After reading the compelling ‘Great Expectations’ by the famous writer Charles Dickens, I can gather that it is based upon his own psychological insight to life. He makes connections in relation to a specific character or event in the storyline, which were critical in his own expectations. Also Dickens moulds his selection of characters very well into the desired settings he’d created, that matched what he knew only too well throughout his childhood.
‘Great Expectations’ not only satires the issues of Victorian society, yet centres on the rites of passage that marks an important change in a person’s life. Dickens’ issue of contentment is something that concerns many human beings; this is what Pip wants most. However he never really accomplishes this until the closing stages of the book.
So what exactly is contentment? The dictionary defines it as a ‘peace of mind’, where the person is ‘satisfied with things as they are.’ Therefore contentment means to be happy and in Pip’s case, happy with his life. The purpose of ‘Great Expectations’ is how contentment is achieved, with it being linked to Jeremy Bentham’s answer of this. Bentham was a well-known philosopher and he said: ‘humans strive to achieve self-fulfilment through the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.’ Dickens relates this to Pip, in the sense that Pip wants to become a gentleman, who need not work and who can avoid the certain stresses of life.
Dickens’ early life is reflected by his main character in the novel. Through Pip, he presents a young and innocent boy, who changes his aspirations whilst growing up. Pip is often indirected by the themes of identity, love, money and class when trying to become the perfect and successful gentleman. Pip’s gradual progression showed that he realised that moral values of a person, were far more important than materialistic values.
In the beginning, his first definitions of a gentleman were that of great wealth, education and of a high social calibre. This is exactly the description of Bentley Drummle of whom Pip meets later, but he did not behave or have manners like a gentleman: ‘He was idle, proud, niggardly, reserved and suspicious. He came of rich people….who had nursed this combination of qualities until they made the discovery that it was just of age and a blockhead.’
However in the end, Pip does not turn out like this. With the help of some true friends, he gains the knowledge needed in order for him to mature as a person and to learn that success doesn’t always convert into happiness.
The novel begins with Pip being about six or seven years old, living at a blacksmith forge with his ill-tempered sister Mrs. Joe Gargery and her husband, Joe. These two bring Pip up to one day become Joe’s apprentice. Pip is relatively satisfied with this, it is all he has ever known, so therefore he shows signs of content. He is living there because both his parents are dead and the graveyard of their burial is where the story commences.
Our first reactions to Pip are that we feel sorry for him for losing both parents and that he is innocent for this reason. He longs for contact of the past and at this stage he is on his quest for identity. Pip is only young and we get the impression he is extremely intimidated by the terrifying figure of an escaped convict, whom he encounters at the graveyard:
‘Oh! Don’t cut my throat sir,’ I pleaded in terror. ‘Pray don’t do it, sir.’ (page2)
However, when Pip realises that Magwitch (the convict’s name) won’t do such a thing (unless he gets him a ‘file and wittles’ to free his hands from the chains), he immediately feels sorry for him and because Pip is afraid of doing wrong, he goes back to the forge to get whats required plus some food from the pantry. This shows both Pip’s naivety and innocence, which he would benefit from later on, when Magwitch becomes Pip’s benefactor in sending him to London in order to become a gentleman.
Joe teaches Pip the moral values of a person through his own honest personality and that he had achieved his own happiness by sticking to a good set of values. Dickens builds Joe up well as a character in the way that he had well defined qualities: ‘mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish…’ Pip looks upon Joe as the person who can provide him guidance and one who Pip could seek refuge from his violent sister. Pip becomes dependant on Joe, as he is the only one there for him who is prepared to listen to his problems. Moreover, Joe is a positive influence on Pip, always looking out for him and at the same time offering him security. Despite Joe’s good points, he is not seen a strong enough or suitable role model for Pip, yet this solid friendship leaves Pip clear on how he thinks of his sister compared to Joe:
‘I do not recall that I felt any tenderness of conscience in reference to Mrs Joe, when the fear of being found out was lifted off me. But I loved Joe-perhaps for no better reason in those early days than because the dear fellow let me love him-and, as to him, my inner self was not so easily composed.’ (page38)
When Pip is invited to play at the materialistic Satis House, all these good values he has been brought up on are entirely thrown out of the window. Satis House, home of the jilted Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella (Latin for stars), is designed to have a great affect on Pip and in turn, the reader. Its desolateness makes Pip feel abandoned, with the quiet atmosphere making him extremely lonely. The windows on Satis House are all boarded up with bars across and Dickens does this to portray his views on the society at that time. His idea was that the higher class (in house) could not see the lower class (on street); hence a certain divide amongst the different classes in the society.
