Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” and the Monsters
We would always look in the darkest places for monsters: under the bed, in the closet, out in the woods where light could never penetrate the trees. We would always let our imagination wander to depict creatures that replicated hairy beasts with angry fangs and cat-like eyes whose pupils never enlarged to show their good in every evil. We would always imagine monsters to be dark, scary, manipulative, and dangerous, but what if the very monsters we pictured were only replicas of us? What if the same monsters we imagined were so familiar to us because we knew that maybe in a different world, they might just be us? One of the revolving yet underlying themes in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens explores the ideas of how essentially, humans make monsters; they don’t just form on their own. The evil potential in almost every circumstance that can take away from the moral goodness of a character is what can cause the monster-like ideas that people often associates beasts with, such as large, dark, angry, ambitious, and determined. Many of these qualities are also human-like, just not associated negatively when used in a good way. One of the “monstrous” themes that the novel discusses is the idea of wealth-driven ambition, which can be seen through the Pip’s character. As readers experience how Pip grows up and learns the mistakes he made in his early life, Dickens relates to the readers that while ambition is inherently good, it has the potential to be bad depending on the extent someone will go to achieve their goals, and what goals drive certain ambitions.
People’s ambitions differ based on different goals that they have. Success to one person can mean something different to another. In Great Expectations, there’s a clear difference between the goals and meanings of Joe’s life and Pip’s life, as highlighted at the end of Chapter 9. After Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook arrange for Pip to play at Mrs. Havisham’s house in hopes of Pip’s rise in social status, Pip returns home and is overwhelmed by the difference in his life and Mrs. Havisham’s life. When he tells Joe his feelings about his experience, Joe advises Pip to stay within his own social class and tells him that honesty will pave a successful path. Pip however, overwhelmed with the extravagance of the other life, falls “asleep recalling what [he] “used to do” when [he] was at Mrs. Havisham’s; as though [he] had been there for weeks or months, instead of hours; and as though it were quite an old subject of remembrance, instead of one that had only arisen that day” (131). It is seen within the first few chapters that although the idea of Pip going to Mrs. Havisham’s wasn’t originally Pip’s idea, but instead Mrs. Joe’s and Pumblechook’s idea, Pip showed signs of showing the same desire as his sister and Pumblechook had, which was a different class and essentially, a different way of life. Dickens shows us that a decision between a morally good yet intangible goal against a goal worth monetary value and stature is a hard one to make, and Pip is presented with this option from Joe in this chapter. Although that it is a choice to make, Pip clearly doesn’t know it yet, as something monetary and tangible at first glance seems to outweigh anything intangible. While Pip’s ambition drove him to become better, his choice of becoming better in terms of wealth versus his choice of becoming a better character had caused his ambition to make a monster out of his desire: the rise to a higher status and wealth.
By narrating the story of his own life, Pip shows us that by choosing what his goals were and his desire to achieve them, he sacrificed moral goodness and generosity in hopes of gaining wealth. Pip spends long hours at the Satis house playing with Mrs. Havisham and Estella to the point where Pip begins to fall in love with Estella and her rude, selfish personality. While Pip seems infatuated with the girl and longs to spend his time with her, readers can’t help but question whether or not Pip’s “love” for Estella was real and the cause of his desire to stay at Satis house, or if it was simply him loving her status and his goals to reach it. Pip’s “great expectation” was rising in class to marry Estella, caused by his assumption that Mrs. Havisham was the benefactor of a large amount of money he received. However, once Pip finds out that his benefactor was not Mrs. Havisham but instead a convict that he had rescued years ago named Magwitch who had showed up at Pip’s place while he was in London, it is questioned if Pip actually helps him out of his own goodness or if he helped him because he felt indebted to him and the fortune he received. When he was young, Pip had helped Magwitch out of his own moral goodness, expecting nothing in return. After his time in London, at the Satis House, and away from family, however, Pip’s moral drive that was not associated with wealth seemed to slowly go away, as he stopped visiting family to the point where his family stopped expecting him. Pip’s rise in social class had changed him so much to the point that he even began to feel awkward around Joe, who was always there for him. During one meeting, Joe tells Pip, “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” (746). As Joe hinted, Pip’s ambition had driven him so far that even his love for Joe couldn’t hide the awkwardness and differences he felt between him. If one’s ambition is so strong that it takes away from other characteristics, it may as well be deemed “monstrous,” as monsters are known to take away and be greedy. Monstrous yet humane characteristics are also greedy and it’s our choices to act upon the greed of our desire. In the novel, Pip’s ambition won.
Through Pip’s life, Dickens had showed us that monsters are in every one of us, and it’s our choices that bring them out. It’s always a battle between one thing and another every single day that we live, and these choices not only shape us but the monsters we breed, whether it may be jealousy, love, ambition, and even self-consciousness. It’s a perfect balance between the monstrous forces and their “good” counterparts that keep the monsters down and keep us happy at the same time, because one can only win at another’s loss. Readers learn that while jealousy is powerful, so is acceptance, and jealousy is the monster that can overrule. The same thing goes for hate, ambition, and every other characteristic that we host. It’s a matter of choosing carefully and thinking before we speak and act that allows us to beat the monsters that reside our own being.
Great Expectations By Charles Dickens: Great Wealth Does Not Lead To Great Integrity
The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain was a time of newfound social freedoms. New inventions and scientific discoveries allowed for faster and cheaper production of goods. Manufacturing processes created jobs and fostered the birth of new industries. For the first time ever, people believed in social mobility. People believed they could make a fortune and move themselves out of the class in which they had been trapped their whole lives. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens creates a world that parallels that of the Victorian era, where class divisions can be overcome.
The novel’s protagonist, Pip, receives a fortune that allows him to study to become a gentleman. This unfamiliar wealth quickly demoralizes him, and he dissociates himself from his prior life with his new social standing. As well as disregarding his past for an enticing life of wealth, he leaves behind Biddy for a chance with the unattainable Estella. The influence of both money and Estella on Pip deeply corrupts his morals and character throughout the story. Pip’s relationship with Estella and Biddy, and conversely with wealth and poverty, suggests Dickens’ opinions on society; that advancing one’s social standing will not advance one’s character. Pip initially fails to recognize the purpose of Biddy in his life. Biddy is first introduced to the story as the granddaughter of Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt. She works at her grandmother’s school, where she meets Pip. Pip always describes her as being a sweet and gentle child, who was also mature and intelligent for her age. Her character shares several similarities with that of Pip; she is also an orphan, is considerably lower class and she too was brought up by hand.
