Throughout the first half of the book, Pip's relationship with Joe reflects his increasing dissatisfaction with his own position in his sister's household. The relationship changes from a loving one to one that is marked by intolerance. As a boy, Pip looks up to Joe, whom he portrays as his protector and a friend who “sanctified" his home and made his sister's rampages bearable. Pip loved him and even had difficulties lying to him about his encounter with the escaped convict for fear that Joe would think less of him.

I could hardly have imagined dear old Joe looking so unlike himself or so like some extraordinary bird; standing, as he did, speechless, with his tuft of feathers ruffled, and his mouth open, as if he wanted a worm. . . .

It was very aggravating; but, throughout the interview Joe persisted in addressing Me instead of Miss Havisham. . . .

It was quite in vain for me to endeavor to make him sensible that he ought to speak to Miss Havisham. The more I made faces and gestures to him to do it, the more confidential, argumentative, and polite, he persisted in being to Me.

Their relationship worsens after Pip becomes wealthy and leaves for London. Even after several years, Pip cannot find a way to reconcile his new position with his original working class trajectory; when Joe pays him a visit, the meeting is strained and awkward. Pip does not want this meeting to occur, and he says that ‘If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money'. When it does happen, Pip's actions and words make the conversation unnatural and very uncomfortable for Joe, forcing him to leave prematurely. Joe recognizes the palpable difference in their classes and understands this to be the cause of their division.

"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. Divisions 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]

Questions

1. Joe is in all respects, a flawless character. He is honest, hardworking and dignified and the reader cannot help but side with him. What does Dickens' try to accomplish by juxtaposing him with Pip?

2. There are several different portrayals of gentlemen in this novel: Herbert Pocket is dignified and easy going, Mr. Jaggers is successful and fearsome, Bentley Drummle is haughty and brutish. Pip's entrance into a life of a gentleman is tempered by his continued intolerance of his past. How would the Victorian readers have understood the role of a gentleman and Pip's predicament in his transition?

3. Joe uses the different vocations “blacksmith," “goldsmith," “whitesmith" and “coppersmith" to denote their differences. Why does he do this and not simply refer to the two vocations in conflict?

4. Charlotte Brontë also uses a sense of place and position in Jane Eyre. Joe recognizes that he is wrong in any clothes other than his work clothes and Jane as a governess never wears anything but plain dresses that are befitting of her role. Is Bronte, like Dickens, using it to refer to a sense of pride in one's place, as well as a sense of wrong in any other?

Related Material


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008