From his earliest memories to his apprenticeship with his brother-in-law Joe Gargery, Pip of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations spends a childhood ridden with false accusations and alienation at the hands of the adult figures in his life. Christmas dinner for quiet Pip is an assault on his morality led by Mrs. Hubble, as she says:

'Why is it that the young are never grateful?' This moral mystery seemed too much for the company until Mr. Hubble tersely solved it by saying, 'Naterally wicious.' Everybody then murmured 'True!' and looked at me in a particularly unpleasant and personal manner. [p. 62]

Maybe a mob mentality, vague stereotyping, or superstition drive these accusations---but certainly not evidence. The lack of reasoning behind the attack inspires the terrifying notion in Pip that he is fundamentally evil and that this fact is outside of his control. Since these people and opinions compose a significant part of Pip's home life, the orphaned Pip experiences both literal and emotional abandonment and alienation.

As he grows older, Pip feels trapped by the adults in his life and the expectations they place on him. When Pip is to be apprenticed to Joe, Dickens's play on the word “bound" likens the process to Pip's being arrested and tried for an unknown and inevitable crime:

'Now you see Joseph and wife,' said Pumblechook, as he took me by the arm above the elbow, “I am one of them that always go right through with what they've begun. This boy must be bound, out of hand. That's myway. Bound out of hand.' ... I was pushed over by Pumblechook, exactly as if I had that moment picked a pocket or fired a rick; in deed, it was the general impression in Court that I had been taken red-handed, for as Pumblechook shoved me before him through the crowd, I heard some people say, 'What's he done?' and others, 'He's a young 'un, too, but looks bad, don't he?'

Pumblechook handles Pip like cop and robber, shoving him to the Court house, which produces the appropriate setting for this alternate scenario. Pip's binding so strongly resembles an arrest that onlookers make the same unfounded assumptions that the Hubbles and company did years before---that Pip is a criminal to the core. Without even a stranger's confidence in him, Pip is as alone as ever

. It is not unique to this book that Dickens makes the protagonist of his writing a lonely, unsupported, and unwanted child. Oliver Twist, for example, is another miserable child character of his. This aspect of Dickens's works was the product of his own childhood helplessness and fear. When his parents were incarcerated as debtors, young Dickens was forced to leave school to work at the Warren Shoeblacking factory, the years at which were some of the most traumatizing of his life. When his family inherited some money that allowed his family to resume some sort of normal life, his mother thought it best for him to continue working at the dreaded factory rather than return to school. The sense of utter abandonment that he felt at that point in his life manifests itself in the experiences of Pip and his other characters.

Questions

Does Dickens express his horrible childhood experiences in the factories through any characters of Great Expectations besides Pip?

How does Jane Eyre's childhood compare to that of Pip's?

The convict sees the good Pip at the beginning of the book when nearly no one else around him does. Is the irony of a convict being a good judge of moral character a social comment by Dickens?

Does Pip's guilt derive only from people and forces outside himself? Is his feeling of inferiority upon meeting Estella a form of guilt? How does Pip act when he's not feeling guilty?

What relation does Orlick have to his guilt? to Magwitch?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens <span class=Great Expectations"/>

Last modified 25 February 2010