‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens is much more than just a story about a boy called Pip. Dickens makes it a story of self-knowledge and learning about life. We learn from Pip that wealth and prestige aren’t everything in life. As Pip gains wealth he loses other things such as his close relationship with his brother in law Joe and his self-respect. Through his experiences he becomes a stronger character, he learns what being a true gentleman is really about and he learns life’s true values.
Dickens uses his book to make social comment, as he used to be a reporter. He tells us both lower and higher classes have their corruption and evil. Through Pip we see that Dickens is trying to say he sees individuals like pawns in a chess game, influenced by their background and the power of others.
At the beginning of the book Pip was very kind hearted. We know this because when he was talking to the convict he said, “I think you’ve got the ague” even though he was threatening to kill him. Pip is also a very gullible young boy because when Mrs. Joe tells Pip that asking too many questions leads to going to jail he believes her. Also when the convict tells him there is a young man who will eat his liver he believes him. Pip is very respectable to his elders, even though the convict is threatening him he is still respectable because he says, “If you would kindly please to keep me upright sir” to him. Pip has a simple family background because five of his brothers had gave up trying to get a living in that universal struggle and at Christmas they have no presents and their Christmas dinner is very basic.
Pip has a very strong relationship with his brother in law Joe, we know this because during this book Pip says things like “Joe and I being fellow sufferers and having confidences as good as natured companionship”, “Joe always sided when he could” and “I always treated him as a larger species of child and as no more than my equal.” Pip has a strong sense of right and wrong because when he is going to steal the food he says, “I was about to commit a larceny” so he knows that he’s doing wrong. Another example of Pip’s simple family background is that Mrs. Joe always wears always an apron like a servant. Mrs. Joe makes a point of this because she sees it as a kind of sign that she is a slave to Pip and Joe. As you can see from this piece, Pip is a typical young boy, however wasn’t brought up by hand from his parents but by his sister because both his parents are dead. Pip has a kind-hearted and gullible and has much respect for his elders, comes from a simple family background, his sisters husband is called Joe who Pip has a very close relationship because they are both treated the same from Mrs. Joe and Pip wasn’t a bad boy because he had a strong sense of right and wrong and always tries to keep to it whenever he can. When he is going to steel the food Pip knows he is doing wrong.
Pip has a very rough background; his bullying sister brought him up by hand because both of his parents died when he was young. His house is surrounded by marshes upon which escaped convicts are found. His family is working class and led a lower class life. Dickens was commenting on the corrupt nature of working class – the setting is full of darkness. The marshes are described as a black horizontal line on the horizon as is the river. Crime and death are very much a part of lower class life; the marshes, churchyard and the hulks, give you a dark depressive attitude towards Pip’s life. Another example of lower class life is when Mrs. Joe says, “There’s another convict off” as if they’re used to it.
An old lady who lives nearby asks Pip to come to her house and play. When he arrives he sees upper class for the first time. When Pip sees upper class he becomes ashamed of his own life and his background. The person who answers the door to Pip is a girl called Estella she highlights the contrasts between upper and lower class such as, upper class don’t work, they’re genteel and the different speaking patterns. She begins to manipulate Pip because Pip tells us “Estella was always about, and always let me in and out but never told me I might kiss hr again” and, “Sometimes she would coldly tolerate me; sometimes, she would be quite familiar with me, sometimes – she would tell me energetically that she hated me.”
Pip begins to doubt himself and his future, realizing that he was course and uneducated, he also used to look forward to being Joe’s apprentice, however, he doesn’t any more, he is unsure about his future. He is also becoming increasingly ashamed of his background and Joe, we know this because he says, “I’m afraid I was ashamed of the dear good fellow – I know I was ashamed of him” and “More ashamed than ever.”
Miss Havisham represents to us the corruption and decay in upper classes. Her house, the Satis House, is a symbol of decay in her life, full of barriers, resentment and cruelty. The decaying table in her house represents the decay in her life. Her life that stopped the day she was rejected, and decay in society, this is exploitation of poor. Like the rich land owners who bully and manipulate the poor she takes Pip as a victim.