Pip has to take on the material values when embarking on Satis House rather than the moral values he’d learnt from Joe, which rather confuses him. Mrs Joe was anxious for him to make a good impression for her sake, as she considered Pip’s appearance as vital. This is the stereotypical view that wealthy people ‘dress to impress’ on the outside and are not happy on the inside.
Pip is quite taken aback by Estella’s enchanting beauty in which she holds over him. In an instant, Pip wants to change his life just by falling for an attractive young lady. Nevertheless the feeling is certainly not mutual; in fact Estella is quite insulting in Pip’s direction:
‘I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.
She won the game, and I dealt. I misdealt, as was only natural, when I knew she was lying in wait for me to do wrong; and she denounced me for a stupid, clumsy common labouring boy.’
I believe this first meeting between Pip and Estella is done well by Dickens, because Estella knows Pip is aware of her beauty and is simply alluding him into his own fantasy that he’s fallen in love with her. Miss Havisham never got over the fact that her fiancï¿½ deserted her at the altar so through Pip, she wants Estella to break his heart and in turn wreak revenge on the whole of the male sex. Pip is too naï¿½ve to see any such thing and his vulnerability of seeing Estella as ‘superior’, quickly influences on what values he should adopt for the future. Estella really de-grades Pip, in the sense that Pip is ashamed to be common. She makes him reconsider his outlook on life, causing Pip’s discontent and is convinced that he must start a new, better life in order to be sufficient for the girl of his dreams. The humiliation inflicted on Pip by Estella is very effective and significant, because his perceptions on contentment and a person’s correct set of values change very dramatically. Estella’s harsh words make him forget about his life at the forge and all the good things Joe had taught him, to instead leave for London in order to become the perfect gentleman.
Tempted by new opportunities, Pip sets off for London excited by the prospects his life now has. He leaves everything behind at the forge; his upbringing, Joe, his home. For the first time in the novel we feel Pip is being very selfish, because he looks upon money and social status as being the necessary ingredients to his success and happiness. Initially we feel sorry for him, as he had lost both his parents, many of his siblings and had to be brought up by his deranged sister. Pip is now only interested in materialistic things, in which Estella can be thanked for. This illusion that materialistic values can make you content is something which is stuck inside Pip’s mind. However if he is to seriously become content with his own life, Pip must disregard this illusion.
Not everything goes to plan in London for Pip; it’s a new world to him, far different to his ‘marsh home’ in the countryside. Pip needs the help of some true friends to survive in this setting. He needs to be taught the ‘ways of the world’ and for him to achieve some contentment, he has to listen to those who know best. This comes in the form of Herbert Pocket, who declares to Pip what Miss Havisham and Estella count for:
‘I didn’t care much for her. She’s a tartar.’
‘Miss Havisham?’ I suggested.
‘I don’t say no to that, but I meant Estella. That girl’s hard and haughty and capricious to the last degree, and has been brought up by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on all the male sex.'(page171)
Pip thought he knew best where Estella was concerned, but listening to others who had a greater knowledge of what he was getting himself into, made Pip think twice into how he would achieve his contentment. Back at home he’d ignored the very good advice another true friend, Biddy had offered to him:
‘Do you want to be a gentleman to spite her, or to gain her over?’ Biddy quietly asked, after a pause.
‘I don’t know,’ I moodily answered.
‘Because if it is to spite her,’ Biddy pursued. ‘I should think- but you know best- that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing, for her words. And if it is to gain her over- I should think- but you know best- she is not worth gaining over.’ (page125)
The problem was that Pip thought he did ‘know best’ and had he listened to Biddy, he would have instantly forgotten Estella, not having to pursue the life of a gentleman in London, therefore achieving his contentment at the forge with Joe. Pip’s ignorance displayed here is a lesson to us all; we should take on board what people say who have a greater experience of the world. Not only had Pip chosen to ignore Biddy, but also did not realise the strong feelings Biddy herself felt for him. Both Biddy and Estella had similar levels of education, but why does Pip lust for Estella? Well, Estella is from a much higher social sphere than Biddy and is rich, being heiress to Miss Havisham’s vast property, whereas Biddy has nothing to her name. Based on appearances Estella is the gentlewoman, yet she treats Pip very unkindly, nevertheless she still remained the only woman to be loved by Pip. Biddy however is the complete opposite, kind and truthful towards Pip:
‘Biddy was never insulting, or capricious, or Biddy today and somebody else tomorrow; she would have derived only pain, and no pleasure, from giving me pain; she would far rather have wounded her own breast than mine.’
