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Pip and Guilt in Great Expectations: Innocence, Association, And Obsession Essay Sample

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Pip and Guilt in Great Expectations: Innocence, Association, And Obsession Essay Sample

Guilt, no matter where it comes from will always be the state of feeling sorrow for actions that you have or have not done. Yet it is exactly here where we find the division of guilt. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens illustrates Pip as a fellow who often feels guilty. He first feels guilty as a direct result of other people’s actions. He then feels guilty for things beyond his control. However, when he begins to obsess with Estella, his guilt is derived from his own actions.

When the story begins, Pip is a young lad, no older than about eight. His parents have died, along with many of his siblings. His closest relative is his sister, Mrs. Joe, who raises Pip along with her kind husband Joe. Pip is very innocent in this stage, for he has done nothing wrong. Little does he know that once he has seen “A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars (p.10)” he will introduce to us a sense of guilt he feels for the rest of the novel. When Pip first meets this “man”, his guilt (in Dorothy Van Ghent’s work titled On Great Expectations) is “that of all suffering that the earth can inflict (p.652)”. Ghent continues to say that ” …as much as to say that every child, whatever his innocence, inherits guilt (as the potential of his acts) from the condition of man (p.652)”. From this man, who will later bring about a different sense of guilt, Pip now gets a sense of guilt because of the world that he is living in, and not because of his own actions.

Other sources of his early guilt include Mrs. Joe and Pumplechook. On Great Expectations accuses these two individuals of treating Pip as if he “were a felon, a young George Barnwell (a character in the play which Mr. Wopsel reads on the night when Mrs. Joe is attacked), wanting only to murder his nearest relative, as George Barnwell murdered his uncle (p.653)”. Pip is “manipulable by adults for the extraction of certain sensations by making him feel guilty (p.653)”. These manipulations make Mrs. Joe and Pumplechook feel “virtuous and great”. There are countless times in the beginning of Great Expectations when Mrs. Joe is cruel to Pip and when Pumplechook makes Pip feel inferior (ex: Mrs. Joe uses tickler and harsh tones towards Pip; the self satisfied Pumplechook arranges Pip’s meeting with Mrs. Havisham and Estella, who make Pip feel inferior).

And at this point Pip is still innocent: but does he think so? When Pip lent Magwitch the file to help him escape, he felt only the guilt of taking from Joe. But when Mrs. Joe is mortally wounded with the same leg iron that Pip frees Magwich with, Pip will never forgive himself for the thought that he might have helped aide in Mrs. Joe’s death. “With my head full of George Barnwell, I was at first disposed to believe that I must have had some hand in the attack upon my sister (p.96)”, says Pip upon hearing that Mrs. Joe has been assaulted. Pip’s guilt here begins to transform from his innocent guilt into

(A guilt) of murder; for he (Pip) steals the file which the convict rids himself of his leg iron, and it is this leg iron, picked up on the marshes, with which Orlick attacks Mrs. Joe; so that the child does inevitably overtake his destiny, which was, like George Barnwell, to murder his nearest relative (On Great Expectations, p. 653).

According to Julian Moynahan in her work The Hero’s Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations, Pip has “one of the guiltiest consciences in literature (p.654)”. He is “disturbed by a certain discrepancy appearing in the narrative between the hero’s sense of guilt and the actual amount of wrong doing for which he may be said to be responsible (p. 654)”. Was Pip responsible for the death of Mrs. Joe? Of course he was not. However, it does appear to Pip that it was his fault. He begins to link himself with a criminal, says Moynahan.

… The reappearance of Magwitch’s leg iron as the weapon which fells Mrs. Joe, the accident making the criminal lawyer Jaggers, whose office is beside Newgate Prison, the financial agent of his unknown patron-as signs that indicate some

deep affinity between him (Pip) and a world of criminal violence (p.654).

No matter that Pip is still completely innocent in any act of criminal violence, he finds the “principal of guilt by association (p.654)”. He has done nothing yet to feel guilt for. But once he realizes his love for Estella, he finds something that he really should feel guilty for.

Pip describes the first time he came home from Satis House as “a memorable day… for it made great changes in me and my fortunes (p.60)”. Little did he know that because of his obsession for Estella, he would create great guilt inside for the way he treats others. First, we’ll begin with his treatment of Biddy. “Biddy”, said Pip (p.101), “I want to be a gentlemen… I am disgusted with my calling in life”. Pip goes on to say that he is “Dissatisfied, and uncomfortable, and-what would signify to (him), being coarse and common…(p.102)”. This is insulting to Biddy (it infers that she is coarse and common), who is one of Pip’s best friends. When Pip leaves for London, he forgets Joe and Biddy, for he is only in pursuit of Estella.

When Pip returns to his hometown to visit Mrs. Havisham, he forgets to visit Joe and Biddy, and feels guilty for it. However, he must not feel too guilty for it because he sent them two barrels of oysters, hardly anything for an apology. Also, when Joe visits Pip in London, Pip treats him as inferior. When Pip finds out that Magwitch is his benefactor, Pip feels ashamed because he feels that Estella would not have him to take money from a criminal. Magwitch has felt guilty towards Pip for stealing from him, so he has chosen to repay Pip. However, according to Moynahan, Pip finally chooses to ” bow down before Magwich, who has been guilty towards him, instead of bowing down before Joe, toward whom (he) has been guilty (p.656)”. Peter Brooks states it well in his essay, Repetition, Repression, and Return, that all of Pip’s “returns” are “always ostensibly undertaken to make reparation to the neglected Joe… always implicitly an attempt to discover the intentions of the putative donor in Satis House, to bring her plot to completion (p.683).” Pip does not realize his extreme guiltiness, due to the negligence he has shown to Biddy and Pip. He does finally realize how guilty he is when he is taken into Joe’s home after he has fallen ill. Pip begs of Joe and Biddy

And, now, though I know you have already done it in your own kind hearts, pray tell me, both, that you forgive me! Pray let me hear you say the words that I may carry the sound of them away with me, and then I shall be able to believe that you can trust me, and think better of me, in time to come (p.355).

Joe, the kind man he is, replies, “O dear Pip, old chap, God knows as I forgive you, if I have anything to forgive!” “Amen! And God knows I do!” echoed Biddy. When this had happened, Pip hadn’t seen Joe or Biddy in eleven years. Pip now feels great guilt because he has been so unwelcoming to Joe and Biddy, and the first time he has been in need of them, they welcome him and forgive him. All of these guilty feelings towards the latter part of the book come from Pip’s obsession over Estella, whether he realizes it or not. His obsession of Estella has come to the point where he has put her before almost all other people, and those people whom Pip no longer appreciates have been wronged. Now his guilt has been self inflicted.

Guilt, although only one emotion, can be found in many ways. Pip finds guilt (and pity) for the whole world upon meeting Magwich for the first time. Pip has guilt basically fed to him by Mrs. Joe and Pumplechook in order for them to feel good. Pip feels guilty by association, for something he was completely innocent of. And finally Pip feels guilty for his own actions. Dickens smothered Pip with guilt of all sorts, and one would have to agree with Julian Moynahan when she states “Pip has certainly one of the most guilty consciences in literature”.

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