They spend a considerable amount of time together and Biddy grows to really care about Pip. When Pip asks her to teach him to read and write, “Biddy, who was the most obliging of girls, immediately said she would” (Dickens 66). Biddy, like Pip, lives a simple and meager life. She is perfectly content with her social status and has no interest in becoming wealthy and moving out of her lower class. Although she appears to be a perfect companion for Pip, he never expresses interest in her romantically. He never gives her very flattering descriptions in terms of her beauty. Pip says that “her hair always wanted brushing, her hands always wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending and pulling up at heel” (40). Even though Biddy certainly has feelings for Pip, he never conveys the same emotions. He never associates himself romantically with Biddy and the common people she represents. Pip is unable to understand that Estella is out of reach for him, and that pursuing her will only cause him pain. Pip meets Estella when his uncle Pumblechook arranges for him to meet with Miss Havisham.
Miss Havisham is exceedingly wealthy, and her adopted daughter, Estella, shares in her prosperity. From the second Pip first encounters Estella, he knows she is out of his reach. Her upper class arrogance and disdain for Pip and his manners instantly form a division between the two characters. Pip notes that she was “beautiful and self-possessed” and that “she was as scornful of [him] as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen” (51). She is extremely rude to Pip, making him feel inferior and worthless. She shatters all his pride, mocking his lower class behavior and dress. She makes him feel ashamed of things he used to be proud of. Pip says that “her contempt was so strong, that it became infectious, and [he] caught it” (55). The two clearly do not have anything in common, but Pip is enchanted, and falls under her lustful spell. She lives a life of luxury, boasting her wealth and elevated social class. Pip, a mere laboring boy, cannot match the grandeur she exudes. She changes his perspective of society, cementing the idea of social hierarchy in his innocent mind. He cannot see that she has no interest in him, yet he devotes himself to becoming a gentleman so that she will accept him. He wants to rid himself of the mockery and ridicule of a life with which he now will not associate. After Pip becomes aware that he has an anonymous benefactor, his bond with a life in the forge begins to wither.
As his monetary value increases, so does his moral corruption. Pip uses this newfound wealth to distance himself from his past life, and in turn, from Biddy. When he sees her again, after being exposed to the luxurious life of money, his demeanor is much more pretentious, and he lets his hubris get to his head. He makes her feel bad about her social class, as his new perspective has done to him. Pip explains how dreadful his life as a laborer was and asks her “what it would signify to [him], being coarse and common, if nobody had told [him] so” (116-117). Biddy is hurt by this bold statement, remarking that “it was neither a very true nor a very polite thing to say” (117). Pip’s tone suggests that he no longer identifies himself with Biddy, and that his current prosperity inherently makes him better than her. Although he acts rather conceited towards Biddy, Pip knows at heart that he would be better off if he were with her. He says to her “if only I could get myself to fall in love with you,” to which she responds, “but you never will, you see” (119). Biddy knows that Pip will never love her but she continues to treat him with the same kindness and respect that she showed him when he was younger. She continues to be present in his life, helping his struggling family when Mrs. Joe is badly injured. She represents a sort of moral soundness, presenting an image of what Pip’s life could have been had he not been corrupted by the lure of wealth and becoming a gentleman.
The two remain friends, but Biddy eventually moves on to marry Joe. Through Biddy, Pip sees the life he could have had materialize, if he had not let his lust and greed determine his path. After Pip is exposed to Estella and her life of luxury, he is determined to become a part of it, and to separate himself from his own. Estella’s appearance leads a naive Pip to believe that she is above him, and he becomes fixated on her and her social standing. He fails to see class as anything other than rich and poor, and his new perspective makes him realize that he is the latter. He is determined to rise above his former poverty, in hopes that Estella will eventually accept him. His anonymous benefactor affords him the opportunity to move up in class and in wealth, and he believes this to be his opportunity to win over Estella. When he meets her again, he is entirely captivated by her beauty. He says that “Estella seemed more delicately beautiful than she had ever seemed yet, even in [his] eyes” (242). He still regards her as a divine presence, and equates her elegance to superiority. He continues to adore her, and craves her acceptance of him even more than ever. Instead of the passionate embrace he has so anxiously awaited, he is met with the same scorn she showed him when they were younger. Estella is cruel to him, and continues to look down upon him and his social class. Pip recognizes how truly terrible she is, but cannot rid himself of his romantic desires. He contemplates “how happy [he] should be if [he] lived there with her,” although he knows “that [he] was never happy with her, but always miserable” (247).
Estella remains an unreachable goal for Pip, and he realizes that she will never love him. He never obtains her affection, and she moves on to marry Drummle. He watches her in all her success, and sees a life he can never and will never have. Charles Dickens attracts readers of his novel Great Expectations with a character who shares in a universal human desire: the desire to move up the social hierarchy. Dickens’ Pip feels ashamed of the impoverished life into which he was born, and longs to elevate his wealth and social standing. He does so, proving the notion of social mobility, and that those lucky enough to make a fortune can completely alter their lives. His self-determined success is not without repercussions, however, as his obsession with class drives him to question his own identity. Pip experiences the effects of wealth through his relationships with both Biddy and Estella, two characters in vastly different social standing. Estella, in all her pride and affluence, blinds Pip from Biddy, his moral security, as Pip’s fortune blinds him from his morals, and eventually happiness. Pip’s moral struggle implies an underlying warning of Dickens to his readers: that great wealth does not lead to great integrity.
Portrait of the Injustice
In the first part of Dicken’s Great Expectations, Pip confesses to his readers that “I had known, from the time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious and violent coercion, was unjust to me” (63). During Pip’s first visit to Satis House in Chapter Eight, he finds himself crying from brutal humiliation and explains to his readers that his sister’s bringing him up by hand made him sensitive (63). He continues by explaining that “in the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely felt, as injustice” (63). His cry of injustice, however, does not leave him even when he grows. Though Pip is looking back on all these events and placing them in his narrative as an adult, his tone and language indicate a sense of bitterness. Although he has overcome his disappointments and failures by the end of the novel and is now looking back and retelling his story, he is still blaming his sister’s bringing him up “by hand” as the cause for his vulnerabilities. This feeling of “injustice” has never left him “within myself, I had sustained, from my babyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice” (63).
