From his first meeting with Miss. Havisham, Pip felt the sharp sting of inadequacy. At the start of the novel, Pip, though able to realize what a good, kind-hearted man Joe is, felt ashamed of him, particularlyl of Joe's uneducated state. When the young man “come[s] into a handsome property" (177), he assumes an air of superiority over Biddy and Joe, childishly feeling entitled to treat them with disrespect. When Biddy points out Joe's pride in Pip, he says, with “a virtuous and superior tone" (176), that he “did not expect to see this", calling her “envious . . . and grudging . . . dissatisfied on account of [his] rise in fortune" (176). He next tells Biddy that her remark shows “a bad side of human nature" (176), showing that she feels envious; however, this envy exists only in Pip's mind, as quite obviously Biddy feels nothing of the sort. His horrible treatment of Joe continues throughout Pip's time as a gentleman, shown most clearly by his conduct when Joe comes for a visit. Although Joe had ever treated him kindly, Pip confesses “with what feelings [he] looked forward to Joe's coming" (240):

Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money. My greatest reassurance was, that he was coming to Barnard's Inn, not to Hammersmith, and consequently would not fall in Bentley Drummle's way. [240]

This “mortification" indicates Pip's lack of comfort in his new position, for he feels that Joe's inadequacies will show too clearly Pip's low origins. Pip's selfishness, a true sign of his immaturity, controls his treatment of Joe until the very end of the novel, when he had not only aged considerably but can also no longer be considered a gentleman of fortune. It takes the intense journey of learning to care for Magwitch, a convict of even humbler origins than Joe, to realize that people and their actions are what matter, not social standing. As he gains the wisdom of maturity through personal growth, he comes to not only realize how good Joe was to him, but to feel it as well. Upon returning home, he remarks:

It was only the pleasanter to turn to Biddy and to Joe, whose great forbearance shoe more brightly than before, if that could be, contrasted with this brazen pretender. I went towards them slowly, for my limbs were weak, but with an increasing sense of relief as I drew nearer to them, and a sense of leaving arrogance and untruthfulness further and further behind. [486]

The trauma Pip endured in his time in London forced him to mature. His unblemished excitement to return to Joe and Biddy demonstrates his emotional growth; previously, he would have been in anguish over having to acknowledge such low relations, whereas now his true happiness to once more be with them shines through. Pip has moved from a selfish child intent only on his own fantasies to a more mature adult, capable of not only seeing the goodness of his family, but appreciating them in their own right.

Questions

1. Pip's social standing improved simply because he “came into a handsome property." Could rise so far in rank simply with the aid of money, or did it take more than that to become a gentlemen? How does Herbert demonstrate this concept? Could this be reflective of the economic state, or simply say something about the class structure of the time?

2. Even though Pip has gained emotional maturity as it concerns his family, he still belivew that he and Estella having a future together. Why? How does Jane at the end of Jane Eyre compare to this (she too comes to have charitable feelings for her family/ still feels consumed by the idea of returning to Rochester)?

3. Although Dickens seems to wrap up lose ends at the completion of the novel, having Pip emotionally reconcile with himself and his family, why does Dickens leave open the portion about Estella? He provokes what sorts of feelings in the reader? Why provoke this particular sentiment?

4. How would his readers have felt about this ending, as opposed to either a more harsh, or even a softer, finish? Would they have preferred the ending of Jane Eyre ? Why or why not.

5. Pip, brutally honest in his self-criticism throughout the novel, still narrates his story as if reminiscing on his past. What does Dickens imply with Pip's harsh self analysis? Does this have to do with the religious feelings of the time, or simply with the idea that Pip the narrator would now be older and wiser, and would look at himself in this harsh light for his perceived sins?

6. How does Pip's circumstance and obsession with rising to a higher social class contrast with Herbert Pockets situation? What does this bring to Pip's character development?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008