Herbert aides Pip even more in the step of becoming a gentleman by teaching him manners whilst up the dinner table. He offers his support in a polite way, yet still critical enough for Pip to enhance his education of common etiquette:
‘Now I come to the cruel part of the story- merely breaking off, my dear Handel, to remark that a dinner-napkin will not go into a tumbler.’
Why I was trying to pack mine into my tumbler, I am wholly unable to say. I only know that I found myself, with a perseverance worthy of a much better cause, making the most strenuous exertions to compress it within those limits. Again I thanked him and apologised, and again he said in the cheerfullest manner, ‘Not at all, I’m sure!’ and resumed.
Wemmick is another person Pip admires greatly, because of his ability to separate his home life at the castle from his working environment in London. Wemmick does not care what other people think of him and his extravagant home, with him influencing Pip to only let his true friends into his life. At this stage, Wemmick is the perfect role model for Pip as he only relies on himself to succeed, is truly comforted by his home and his generosity reveals to us his contentment. Nevertheless this is a tough lesson for Pip to grasp, but in the end Pip realises life is what he wants more than what he shows for other people.
When in London, Pip believes he has a lot of self-importance and so thinks he should be treated with respect accordingly. However when he finds out his true benefactor, he feels rather let down. Pip thought he was sent to become a gentleman by Miss Havisham, but he finds out that it was the escaped convict, Magwitch’s own doing. What Pip thought was a mis-conception of the truth and his fantasy of marrying Estella was well and truly over:
‘Miss Havisham’s intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not designed for me; I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience, a sting for the greedy relations, a model with a mechanical heart to practice on when no other practice was at hand…’
Magwitch felt he should help Pip in every way possible, after Pip had initially helped him and so he was the one who sent him to London. Pip is basing his impressions on Magwitch, when he had just escaped from prison and thinks that his fortune could have come around by a particular crime Magwitch caused. Not only does Pip feel down for his own sake that Estella was ‘not designed for him’, but he is aware of other people’s feelings back home and that he’s let them down:
‘But, sharpest and deepest pain of all- it was for the convict, guilty of I knew not what crimes, and liable to be taken out of those rooms where I sat thinking, and hanged at the Old Bailey door, that I had deserted Joe.'(Quotes from page317)
Ironically, Magwitch turned out to be Estella’s father which Pip really struggles to come to terms with. Nonetheless once he accepts Magwitch as his benefactor, he becomes more altruistic towards him:
‘Of all my worldly possessions I took no more than the few necessaries that filled the bag. Where I might go, what I might do, or when I might return, were questions utterly unknown to me; nor did I vex my mind with them, for it was wholly on Provis’s safety. I only wondered for the passing moment, as I stopped at the door and looked back, under what altered circumstances I should next see those rooms, if ever.’ (page425)
This passage represents a massive transformation in Pip; he has controlled his certain phobia of lower class status and is willing to risk everything for Magwitch’s safety.
Pip felt he let Joe down because when he visited Pip earlier in the novel, he felt embarrassed by Joe’s commonness and felt there was a huge dent in what used to be an affectionate relationship. Pip does compare his and Joe’s lifestyles:
‘I knew it was Joe, by his clumsy manner of coming up stairs- his state boots always being too big for him- and by the time it took him to read the names on the other floors in the course of his ascent.’ (page213)
‘I had neither the good sense nor the good feeling to know that this was all my fault, and that if I had been easier with Joe, Joe would have been easier with me. I felt impatient of him, and out of temper with him; in which condition he heaped coals of fire on my head.’
“Us two being now alone, Sir”- began Joe.
“Joe,” I interrupted, pettishly, “how can you call me Sir?”