From the very first lines of the novel the readers are given a depressing view of Pip’s childhood. The only thing that represents his parents is their tombstones. His five dead brothers, “who gave up trying to get a living; exceedingly early in that universal struggle” (3), illustrates the harshness of the world in which Pip grew up. Not knowing anything more about his family, Pip fantasizes about them; he imagines his father was a “square, stout, dark man, with curly hair” and his mother was “freckled and sickly” (3). As a deprived child he is forced to fantasize and imagine the world in various ways, and according to Hochman and Wachs, “his discourse throughout [the novel] is shot through with imagery that powerfully refracts fantasy material characteristic of [his] early life” (168). For instance, the sharp needles and pins jammed into the buttered bread Mrs. Joe fed both himself and Joe (10) in the first part of the novel were paralleled later on by the sharp handles of the nutcracker that might have poked out baby Pocket’s eyes (194). The file Pip had stolen from the forge reappears again in chapter ten as the stranger in the Jolly Bargemen stirred his rum-and-water with it (77). The Pocket’s children’s tumbling upside-down in Chapter Twenty Two echoes Pip’s being tilted upside-down by Magwitch in the very first chapter. Even Tickler the “wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my [Pip’s] tickled frame” (9), never leaves Pip’s mind; by the time of his sister’s funeral in chapter thirty five Pip still remembers the Tickler (278).
Guilt also never leaves Pip. According to Pip, his sister had always believed that he “was a young offender whom an Accoucheur Policemen had taken up…and delivered to her, to be dealt with according to the outraged majesty of the law. “I [Pip] was always treated as if I had insisted on being born, in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality… ” (23). Mr. Wopsle and Mr. Pumblechook must also see Pip in this light as they discuss Mr. Wopsle’s pork sermon “the gluttony of Swine is put before us, as an example to the young…what is detestable in a pig, is more detestable in a boy” (27). For these reasons, it seems natural for Pip to feel so much guilt throughout the course of the novel.
At the very start of the novel he is forced to steal food from the dreadful Mrs. Joe and steal the file from Joe. Because of this, he feels guilty in two different ways. First, his guilt for stealing from his sister takes the form of fear and, second, his stealing from Joe causes him to feel ashamed. The readers are given a vivid description of his internal struggles as Mr. Pumblechook takes a sip of tar water from the glass of what Mr. Pumblechook assumes to be brandy “O heavens, it had come at last! …I held tight to the leg of the table under the cloth, with both hands, and awaited my fate…I didn’t know how I had done it, but I had murdered him somehow” (28). Fortunately Pip was not caught by Mrs. Joe and Mr. Pumblechook recovered. However, just as Pip began to calm down and release the leg of the table, his nerves unraveled again as Mrs. Joe remembers to offer her guests the pork pie Pip had stolen (29). Later on in chapter 13 when Pip enters the Town Hall to be bounded as Joe’s apprentice, the crowd of people he encounters assumes he has committed some sort of crime. Even in London, Pip cannot escape Jaggers’s pocket-handkerchief and waving finger, or the anxiety of housing a convict.
In many situations Pip’s guilt occurs from his feeling contaminated by crime, tainted by his having helped a convict. While Pip, as a child, quivers at the sight of the prison ship by the marshland and describes it as a “wicked Noah’s ark” (40), he also quivers at the sight of Newgate. For Pip, Newgate is a reminder of his childhood, and after visiting the prison with Wemmick in Chapter Thirty Two, he thinks to himself “how strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime; that, in my childhood out on our lonely marshes on a winter evening I should have first encountered it” (264). Dickens himself also feels the same way about Newgate, and in his diary he explains that he has never lost his original feelings upon viewing the prison, “to this hour I never pass the building without something like a shudder and have never outgrown the rugged walls” (75).
With respect to Hochman and Wachs, Pip’s present preservation of his “infantile sense of the interpretation of… his endless vulnerable self and the relentless invasive others” and the vividness of his narrative shows that he has not triumphantly outgrown his “orphan condition” (170). Kincaid, on the other hand, believes that through the process of retelling his story Pip outgrows his victimized state by examining a passage from the novel:
It was fine summer weather again, and as I walked along, the times when I was a little helpless creature, and my sister did not spare me, vividly returned. But they returned with a gentle tone upon them, that softened even the edge of Tickler. For now, the very breath of the beans and clover whispered to my heart that the day must come when it would be well for my memory of others walking in the sun shine should be softened as they thought of me.
Kincaid points out that the passage starts off with a memory that defines Pip as a victim, but then it moves away from that quickly and moves towards forgiveness (41). Whether or not Kincaid or Hochman and Wachs are correct, it seemed necessary for Dickens to offer the narrative through Pip’s voice. Only through Pip’s voice can readers sympathize with the helpless, battered, abandoned child and it seems that Dickens is asking his readers to treat children with compassion – for the quote written in Dickens’s diary:
“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice,” (Great Expectations, 63; My Early Times, 77) is borrowed by Pip in the novel from Dickens himself.
Dickens, Charles. My Early Times. Ed. Peter Rowland. London: Aurum Press, 1997.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Charlotte Mitchell. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.
Hochman, Baruch and Ilja Wachs. Dickens: The Orphan Condition. Cranbury: Associated University Press, 1999.
Kincaid, James R. “Dickens and the Construction of the Child.” Dickens and /the Children of The Empire. Ed. Wendy S. Jacobson. New York: Palgrave, 2000. 29-42.
The Thread of Unrequited Love in Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations”
Since its publication in 1860, Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations has garnered a reputation as one of the most powerful and moving works of the nineteenth century. Great Expectations follows the story of a poor young boy named Pip into his more fortune adult years of transforming into a gentleman. One constant through Pip’s ever-changing life is his love for the beautiful and cold Estella. Pip is introduced to Estella when he is just a boy, and his affection for her only grows as the years pass. However, Estella will never return his love due to the fact that she was adopted and raised by Miss Havisham, whose sole purpose in life is to wreak havoc on men. By using Pip and Estella as pawns in her sick game of revenge, Miss Havisham transforms into a twisted puppeteer, she sits behind the scenes pulling the strings just to watch tragedy ensue. Though Miss Havisham eventually gets what she wants, both her, Pip, and Estella’s hearts are all left in shambles.