When Pip first arrives in London, his first impressions aren’t very good at all. He first sees London as a dark, dirty and dismal place. Pip thinks going to London is the beginning of his Great Expectations, however, this doesn’t seem like a good start for him. The setting of London is a sign from Dickens that London isn’t going to be much better than home. Pip sees the courthouse first were people are tortured and hanged, this isn’t any better than the gibbots near Pip’s house. The courts are is also a warning to Pip that London is a place of crime. As Pip describes London he says things such as, “A shameful place smeared with filth and fat” this tells us that Pip isn’t very impressed. He also tells us that “I rubbed it off with all possible speed” which is a metaphor representing the fact that Pip should stay away from here. He also explains to us “This was a horrible corruption and gave me a sickening idea of London”.
When Joe is on his way to visit Pip in London, Pip acts like a true snob. He is ashamed of Joe even after all Joe has done for him. Pip explains to us “If I could have kept him away by paying money I certainly would have paid”. This tells us Pip doesn’t even want to see Joe. Also this tells us that money has become the most powerful thing Pip can use and he is constantly focused on money, this is Pip truly becoming a snob. When Joe is clumping up the stairs with his big boots in a noisy manner, Dickens shows Joe to be a comical character. He does this to provide light relief from the seriousness of the storyline. When Joe arrives Pip and Joe are both acting absolutely ridiculously – Pip is being a complete snob towards his old best friend and Joe is acting stupidly because he doesn’t fit in at all. Joe looks stupid because he tries to be like Pip by speaking Posh but he gets it wrong when he says “How AIR you Pip”. When Joe leaves Pip feels guilty for not welcoming Joe warmly enough and as he looks back as an adult he sees it was his fault that Joe looked ridiculous because of the way he treated him. Pip decides he will go back home to see Joe and Biddy but on the way home he is too much of a snob to even sleep at home so he decides he will stay in the village hotel. He is too ashamed to tell Joe and Biddy why he wants to stay at the Boar Hotel so he says, “I began to make up excuses for putting up at the Boar Hotel”.
The next significant stage in Pips Great Expectations is finding the identity of his benefactor. When Pip finds out that Magwitch is his benefactor he is disgusted, he once again shows signs of being a snob by being ashamed rather than grateful to Magwitch. We know that he is disgusted as he says, “I couldn’t bring myself to bear the sight of him”. Pip acts like a snob because he says things like “He ate in a ravenous rag that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy and greedy”, which is the exact way that he himself acted when he first cam to London. Pip also said, “He looked like a big old dog”, this is an example of a simile. Pip also refers his teeth as fangs. He also says “what I was chained to” which is the way he feels around Magwitch because he can’t leave him after all he’s done for him but he is ashamed to be seen with him.
Compeyson, the other convict Pip saw when he was on the marshes, was to have Magwitch arrested. Pip, Magwitch and Herbert planned an escape across the sea. We see a better side of Pip when he risks his reputation and safety to help Magwitch. The plan fails and Magwitch. Pip visits Magwitch every day in prison but later Magwitch dies. When Magwitch was around we saw a better side to Pip, as he showed loyalty and sympathy. Pip began to lose his snobbery; he has learned life’s true values, friendship, honesty and loyalty.
To the reader Joe seems to be a coarse, clumsy man who Pip is embarrassed of. However, Dickens uses Joe to challenge the idea of a gentleman. A stereotypical gentleman must have fine clothes and good manners, but Dickens is asking whether gentleness, dignity and wisdom are more important. Pip has become a stereotypical gentleman and is now the complete opposite of Joe, he is a snob, shallow and frivolous while Joe is loyal, has wisdom and a deep personality.
Pip has a conversation with Biddy about Joe, before Pip goes to London about Joes’ manners. Pip thinks that they should be improved so he can visit him in London. Biddy says to Pip “Have you ever considered that Joe may be too proud?” This means that Joe is too proud to go to London, he would much rather carry on his honest, hard working life. When Joe is leaving London he points out to Pip that we can find dignity in our own way, but Pip can’t see this and thinks that everyone should want to try and be the kind of gentleman he is trying to be. Dickens makes us see that society expects us all to be ambitious like Pip but not necessarily. Joe also says to Pip “life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith.” This is a metaphor to represent the fact that not everyone wants the same thing and we can find dignity in our own way.
Most of this book seems depressing, but there is hope at the end. Pip has learned about life and its qualities. At the end there is hope that Pip may marry Estella. Joe and Biddy are happily married. Joe deserved this because throughout the book Joe was an honest character; this represents the ideology that good overcomes evil. Miss Havisham’s is lost and Estella seems to be beginning to be able to love. Pip rejects the city life and returns to a close relationship with Joe. Joe and Biddy who have positive characteristics all the way through are received by happiness.