In Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Orlick is portrayed as a recurring villain. He scares Pip as a young boy by insinuating that the Devil, well known to him, lived in the forge and had malevolent intentions for Pip. The fiendish ways of Orlick are put into further suspicion when Pip's sister is mysteriously attacked and rendered an invalid.

Dickens has the reader assume Orlick's guilt using Pip's descriptions and impressions of the man, who had only been introduced as a character a few pages prior. Doubt is cast on Orlick's character by the use of terms like: “obstinate disposition," “Cain," “the Wandering Jew," “morose," “ill-favored." Dickens leads us to view the “slouching" man in such a negative light that by the time Pip introduces the idea of Orlick as a likely suspect, we are quick to reject others like the “strange man who had shown [Pip] the file" or other escaped convicts, and condemn Orlick.

Our suspicions are confirmed in one of the last few dramatic scenes. Pip responds to an anonymous tip-off about Magwitch and is thus lured by Orlick to a deserted sluice-house. Orlick ties Pip up and confesses in his drunken rant that he would kill Pip and dispose of him, like he tried with his sister.

“You was always in Old Orlick's way since ever you was a child. You goes out of his way, this present night. He'll have no more on you. You're dead."

I felt that I had come to the brink of my grave. For a moment I looked wildly round my trap for any chance of escape; but there was none.

“More than that," said he, folding his arms on the table again, “I won't have a rag of you, I won't have a bone of you, left on earth. I'll put your body in the kiln - I'd carry two such to it, on my shoulders - and, let people suppose what they may of you, they shall never know nothing." . . .

“Wolf!" said he, folding his arms again, “Old Orlick's a-going to tell you somethink. It was you as did for your shrew sister."

Again my mind, with its former inconceivable rapidity, had exhausted the whole subject of the attack upon my sister, her illness, and her death, before his slow and hesitating speech had formed these words.

“It was you, villain," said I.

“I tell you it was your doing - I tell you it was done through you," he retorted, catching up the gun, and making a blow with the stock at the vacant air between us. “I come upon her from behind, as I come upon you to-night. I giv' it her! I left her for dead, and if there had been a limekiln as nigh her as there is now nigh you, she shouldn't have come to life again. But it warn't Old Orlick as did it; it was you. You was favoured, and he was bullied and beat. Old Orlick bullied and beat, eh? Now you pays for it. You done it; now you pays for it." [Place within the complete text of the novel]

Years of hate sprung up in this meeting. The hate for being wrongfully bullied by Pip's sister, the loss of his job at Miss Havisham's, the souring of his chances with Biddy, the lack of any family relations, was fresh; Pip must pay for all his apparent wrongdoing. Had any one of these circumstances been different, Orlick might not have turned out the way he did, so he blames Pip for his crimes and current predicament. Dickens illustrates clearly the division of paths for these two former apprentices of Joe and we once again side with Pip, more worthy of our respect now than as a child, when he first aided us in accusing Orlick.

Questions

1. Does Pip play a pivotal role in creating Orlick the monster? Does Orlick too, play a role in creating Pip the gentleman?

2. Dickens' description of Orlick emphasizes many times that he is “always slouching." Why is this important?

3. Revenge is a constant theme through Great Expectations (e.g. Compeyson on Magwitch, Miss Havisham on men). Compare Dickens' use of revenge in his characters and Bronte's use of Mrs. Reed's revenge in Jane Eyre using the following passage:

“Because I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly ever to lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity. I could not forget your conduct to me, Jane--the fury with which you once turned on me; the tone in which you declared you abhorred me the worst of anybody in the world; the unchildlike look and voice with which you affirmed that the very thought of me made you sick, and asserted that I had treated you with miserable cruelty. I could not forget my own sensations when you thus started up and poured out the venom of your mind: I felt fear as if an animal that I had struck or pushed had looked up at me with human eyes and cursed me in a man's voice.-- Bring me some water! Oh, make haste!"

“I tell you I could not forget it; and I took my revenge: for you to be adopted by your uncle, and placed in a state of ease and comfort, was what I could not endure. I wrote to him; I said I was sorry for his disappointment, but Jane Eyre was dead: she had died of typhus fever at Lowood. Now act as you please: write and contradict my assertion--expose my falsehood as soon as you like. You were born, I think, to be my torment: my last hour is racked by the recollection of a deed which, but for you, I should never have been tempted to commit."

4. Despite his difficulties in his endeavors, Orlick is never portrayed as a character we can sympathize with. Was it common to have such a one-dimensional, but pivotal, character in the Victorian novel? Could the Victorian readers have identified somewhat with Orlick's character?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008