Joe's visit in London is an event which creates much anxiety for Pip. Upon hearing of his arrival, dread immediately overcomes Pip: “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." Having excelled to a more fortunate class, Pip cannot bear to be in the company of Joe, who represents his poor past. His visit elapses painfully: Pip cannot bear to watch Joe's failed attempts to demonstrate upper class manners, from his speech, to his dress and his gestures. As Joe finally prepares to leave, he offers a sort of apologetic and humbling remark on their discomfort.

Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's a whitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there's been any fault at all to-day, it's mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain't that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I'm wrong in these clothes. I'm wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th' meshes. You won't find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won't find half so much fault in me if, supposing as you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I'm awful dull, but I hope I've beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so GOD bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, GOD bless you!" [Place within the complete text of the novel]

In this speech, Joe apologizes that his visit went against the grain of social rules. He acknowledges that he and Pip no longer belong to the same division in society — there is no use in pretending things can be otherwise. Yet Joe does not blame himself or Pip for their different situations: the different blacksmiths he lists are natural divisions which society produces, just like its many classes. Rather than regret or become angry over losing Pip from the blacksmith class, Joe sees the situation as unavoidable: “Divisions among such must come." People will move between classes, leaving others behind in the process. Joe demonstrates his unchanging affection for Pip by cheerfully blessing Pip : although Joe may now call Pip “sir," this is only a change in social formality — the two are as equal as ever on moral grounds.

Questions

1. Although Joe notes that divisions are natural and right, interestingly enough, he never commends Pip's progression in these divisions. Is this Joe's subtle way of teaching Pip that his new standing is not necessarily better? What does Pip mean by describing Joe's character as one of a “simple dignity" afterwards? Is this remark condescending or admirable?

2) Pip is emotionally stirred by Joe's enduring affection: “As soon as I could recover myself sufficiently, I hurried out after him." Yet, the next day Pip avoids Joe and chooses to stay at the Blue Boar instead — even after Joe said one of the only places they can be together on the same level when the situation “is private, and beknown, and understood among friends." Why is Pip reluctant to be with him even at home? Is he concerned that Joe might tarnish his acquired gentlemanly manners, or does he hold too much pity for Joe to be comfortable in his presence?

3) When Mr. Rochester implies that the shallow Miss Ingram will be his wife, Jane is disappointed yet able to accept it — she cannot blame either one for how their class has influenced them:

I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester's project of marrying for interest and connections. It surprised me when I first discovered that such was his intention: I had thought him a man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position, education, &c., of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging and blaming either him or Miss Ingram for acting in conformity to ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their childhood. All their class held these principles: I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom. It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband's own happiness offered by this plan convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant: otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act.

How does Jane's acceptance resemble that of Joe's? Why is it that in each example, Joe and Jane reason in a condescending manner that suggests an individual in a higher class is less knowledgeable of society's influential rules? Were Bronte and Dickins striving to improve the reputation of lower class people in this way? On another note, why do both Jane and Joe blame society and not personal nature (nurture instead of nature)? Is this a mechanism to protect an optimistic opinion of a friend, or simply an example of popular Victorian philosophy?

4) Rarely does Dickins use capital letters in Great Expectations. Why is Joe's “GOD" one of these words — in a largely nonreligious novel? Does the capitalization create a second sarcastic tone, layered upon Joe's seemingly sincere one?

5) What did families used to do when some gained status in wealth while others remained less fortunate in this way? Would ties be cut off forever due to social pressures, would the relationship become private (such as Joe recommends), or would the rich relation be able to pull his/her weight in securing a better position for his entire immediate family?

Related Material


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008