe the reason for her actions. Because of this, Pip doesn’t have a good perspective of her, to him, she is a bully, but because of this upbringing, it leads Pip to a sensitive personality in his later childhood.
Pips convict is also a good example of harshness in the adult world. In the first vibrant scene in the graveyard, the convict appears as a threatening, violent figure to Pip. At the same time, Dickens shows the reader what Pip does not recognize: the man is cold, hungry, and desperate. He is compared to a dog in Chapter Three: “I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dogs way of eating and the man’s.” When the two first encounter each other, he says: “Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch “keep still you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat” Jumping out on him and threatening like that scares Pip as it would any young person. An explanation for doing this is so the convict can use Pip to his advantage and trick him into doing thinks for him. But on there second meeting I think Pip has more trust in the convict because once the convict starts to file at the chain, Pip says he starts to get scared of him again which suggest his worried thoughts had died down. I think these events disturb Pips mentally. You can see this when he is talking to animals and think the animals are talking to him when he is heading for the graveyard a second time. “I blubbered out to him “I couldn’t help it sir! It wasn’t for me I took it”
Estella is the same age as Pip but seems part of the adult world, as she acts older than him due to being bought up by Miss Haversham. Because of this, she is also an example of harshness toward Pip. She talks to Pip as though he is younger by calling him “boy”. This indicates that she thinks she is superior to him. She also hurts him physically: “she slapped my face with such force as she had when I answered it.” This shows that she is not does not respect Pip and makes him feel of lower superiority. She acts this way because she believes she is more mature and of a higher class to Pip and that society wouldn’t find this behavior in an adult at all disturbing. He describes her as being very proud, very pretty and very insulting. Pip, in affect of all her doings, falls in love with her but also wishes he never met her. He thinks the same of her as most of the adults.
Dickens also shows strange behavior in the adult world in certain adults using more clever techniques. Miss Haversham is the best example of this behavior. Pip finds her surroundings strange and is curious. “…and that a clock had stopped at twenty minutes to nine”. This is one of the first things that the reader identifies about her which instantly categorizes her as part of the strangeness in the adult world. The first description of her gives the reader a very strange impression of her. “I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress.” Withered suggest that she had been like this for a long time slowly and naturally decaying and this is what Pip finds strange about her on his first impression of her “…sat the strangest lady I have ever seen”. On this first meeting with her, he feels a bit cautious of her and may be a little scared because of the way she lives and dressed. In these first scenes she seems like a victim, a prisoner in her own house, before now Pip thinks that no-one could be so sad that has so much money. “I am very sorry for you,” he says to her. This is why he lies to Mrs. Joe, Uncle Pumblechook and Joe because he sympathizes her and tries to make her sound like a fun, rich and a women who enjoys he money: “very tall and dark” “…handed her in cake and wine at the coach window, on a gold plate”
This behavior at first makes Pip feel a little nervous around Miss Haversham but when he learns more about her background he accepts why she is isolates herself but still finds it a strange way of living. Her effect on him is that Pip learns not to think that love and money brings happiness because he seen that love has hurt Miss Haversham and money has given her the luxury of wallowing in her disappointment. He finds this sad.
Joe Gargery is a very strange character. Joe seems to have the same maturity level as Pip and for this Joe treats Pip as a person not a piece of furniture that you can kick when you need to relieve stress. It seems as though his mental age is stuck with Pips. What is very weird is that when Pip describes the tar water as a punishment he talks of Joe having it nearly forced into his mouth. The reader finds this strange because at this point in the story, they don’t know a lot about Joe only that he is an adult, but still gets this dose of disciplining from Mrs. Joe. He often appears weak, letting himself be cowed by Mrs. Joe, “Joe said he was agreeable, and would take me as long as Mrs. Joe approved.” Mrs. Joe seems like more of a mother to Joe than wife, which makes him seem like more of a child. Even in Victorian society; the man in the house was always superior. If this were the case in Mrs. Joes house Pip may have had a better, less painful up bringing as Joe is good-hearted by nature. “Joe gave my some more Gravy” The effect on Pip for having such a role model is that he grows up to be good hearted and kind. I think Pip respects Joe and values him as a friend as he is the only person in this adult society who values Pip.
The effect of these characters, on the reader, is disturbing. This is because it’s hard to believe how the treatment of orphans was and the way society was in Victorian times, which was less than two hundred years ago. It’s hard to believe that for a punishment, the penalty was tar water. Great Expectations teaches people of the twenty-first century what life was like without them realizing. It also disturbs people if they consider that Dickens wrote this story based on events he witnessed in his lifetime and wrote this story to tell people the disgusting facts of this society. Dickens had his father sent to prison and so were taken away just like Pips. When Pip first receives his mysterious “expectations”, his shyness and ambition combine to make him a “snob”; Dickens may be retelling his own reaction when he was suddenly hit with fame and fortune at a young age.