The unrequited love as shown between Pip and Estella throughout the novel illustrates the negative effects of ruthless revenge from love gone wrong. Throughout Great Expectations, both Miss Havisham and the people in her life suffer greatly because of her quest for revenge. Not always being heartless, Miss Havisham vowed to take revenge on men the day that she was left at the altar. Miss Havisham, “passionately loved him… [but] he practiced on her affection in that systematic way,” (Dickens 166), all her husband to be, Compeyson wanted from Miss Havisham was her money. Yet, now Miss Havisham uses Estella to use men in a systematic way, therefore literally dropping herself to the low level of Compeyson’s heartbreaking games. Haunted by this day, Miss Havisham never again takes off her decrepit wedding dress, her one shoe, and all of her clocks are forever stopped at the time twenty minutes to nine, the time her life of happiness ended. Herein, Miss Havisham is determined to freeze time by refusing to change anything from the day unrequited love came to menace her. To exact her revenge on mankind, Miss Havisham grooms Estella to play men from a young age saying, “’break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!’” (87). Estella only being a little girl at this time, Miss Havisham was able to easily mold her into the shape she wanted her to be. In addition to influencing Estella, Miss Havisham also curses Pip into being forever in love with Estella, chanting: Love her, love her, love her! If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces—and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper—love her, love her, love her! (219) However, as time goes on and she realizes Estella’s coldness to everyone (including herself), and Pip’s true feelings, Miss Havisham feels terrible about her hell-bent revenge. While speaking to Pip, Miss Havisham reveals, “until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a looking-glass that showed me what I once felt myself, I did not know what I had done.’” (365). “What have I done!” (364) becomes a mantra for Miss Havisham. The shame and guilt of her actions in encouraging unrequited love leads her to such extreme devastation that she thrusts herself into the flames. As Miss Havisham’s decaying bridal dress burst into flames, so did all of the hate, revenge, and hurt that she was holding on to for all of those years.
Paradoxically, Miss Havisham’s greatest sin was against herself. Ultimately, unrequited love and the negative effects of it brought on Miss Havisham’s final demise. Estella, Miss Havisham’s pretty little pawn, ends up leading arguably the most devastating life out of all of the characters affected by unrequited love. As a girl, Estella was essentially brainwashed by Miss Havisham and she has no autonomy to do what would really make her happy in life. Her sole purpose on the earth was to “wreak Miss Havisham’s revenge on men.” (276). From childhood on, Estella had tried to warn Pip the best she could to stay away from her because she knew she had no heart. Contending, “’oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt… but you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment — nonsense.’” (217). However, despite her warnings of heartlessness, the lovesick Pip could not stay away. One cannot help but feel sorrow, when Estella is even cold to her adoptive mother, claiming, “’I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me.’” (277). By acknowledging the fact that she is just a puppet for Miss Havisham, readers cannot help but feel sympathy for her dethatched character. Arguably the most soul crushing moment of the novel is when Pip professes his love for Estella and she says, “’you address nothing in my breast, you touch nothing there. I don’t care for what you say at all.’” (331). In a sense, Estella’s character does not fully develop until the end of the novel. Leading up to the end of the novel, Estella is a one-sided character whose sole purpose is to make men miserable through her unrequited love. However, after marrying Bentley Drummle—to presumably make Pip unhappy, Estella ends up being the despondent one.
When Pip runs into Estella at the close of the novel he says: The freshness of her beauty was indeed gone, but its indescribably majesty and its indescribable charm, remained. Those attractions in it, I had seen before; what I had never seen before, was the saddened softened light of the once proud eyes; what I had never felt before, was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand. (441) Essentially, Estella marries Bentley Drummle without loving him, and suffers for it. She is no longer the great, beautifully, terrifyingly cold figure, she is now just a worn down woman—all of her grandeur disappeared due to the negative effects of unrequited love. Pip’s unrequited love for Estella is arguably the main driving factor of the plot, and the sole thing that inspires Pip to seek the status of a gentleman, even if that means leaving his old life and family behind. Similar to Estella, Miss Havisham groomed Pip as a boy to fall head over heels in love with Estella. The “curse” Miss Havisham put on Pip haunts him to the point that Estella is almost all he can think about.
After being haunted his whole life by his love for Estella and Miss Havisham, Pip finally breaks down and says, “I am as unhappy as you can ever have meant me to be.’” (328). Arguably the turning point in this novel for the theme of unrequited love is when Pip fully bears his heart to Estella in this moving passage: Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since—on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. (333) Estella brushes off these heartfelt lines, as she was programmed to do, and after this important moment in time, Estella no longer possesses the same pull on Pip. Pip finally comes to the realization that the two are never going to be together and were never meant to be together. Which leads Pip to realize that it, “was an unhappy life that I lived, and its one dominant anxiety, towering over all its other anxieties like a high mountain above a range of mountains, never disappeared from my view.” (349). Herein, the “dominant anxiety” referred to in the passage above alludes to Estella and their unrequited love. Though her love never “disappears from [his] view,” it no longer takes center stage in Pip’s life; his friends and family begin to fill that void, which is ultimately the result of the negative unrequited love.
In Great Expectations, Dickens explores the theme of unrequited love and he ultimately turns it into a cautionary tale. Miss Havisham, Estella, and Pip have all devoted their lives to unrequited love, and are therefore all victims to its life consuming poison. None of the characters having a truly happy ending alludes to the fact that when love is toxic, tragedy will ensue.
Joe Gargery’s Alienation as the Impersonation of the High Society’s Values
In Dickens’s Great Expectations, the alienation of the amiable Joe Gargery speaks volumes about the values of high society at that time. Joe represents the epitome of friendship and love, but he is constantly out of his element when around noblemen or -women such as Miss Havisham. Through Joe’s alienation, Dickens reveals the negative aspects of 19th century British society and helps Pip to realize that he was wrong to move away from the forge.