Joe looked at me for a single instant with something faintly like reproach.'(page217)
In London, Pip socialises with the wrong sorts of people like Bentley Drummle and in the end Pip could see he wasn’t really destined to become that perfect gentleman. Eventually he runs into some debt, symbolising that money couldn’t be his identity forever. Going to London was the biggest mistake Pip made, but he managed to come to terms with this and his best friend in the entire world manages to bail Pip out:
‘Enclosed in the letter was a receipt for the debt and cost on which I had been arrested. Down to that moment I had vainly supposed that my creditor had withdrawn or suspended proceedings until I should be quite recovered. I had never dreamed of Joe having paid the money; but Joe had paid it and the receipt was in his name.’ (page463)
Joe rescues Pip here and he is a man that represents what Pip should have become in the first place. Pip really appreciates Joe again, having nothing but respect and admiration for him. Joe’s act of love makes Pip continue to develop into someone with a better identity. All Pip wants is people’s forgiveness who he has hurt throughout his quest to become a gentleman, especially Joe’s. Once Pip discovers his true identity, he becomes someone who is more content with life.
With Magwitch, Pip acts in a very mature manner in consoling a dying person. Magwitch dies happily with Pip, with Pip realising that love and loyalty amongst friends and family is far more crucial than your own social ambitions:
“Thank’ee, dear boy, thank’ee. God bless you! You’ve never deserted me, dear boy.”
I pressed his hand in silence, for I could not forget that I had once meant to desert him.
“And what’s best of all,” he said, “you’ve been more comfortable alonger me, since I was under a dark cloud, than when the sun shone.”
He lay on his back, breathing with great difficulty. Do what he would, and love me though he did, the light left his face and a film came over the placid look of the white ceiling.
“Are you in much pain today?”
“I don’t complain of none, dear boy.”
“You never do complain.”
He had spoken his last words. He smiled and I understood his touch to mean that he wished to lift my hand and lay it on his breast. I laid it there and he smiled again and put both his hands upon it. (pages450/1)
Towards the end of his life, Magwitch’s relationship with Pip is maybe as affectionate as Joe’s relationship with Pip, giving Pip a sense of content leaving on good terms with Magwitch, after coming to terms that he was the one who gave Pip the chance to become a gentleman.
Pip also visits Miss Havisham towards the end of the novel and realises how much she has suffered from her own misery and the misery she’d inflicted on many others. Miss Havisham begs for Pip’s forgiveness, which he duly does before she sets herself alight in flames:
“What have I done! What have I done!”
“If you mean, Miss Havisham, what have you done to injure me, let me answer. Very little. I should have loved her under any circumstances. Is she married?”
It was a needless question, for a new desolation in the desolate house had told me so.
“What have I done! What have I done!” She wrung her hands, and crashed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over again.
I knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form of her wild resentment, spurned affection and wounded pride found vengeance in, I knew full well. (pages390/1)
Selflessness contributes to Pip’s contentment at the end of the novel, but it’s because his fantasies were ruined by reality that he became less selfish. When Pip seeks other people’s happiness before his own, he becomes more able to grow as a much better person i.e. in wanting to save Magwitch by helping him escape the law. Nobody’s life runs smoothly all the time and Pip is no exception to this
At the very end of the novel Pip intends to start over by returning to the forge in hope that Biddy still loves him. To his dismay, she has married Joe which really was a great match- both were loving and kind. If Pip had not been greedy in the first place, there would have been every chance he could’ve got with Biddy, but to become content Pip must realise he did not ultimately deserve her and that he must be happy for her and Joe’s sake.
In my opinion Dickens cleverly analyses the different levels of contentment in his novel. The marshy countryside of the forge represents a rather humble lifestyle, but Joe and Biddy are much more content than most of the wealthier characters, in particular Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham lives in a grand house, yet still lives a bitter life inside it. This sums up the materialistic values of a higher class person; grand appearance on the outside, but unhappy and discontent on the inside. Miss Havisham’s life is so displeasing that she lives it just to wreak revenge on the male sex. There are two lessons here in which Pip has learned from in order to be content: First is that no matter what anybody says or how ever much they offend him, if he is happy with his life then he must not seek revenge on them. Second is that money and wealth on their own do not always perhaps bring the contentment you require. I feel Pip learns these and a few other lessons well in order for him to achieve contentment.
Dickens relates Pip’s struggles to the ones he faced in his own life, in order to achieve contentment such as family problems, debt and education. Problems like these are overcome by sticking to a moral set of values, dispelling all the materialistic values which in the end leave a person unhappy. There is a clear message in the novel that the best way to achieve contentment is to live your life and learn from the positive and negative experiences of it. You must listen to the people who are close to you and their advice that they give, because this was one of Pip’s downfalls. Even though ‘Great Expectations’ was written almost two centuries ago; we as readers know how to achieve contentment with our own lives, by controlling and getting rid of our fantasies and phobias whilst being aware that wealth and higher class doesn’t necessarily mean a better way of life.