In Great Expectations, the main character Pip tries to become more prominent in the world, to rise in society. He loses any satisfaction he might have had with his place in society once he has spent a day in the house of an upper-middle class woman, Miss Havisham. He sees the discrepancies between his world and that of Miss Havisham and Estella. He is captivated by Estella's beauty, and it wounds him deeply that she thinks him to be dirty and base. Many people in his life had disapproved of him before, but he had never seemed to take their criticism to heart. Pip believes everything that Estella says to him. He discovers faults in himself and in his home environment that he did not know existed before.
When I got up to my little room and said my prayers, I did not forget Joe's recommendation, and yet my young mind was in that disturbed and unthankful state, that I thought long after I had laid me down, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how thick his boots, and how coarse his hands. I thought how Joe and my sister were then sitting in the kitchen, and how I had come up to bed from the kitchen, and how Miss Havisham and Estella never sat in a kitchen, but were far above the level of such common doings. I fell asleep recalling what I “used to do" when I was at Miss Havisham's; as though I had been there weeks and months, instead of hours, and as though it were quite an old subject of remembrance, instead of one that had arisen only that day. [p.60]
1. Why does Pip have this newly discovered dissatisfaction? Is he simply captivated by Estella, or does something else from that first day at Miss Havisham's strike a chord in him?
2. Because there are several levels of narration in this novel, it is sometimes hard to differentiate between the voice of young Pip and the voice of the man who is telling his story. The question then arises whether young Pip has a voice in this story. How much of this passage is Pip's voice and how much is it a vehicle for the narrator's irony?
3. Is this the first time we see Pip's snobbery? Does the fact that it is an older Pip telling his story modify the intensity of this snobbery or enhance it?
4. This dissatisfaction with his place in life only increases throughout the novel. Does Pip ever really grow out of his immaturity?
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Edgar Rosenberg. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.
Last modified 19 February 2004