Throughout Pip’s parentless childhood, Joe was a hero. He was always there to comfort Pip after a thrashing from the ill-tempered Mrs. Joe, and the two were “ever the best of friends”. Joe stays with the wicked Mrs. Joe and treats her well because he loves Pip and wants to stay friends with him. Once the first few chapters have passed, the reader sees Joe as the personification of loyalty and kindness. These qualities are further magnified when Mrs. Joe is paralyzed by a blow to the head while Joe and Pip are away. Even though Mrs. Joe is not able to speak or move, Joe stays by her side and cares for her until she passes away. Despite Joe’s ignorance in reading and writing, his life as a gentle blacksmith with Pip by his side leaves him wanting nothing more out of life. Pip, however, soon finds out that he himself does want more than life at the forge.
After Pip meets Miss Havisham and becomes enthralled with the idea of being a gentleman, life changes for both him and Joe. Dickens comments on the elitism of the upper class through Pip’s actions after he becomes acquainted with Miss Havisham. Pip starts to have second thoughts about becoming a blacksmith, even though he always wanted to follow in Joe’s footsteps. While at Miss Havisham’s mansion, her adopted daughter Estella tells Pip he has “coarse hands” and “thick boots” (Dickens, 62), which destroys Pip’s self-esteem. Until this point, he had never even thought about his appearance. This brief taste of the life of a gentleman, however, corrupted his value system and made him strive to win the heart of the beautiful Estella. Exposure to high class society ultimately causes Pip to abandon his apprenticeship with Joe and live in London with the help of a mysterious benefactor.
The first scene where Joe’s social awkwardness is revealed comes when Miss Havisham asks Pip to bring Joe along to their next meeting. The meeting is very strange, and Joe cannot even speak to Miss Havisham. Rather, he directs all of his words to Pip, who in this scene serves as the bridge between Joe’s low class and Miss Havisham’s high class. Dickens uses this scene to comment on the upper class society. Up until this point Joe has been a warm and friendly person to everyone that he has met, including two escaped convicts. When a noble person like Miss Havisham enters the picture, however, he freezes up. Dickens uses this awkward reaction to imply that the highest people in society are so corrupt that not even Joe, a good and amiable person, can speak with them. Unfortunately, this is the society to which Pip aspires.
The second scene that reveals Joe’s alienation from upper class society comes when Joe arrives in London with Wopsle and wishes to see Pip. The changed Pip remarks: “If I could have kept him away by paying money, I would have paid money” (Dickens, 229). Pip’s hesitation to see Joe in London is confirmation that he has greatly changed. The man that he once loved and aspired to be like is now a burden and an embarrassment. Even though Joe is the epitome of everything that is good, the upper class cannot accept him because his manners are not honed and he is unable to read. Pip is slowly transforming into a gentleman who will soon be unable to tolerate Joe. For example, whenever Pip is in the area of the forge to visit Miss Havisham, he always makes an excuse to avoid visiting Joe.
Pip eventually invites Joe to visit, but only to see Herbert. He knows that Herbert will accept Joe, but avoids inviting any of his other friends in fear that they will not. Pip made elaborate preparations to avoid presenting Joe to Drummle, his rival, because “our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise” (Dickens, 230). Pip ignores all of the things that Joe has done for him in order to avoid embarrassment in front of a man that he despises, which speaks volumes about the man that Pip has become.
Joe is very uncomfortable during the dinner, evident through his ramblings and calling Pip “sir”. Pip and Joe are now on completely different levels of the social pyramid, and Pip does not understand why Joe is calling him “sir”. Before Joe departs, he tells Pip that he will stop calling him “sir” if he comes back to visit at the forge – the only place where Joe can be himself. He implies here that Pip, too, is in an unnatural environment outside the forge. Pip belongs in the forge with Joe, and this scene shows that he is too jaded to realize this.
The final uncomfortable scene between Joe and Pip occurs when Pip falls ill. Commentary on the high society is immediately thrown at the reader when no one from Pip’s new life comes to his aid. Pip’s good friend Herbert is gone on a business venture, and there is no one left in the “great world” in which Pip now lives to care for him. The only person that comes to Pip’s aid is good old Joe, his one true friend. When Pip is helpless during his illness, he undergoes a second childhood (so to speak) with Joe. During this time, he leans on Joe and the two become closer, and Pip was like “a child in [Joe’s] hands” (497). As soon as Pip is nursed back to health, however, things change and Joe once again becomes uncomfortable around Pip. He departs one night, and leaves behind a receipt of all of the debts that he had helped Pip to pay off. The latter series of events had a large effect on Pip. Joe’s tender actions reveal to Pip that he should have never left the forge, and that living the high life was not all that he had hoped for. With his dreams smashed from finding out that he was never meant to be with Estella and the thought of Joe fresh in his mind, Pip sets out to the marshes to make amends.
Dickens uses the character of Joe Gargery to produce the biting social commentary for which he is well known. Through the alienation of Joe Gargery, Charles Dickens successfully points out one negative aspect of 19th century British society and helps Pip to realize that he was wrong to move away from the forge.
The Sacred Domesticity on the Background of Pip’s Life
Great Expectations is a novel which, in its first part, focuses largely on the education and upbringing of a young boy, Pip. Orphaned at a young age, he is raised “by hand” by his older sister and her husband, a blacksmith. Written from the adult Pip’s point of view, the novel describes his limited education at the hands of Wopsle’s aunt, as well as his apprenticeship in Joe’s forge. His moral education is left to his sister, whose main teaching is that Pip should have never been born to plague her life with worry, and a few lines of the Catechism, whose message of “walk the same in all the days of your life” Pip follows religiously by taking the same route home every day. In all his education one aspect is noticeably absent: the indoctrination of a spiritual code or set of beliefs. Indeed throughout the novel, Pip seems unaware of any higher purpose to his actions and circumstances, and most of the philosophical thought in the narrative comes from Pip the Narrator, writing from a later time. Because of this distinct absence, the first mention of something having a spiritual significance is important. To Pip this is not a teaching of the Church, but rather his own domestic space. To embrace this space would perhaps be Pip’s best chance for happiness, but instead he rejects it. Pip’s rejection of the “sacred domesticity” occurs three times in his early life, and leaves him vulnerable to outside forces that threaten to take away his control of his own destiny.
