The marshes and Satis House are both places mentioned in the book which have a strong impact on Pip’s life. They introduced him to death, the class barrier and the feeling of guilt; guilt for being alive as well as the fear of imprisonment. In this essay I will attempt to discover why and how these places affected Pip.
The marshes surrounded the house where Pip grew up so he had been around them all his life. They were called ‘the meshes’ by the locals and described by Dickens as a ‘bleak place’, ‘a dark, flat wilderness’ with ‘a low leaden line beyond’. These are unpleasant images and reflect how Pip feels about the marshes. They conjure up the image of death, smothering everything. They even contain a graveyard, where Pip’s mother, father and little brothers are buried. He calls them ‘little stone lozenges’ due to the shape of the headstones and imagines them to have been born ‘on their back with their hands in their pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence’. This is important because it has social and historical context as at the time of it being written many children died young, many mothers died in childbirth and diseases were rife.
The name given to the marshes by the locals (‘the meshes’) suggests that it is easy to get trapped in them, as it is in a mesh. Pip feels trapped by the marshes, as if they are infecting him and calling him to be a criminal. It is on the marshes that he gets his first brush with crime when he meets Magwitch, the escaped convict, who is described as ‘a fierce man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg’. He is made to steal food from Mr. and Mrs. Joe and becomes very paranoid as a result, believing that he will be found out and taken to the gibbet or slung into the hulks, ”every crack in every board, calling after me: ‘Stop thief!’ and ‘Get up, Mrs. Joe!”. In the distance there is the gibbet where a pirate was once hung, ‘with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate’. Pip feels he is destined to end up in the same place all through the book. He imagines he sees the pirate there, because he is feeling guilty about having stolen food from Mr. and Mrs. Joe. He also imagines Magwitch being like the pirate, ‘The man was limping on towards this latter, as if he were the pirate come to life.’ The gibbet is his first taste of death. Also in the distance are the hulks, an imposing image of justice on Pip’s life. That is where he is told, and begins to believe, he is headed.
When he gives the food to Magwitch, he feels evil and dirty, but when he sees the criminal is enjoying it his mood changes to one of happiness because he feels he is helping someone. This shows us that Pip is actually a very nice and caring boy, not a criminal as Mrs. Joe would have us believe. She is always telling Pip that he will end up in the hulks and will amount to nothing and these words add to the thoughts in Pip’s mind that he is destined for prison. She treats him like a criminal and talks to him akin to this. Also when the Christmas meal is in progress, she makes Pip feel like a criminal by using legal language, telling everybody present ‘of all the illnesses I had been guilty of and all the acts of sleeplessness I had committed.’ She also makes him feel guilty of being born by explaining of ‘all the times she had wished me in my grave, and I had contumaciously refused to go there.’
The events at Satis house also have a very poignant effect on Pip. It is here that he receives more knowledge and more feelings about crime and death.
The house itself is described as a house which was made of old brick and was dismal, and ‘had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that the remained all the lower were rustily barred.’ All those bars make Satis House seem very like a prison to Pip, continuing his belief that that is where he is destined to go. Miss Havisham is imprisoned by the fact that she has closed down time to preserve her memories. Estella is imprisoned by Miss Havisham and brought up badly, as is Pip. The theme of crime is continued when he is fed as he leaves. The meal is thrown outside for him, as if he were a dog. He saw Magwitch eat like a dog and because of this thinks he is a criminal for being fed like one. ‘I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating and the man’s.’
Pip is also made aware of a number of new things, for example, the class barrier, shown when he ‘mistakenly’ calls ‘knaves’ ‘jacks’. Estella additionally makes fun of his ‘coarse hands’ and ‘thick boots’. Pip ‘had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before.’ And Estella’s ‘contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.’ Estella’s contempt for Pip will alter the course of his life, introducing him to snobbery.
Estella is also a factor which is introduced into his life. He ends up falling in love with her, but she is, like her name suggests, cold, hard, unreachable, unattainable and distant, like a star.
He comes out of Satis house feeling guilty and upset, feeling like he is a criminal because he is common. It is because of this that he see Miss Havisham hanging, he thinks he has committed a crime. This is a mirror of when he saw a pirate hanging on the gibbet at the marshes. He was feeling guilty then as well, he feels guilty for being born. Miss Havisham is also a mirror of Magwitch, as they are both dirt covered and consumed by their past and a need for revenge.
When he goes back to tell his uncle and Mrs. Joe of what happened at Satis house, he makes up elaborate lies to hide the embarrassment of what actually happened. Although, even in his fabrications, he puts himself in a lowly position, by saying he sat at the back of the coach, where the driver would sit, ‘I got up behind the coach to eat mine, because she told me to.’ However, he feels that he cannot deceive Joe and so tells him the truth, but then asks him why he taught him wrongly about ‘knaves’ and ‘jacks’. This is the first sign of him acting superior to his friends and family.
Overall Pip becomes much more prejudiced and class aware from his visit to Satis House, a snob almost, abandoning his friends and family. When he becomes rich he does not automatically become a gentleman, he has to learn humility, helped by his friend Herbert Pocket. Also the house and the marshes have a lasting impression on him, making him think of himself of a criminal bound for the hulks or the gibbet.