In Chapter 8 of Dickens' Great Expectations, Mr. Pumblechook volunteers Pip, a lovable orphan boy “raised by hand" by his sister, to go and play at Miss Havisham's estate. Upon his arrival, Estella, Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, coldly greets Pip, referring to him as “'boy' so often, and with a carelessness that was far from complimentary, she was of about [his] own age" (60). Estella's superior attitude towards Pip begins to reveal the underlying class prejudices at work throughout the novel. Her language choice in her initial conversation with Pip emphasizes her belief that Pip's working class status places him in an inferior position than hers.

After playing cards with Estella upon Miss Havisham's request, Estella leads Pip back outside to eat and roam the grounds. While waiting for Estella to gather his food, Pip stands alone, evaluating himself:

I took the opportunity of being alone in the courtyard to look at my coarse hands and my common boots. My opinion of those accessories was not favorable. They had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages. I determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards Jacks, which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too. [65]

Bothered by Estella's comments, Pip begins to critique himself and his upbringing. He now sees his hands and boots as “vulgar" indicators of his lower class status. Prior to his trip to Miss Havisham's, Pip did not even think about his class distinction and its indicators. This is also the first place where Pip criticizes his close friend and father figure, Joe. Pip views his lower class status as a result of Joe's and his sister's upbringing.

When Estella returns with his food, Pip experiences another moment of self doubt and degradation. Pip describes the encounter as follows:

She came back, with some bread and meat and a little mug of beer. She put the mug down on the stones of the yard, and gave me the bread and meat without looking at me, as insolently as if I were a dog in disgrace. I was so humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry, — I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart — God knows what its name was, — that tears started to my eyes. The moment they sprang there, the girl looked at me with a quick delight in having been the cause of them. This gave me power to keep them back and to look at her: so, she gave a contemptuous toss — but with a sense, I thought, of having made too sure that I was so wounded — and left me. [66]

Estella's actions here seem to have more of an effect on Pip than her words did earlier. She treats him like an animal and in effect makes Pip feel like one. Pip tries to search for a word to describe the embarrassment and hurt, but fails to do so. Estella relishes in the fact that she has such an enormous effect on Pip's emotions and can reaffirm her superiority by doing so. By treating Pip like an animal, Estella emphasizes her higher class status and forces Pip to realize his inferior position as a young working class orphan boy.

Questions

1. Pip did not seem to realize or care about his lower class status prior to his visit to Miss Havisham's and his encounters with Estella. Given that the Victorians placed a large significance on class distinctions and rankings, why do you think Pip did not think about his class status before this incident?

2. Did Jane Eyre experience any class encounters similar to the one described in the scene above?

3. By describing Pip as treated like a “dog in disgrace" and left “wounded", does Dickens evoke sympathy for Pip from the reader? Or, does it evoke dislke and contempt for Estella? Or, does it have a different effect altogether?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 18 February 2008