Before Pip is even consciously aware of the sanctity of his home, he violates that sanctity be stealing food for the convict. This is one of Pip’s first actions as narrated by his older self, and the first instance the reader sees of his losing control of his own actions. However, although in his mind he is forced without recourse to commit this theft, the degree to which he carries out his orders shows a deliberate violation of the sacred space of the kitchen. As he explains, “I was nearly going away without the pie, but I was tempted to mount upon a shelf, to look what it was that was put away so carefully in a covered earthenware dish in a corner, and found it was the pie, and I took it, in the hope that…it would not be missed for some time” (52). First, the convict did not specify an amount to be taken, and Pip had already removed bread, cheese, mincemeat, brandy, and a meat bone. To take the pie is Pip’s own choice; he says he is “tempted” to turn around and climb up the shelf. The pie has a greater significance than all the other food; it is to be the crowning grand finale at the upcoming Christmas dinner. Supposing that the young Pip had no choice but to take some amount of food (as he believes and leads the reader to believe), taking a bare minimum of perhaps some bread and cheese and a scrap of meat would have made him a victim of the convict, rather than a criminal, as he feels in his heart he is. When he does take the pie, it is perhaps unconsciously out of spite for his sister, but whatever his motive, the choice serves in a small way for him to regain control: he is able to choose what it is he will steal.
Pip’s second rejection of the sacred domesticity occurs when he begins to feel ashamed of his home and wish for a different life. He says, “Home had never been a very pleasant place for me…but Joe had sanctified it…I had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State…I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste though not magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence” (140). Ironically, it is not until he realizes this that he feels he must turn away from it. The final sentence of this passage is significant in that if the forge represents manhood and independence, then rejecting that physical structure means rejecting those ideals as well. Pip does not do this consciously; he never states that he does not want to be a man or independent, but in the years following his realization these things are not a priority, and his actions reveal this. He enjoys the independence of his newfound fortune, but only so far as they remove him from home and place him closer to the vague situation of being a “gentleman”. He lives extravagantly off this “independence” but does not work to secure it for the future. And by doing no work, he is actually more dependant than the lowliest blacksmith. When Pip moves to London, and during his residence with Herbert Pocket, Pip becomes a man in terms of years, but age does not bring maturity. He never mentions having any pride in being a man, and lives well beyond his mean, not having the wisdom to curb his extravagance. Pip rejects the domestic, but would have been financially stable and more independent had he not.
After having rejected the sacred domesticity in thought, he finally rejects it in action when he moves to London to obtain his education as a gentleman. Pip trades his potential for domestic happiness for his expectations. Even though he thinks this is a positive change in his life, he is actually more uncertain than ever. He says of his expectations: “And at best, how indefinite and unsatisfactory, only to know so vaguely what they are” (277). The very word “expectation” implies an indefinite end, because that end is dependant on outside forces. Pip merely expects events to occur, rather than working toward a final goal. His outlook is reflected in his roommate Herbert, who is always “looking about him” for his fortune. He is expecting his fortune to be made through opportunity, rather than making the fortune for himself. Pip is even less active; while Herbert has the dream of realizing capital for investment, Pip simply lives life day by day, only doing what he is told. He tells Herbert, “I cannot tell you how dependent and uncertain I feel, and exposed to hundreds of chances” (277). By putting his future entirely in the hands of others, Pip allows others to take control of his life’s story.
When Pip learns of his great expectations, the higher purpose of his life changes from the glory of manhood and independence to a dependence on Fortune. He looks increasingly to this changeable deity for meaning and support. Pip tells Herbert, “I know I have done nothing to raise myself in life, and that Fortune alone has raised me; that is very lucky” (277). Until he realizes his expectations, Pip seems to have no notion of Fate or Fortune, and mention of these are noticeably absent in the early part of the novel. To Fortune, however, Pip assigns the most significant thing that has every happened to him. In this sentence he also rejects his upbringing by Mrs. Joe: he claims to have been “raised by fortune”, echoing the phrase “raised by hand” he has heard many times throughout his childhood. For Pip, being raised by fortune is much more agreeable than being raised by hand, which he took to mean being constantly subjected to punishment.
Nevertheless, Pip’s rejection of the sacred domesticity in favor of his expectations is problematic because it does nothing to help him control his own destiny, and does not bring him happiness. He even thinks, at one point that “I should have been happier…if I had never seen Miss Havisham’s face, and had risen to manhood content to be partners with Joe in the honest old forge”(300). Here again he equates life in the forge to manhood, and in this thought, with honesty, which is in contrast to his reoccurring sense of criminality. Pip’s dilemma also reflects a problem with the concept of “being a gentleman” in the Victorian era. Dickens raises the question on whether it would be better to have made one’s own situation in life, rather than have it made by someone else. In Pip’s case, if he had become at blacksmith, he would have lost the potential to become a gentleman and marry Estella, but would have gained control over his own fate.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Eds. Graham Law and Adrian J Pinnington. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1998.
What is Biddy’s Main Role in Great Expectations
Biddy is introduced early in Great Expectations and is mentioned regularly throughout, though she is not one of the major characters. She does, however, serve as a constant reminder to Pip of what he is leaving behind and, as she is more of a peer of Pips because of her intellect and age, she allows Pip an opportunity to articulate his thoughts more candidly and thoroughly at key points in the story. Dickens uses Biddy as a vehicle for many points made throughout the book and she largely represents the opposite of Estella and Pip in different ways. Biddy has a very aware tone when she is talking with Pip as though she understands and accepts all that will and has transpired (depending on which point of the novel is being examined) with an air of fatalism. Biddy is the sensible contrast to Pip’s immature idealism that is brought about by his infatuation with Estella and the upper class in general. Pip represents a very Romantic standpoint throughout much of the novel (until he comes to his ultimately Victorian realizations) and Biddy represents the pragmatic Victorianism. Ultimately, Dickens would not have been able to make as poignant of a point at the end of the novel if he did not have a character like Biddy—one who Pip recognized as intelligent, pretty, moral, and loving—slip through Pip’s fingers.
