From the earliest scenes in the novel, Pip describes in exquisite detail the guilt he feels over various events and circumstances in his life. Some things, such as stealing a file and food for the escaped convict he feels justifiably guilty about. However, his feelings of guilt over his lowly circumstance and how uneducated Joe is consume his life even though they are things over which he had absolutely no control. Miss Havisham and Estella have contrived to make him feel quite low born, thus causing him to feel poorly about himself and Joe, which in turn leads to his feelings of guilt over being angry with his protector. Pip knows that Joe has never been anything but kind to him, and is a genuinely good man, but he still cannot help but feel angry with Joe's lack of sophistication, and it is this anger that stokes the furnace of guilt.

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, I can testify.

Home has never been a very pleasant place to me, because of my sister's tempter. But, Joe has sanctified it, and I had believed in it. I had believed in the best parlor as a most elegant saloon; I had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice of roast fowls; I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste through not magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year, all this was changed. Now, it was all coarse and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account. (134)

Pip despairs of his “condition of mind"(134), knowing that he despises his place at Joe's side even though the man has forever been good to him. He says that his way of looking at things have changed, which is why he is no longer happy with his circumstance; it is this change in perspective that makes him feel guilty. However, this is not the only instance of his guilt, as it is a theme that runs strong throughout the novel as Pip struggles with feelings of shame. Much of his shame comes from how he feels about his humble origins. It is these feelings of shame that deepen the guilt he feels, for he knows that although common, Joe is a good man, and it is disrespectful of him to resent Joe simply because he has a new found shame for his existence.

Questions

1. Like Pip, Jane Eyre feels much anger towards her adopted mother figure. They both have strong feelings of resentment, but do their bitter feelings differ from one another, and does their situations have anything to do with this if it is the case?

2. Many characters in Dickens's novel seem one-dimensional and basic. Do these stock characters have a purpose? Why not make more complex characters for Pip to interact with?

3. Dickens portrays Pip as a character wracked with guilt; what can this depiction tell us about the emotional nature of religion and its impact on people at this time? Was guilt a strong factor in Religion? If so, how and why was this the case?

4. Why does Dickens use so many images in Pip's childhood that the young boy had “believed in"? Does this reiteration make his point any more effective?

5. Pip's early trauma in the marshes has a profound impact on the rest of his life; could this emotional distress be strictly autobiographical for Dickens, or more of an allegory for his life? If so (for either question), in what ways?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 20 February 2008