Pip’s realization that being a part of the upper class had no inherent value finally came after many years of neglecting the people who cared about him. Though Pip was a naturally kind hearted individual he was driven by an intense infatuation that began at an early age and was nurtured by false presumptions and convenient and misleading circumstances throughout the novel. There is no lack of evidence of Pip’s good nature, he helps Herbert Pocket by secretly buying him into a business, he ends up seeing the good in Magwitch and tries to help him as much as he can, and he seems to love everyone who loves him, but his Romantic ideals prevent him from being good to the people who love him and cause him to fall into a lifestyle in which he is not productive and enjoys wanton excess. It is strange to watch him change thus from his modest and moral beginnings and Biddy is a constant symbol of how Pip could have turned out had he not been influenced by Miss Havisham and Estella at such a young age. Pip’s kindhearted nature would never have been distorted with foolish dreams and fruitless infatuations if he had never left the forge to play at Satis House. He would have been happy to grow up among Joe and Biddy as a blacksmith, but in his first meeting with Estella he was made to judge himself through his comparison to her. John Stuart Mill could have written this allegorical scene as Pip for the first time in his life begins to question his own worth and the worth of his class because he was for the first time presented with something different.
As Biddy and Pip come to know each other more as they get older Biddy is obviously Pip’s antithesis in many ways. She remains humble because she was never introduced to the upper class and never proposed any “great expectations.” She seems to have been in love with Pip before he goes off to London, though she accepts the fact that Pip does not love her with a stoic calm. On a more reasonable level than Pip’s infatuation will allow him to fully realize he knows that he loves Biddy in a very sincere and rational way. He recognizes her worth and her virtues and he compares them to Estella’s meanness and coldness. He knows that biddy is the better choice of the two, but she is also a choice he can not allow himself to make. Pip thinks this very thing to himself while talking with Biddy out on the marshes as she prophetically watches ships sail by them. Biddy, being wise, knows that Pip is lost to her and that their figurative ship has sailed. By having the comparison between Biddy and Estella available Dickens has his protagonist not simply make a bad choice, but make a bad choice in the face of a perfect choice. He chooses infatuation over what could have been a deep and sincere loving relationship with Biddy.
Dickens uses Biddy to make Pip’s realizations upon his failure in and disillusionment of the upper class all the more powerful. Biddy is the salt in Pip’s wound, she is the ship that sailed from him. She plays a huge role in advancing the power of Dickens’ message against foolish idealistic dreams and impractical hopes. She is so admiringly simple and honest and pure while the high society that Pip chooses over her is so disappointing and, at times, cruel that when Pip realizes he has lost her and that he is not even worthy of her it amplifies the loneliness and sorrow experienced by the protagonist at the end of the novel. Biddy may not have taken up many pages in Great Expectations, but the story certainly would not have been the same without her.
Plan: Realism in Great Expectations and Robinson Crusoe
‘Realism falls short of reality. It shrinks it, attenuates it, falsifies it.’ (Eugène Ionesco) Discuss the relation between realist literature and the world it represents. Actual Quote “Realism falls short of reality. It shrinks it, attenuates it, falsifies it; it does not take into account our basic truths and our fundamental obsessions: love, death, astonishment. It presents man in a reduced and estranged perspective. Truth is in our dreams, in the imagination.” Start by talking about realism and realist literature.
Realism began in the 19th century? My interpretation of the question.
Explain that the essay will respond to the quote with reference to Robinson Crusoe and Great Expectations. I will study how the texts attempt to construct reality with issues such as gender and race but do both have problematic features that support the argument raised by Ionesco. Realism began in the 19th century? Defoe seen as the father of realism Insert and analyse quotes where possible and respond to critics/opinions.
Realism in Robinson Crusoe
‘The editor believes the thing to be a just history of fact; neither is there any appearance of fiction in it.’ (Preface to Robinson Crusoe)
‘Given its accumulation of ‘realistic’ descriptions and detail, its capacity to name and map out time and space as if it mirrored reality, realist fiction emerged as part of a culture obsessed with the truths and realities of an increasingly scientific and secular world’ (Sean Purchase, Key Concepts in Victorian Literature (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 185)
‘According to Marxist critics, for example, realist Victorian fiction… embodies middle-class ideologies and values, so that the very discourse of “realism” it provides is really a middle-class adaptation of reality from the outset’ (Purchase, p. 186)
In The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt identified the following elements as characteristic of the early novel:
A concern to account for probability; a concern to tell you who, what, why, where and when. Watt describes reading a novel as like listening to evidence in a court of law. Specific, recognisable and often present-day settings.
Mixed characters, characters who change over time.
Celebration of private, domestic (rather than public, heroic) virtues. Plain language. (Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, London: Chatto & Windus, 1957)
Locate evidence of each of the above in Robinson Crusoe. You might wish to focus on the opening three pages of the novel but feel free to look at any section.
Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” began the literary genre of realistic fiction. The aspects of his writing that define “realism” would be the immense detail he uses; descriptive language; and the flow of his narrative (dialect included). Defoe concentrates on the qualities of different objects, which provide us with a picture to accompany the words. His first clay pot, the crude fashion of his garments, and the grindstone are a few of the things we can almost touch when reading. Defoe not only introduced this genre, but I believe that in many ways he is still the master. daniel defoe expresses his work in realism via :
– first person narrator.
– using specific dates .
– using real places
– using details
Unrealistic Rob Cru
Although we do not think too highly of the literary experience of the average 18th century reader, even he would remain sceptical after taking the author at his word. Defoe’s solution to this problem is most original: Fact is his strategy, and triviality his weapon. Of course, this technique of describing as many trivial events as possible to make the story seem more realistic, has (again) become a common aspect of almost every novel to date. In almost 400 years, we have gone from one extreme to another: From a time when it was revolutionary to introduce this formula in literature, to a time where it would be almost revolutionary not to.
It may seem as if I am saying I am strongly inclined to believe that Robinson Crusoe is both a terrific book and a novel which set a new standard for literature in its time. This is true. However, I am not oblivious to some of the weaker points of the book. My foremost criticism is this; Robinson Crusoe is not a real person. He is a character, faintly disguised as a person. At first we are fooled, for all that happens seems realistic enough, but as soon as Robinson is marooned on the island, the illusion is fading. His way of living, his sudden belief, his entire way of looking at the world suggests that someone indeed did make this up. Partly, this has to do with the environment.
When Defoe decided to write a more realistic novel than was usual at the time, he could have done better that to opt for an uninhabitated island. It is very difficult to make a character seem more realistic when he is completely alone. It is very hard to describe in detail solitude on such a large scale of time and still remain true to realism. Solitude may be something we have all experienced at one time or other, but Robinson’s long time completely devoid of any human contact whatsoever and his logical despair is incredibly hard to describe convincingly.
Realism in Great Expectations
Get presentation made in seminar real and unrealistic GE:
TOPIC FOUR: Genre: Realism and sensationalism
In what ways might we think of this as a realistic fiction i.e. as a fiction that represents the experience of living in the world (of materiality)? What specific features make this a ‘condition of England’ novel (if any)? You should come prepared to define this term. In what ways is this an unrealistic text? You should think about the characterisation; the plot resolutions; the theatricality of some of the scenes and events; the style in which some parts of the narrative are delivered. Find at least three examples to discuss. In considering the above, you might wish to comment on the serialised form of the original publication. Is it melodramatic? Episodic? To what extent do you feel that the more melodramatic or sensationalists aspects of the text undermine its social comment (if at all)?
Realism was developed by the middle of the 19th century as a response to the idealistic world of romanticism which had dominated for the past half century. It was an aesthetic movement which attempted to hold up a mirror to its society to show a true reflection of reality. Although claiming to offer a slice of life by emphasizing chiefly in the importance of the ordinary amongst the middle and lower classes, realism is a relative concept, a representation of reality which adheres to a loose collection of conventions. Many of these are offered in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which follows the life and struggles of the protagonist and narrator, Pip. Dickens uses techniques such as a chronological linear narrative, an omniscient narrator, the celebration of the ordinary, and the resolution of the enigma to drive the moral undercurrents of Pip’s everyday existence. This constructed realism is essentially a representation of reality based on Dickens ideology, offering social commentary and reflecting the values and attitudes of nineteenth century England.
The basic structure of Great Expectations follows a chronological development of Pip’s life; from his childhood innocence, to his disillusioned expectations, finally his rejection of the high life and a circular succession ending back at the beginning. This chronological structure of which Dickens narrates exemplifies Pip’s learning process through his moral and emotional turmoil and complies with the opportunity to generate a realistic setting. For example, Pip’s description of London, “a most dismal place; the skylight eccentrically patched like a broken head, and the distorted adjoining houses looking as if they had twisted themselves to peep down at me through it,” creates an archaeologically realistic description of London, and hints a sense of foreboding, foreshadowing the futility of Pip’s expectations. This ideology developed through Pips learning process is created through a… Great Expectations a novel by Charles Dickens takes reader on an epic adventure filled with unexpected encounters with a myriad of people with vastly different backgrounds that ultimately shape Pip into the man that he becomes. Pip moves from the social class that he was born to, to one that he is elevated to by an anonymous benefactor.
The two people that typify the conventional expectations of romanticism and realism are Pip the protagonist and Joe Gargery the humble blacksmith. Joe clearly shows his love for Pip the entire way through the book, a love that is only acknowledged or valued until the closing pages of the book. We will look at Pip’s journey from extravagance and utter self indulgence to his ultimate enlightenment and self fulfillment. Great Expectations is narrated by an older mature Phillip Pirrip or Pip and is his reflections and recollections of his childhood through his emerging expectation, to adulthood, often seen to make fun of his younger self. Pip was reared by hand by his older malevolent sister and her meek and submissive husband Joe Gargery, after the death of his parents.
The protagonist always refers to his sister as Mrs Joe, showing the reader how domineering and heavy handed she is towards not only Pip but her husband Joe. She affords little compassion or kindness to either male and you start to see the difference between the characters and their reactions to her in relation to the conventions of romance and realism. Joe lending himself to looking at life through the eyes of a realist satisfied knowing his place, where as Pip being more romantic, dreams of escape and leaving the marches for a better life. Pip was apprenticed to his brother-in –law Joe the village blacksmith, when his direction in life was to change by the chance meeting of an escaped convict in the graveyard of his parents.
Mister Pip of Lloyd Jones
The narrator of Mister Pip is Matilda, a young girl growing up on an island in the south Pacific. As the story unfolds it becomes gradually more apparent that this island is in the grip of a brutal war. Matilda is deflected from the impact of the threatening violence by her fascination with Mr. Watts the only white man on the island and the person who has the task of teaching the island’s children. His only text is Great Expectations and he manages to cast a strange spell over the children and their parents using Dickens’s story in various ways.
The book has the quality of a fantasy where the characters achieve moments of liberation through storytelling. The central character Matilda asserts, “stories can help you find happiness and truth.” This belief is borne out as the story unfolds and Matilda triumphs in spite of horrendous suffering.
I found the character of Matilda’s mother to be the most convincing.
She makes an amazing journey from religious fundamentalism to heartbreaking heroism culminating in the perfect climactic line; “I am here as God’s witness.” The whole book is a witness to the power of fiction; Matilda claims that Great Expectations is the “one book that supplied me with another world at a time when it was desperately needed.” As I read it I came to accept that this could be true and that Mister Pip might very well turn out to be a classic piece of fiction that stands the test of time. If there is a flaw it is in the last twenty pages which deal with Matilda’s life outside her island home. The adult Matilda is not as convincing as the child narrator who observes the wonderful and strange things that happen in Mr Watts’ classroom. It is nevertheless a delightful and searing book which might well send you back to Dickens as a kind of bonus.
"Jane Eyre" and "Hard Times" as Bildungsroman Novels
The traditional Bildungsroman novel is autobiographical in form and displays similarities with the author’s own life, mostly with regard to childhood experiences. The novel displays a single individuals growth and development within the context of a defined social order. In most cases the protagonist is orphaned and experiences some form of loss or discontentment in order to spur them away from the family home or setting. The education of the main character is another aspect, which is crucial to their growth and development within the novel.
It states in Todd (1980; 161) 1. that?
‘Ideally Bildungsroman heroes, who continue to pursue their own adolescent ideals and inclinations, are expected to conform eventually to a predetermined identity and become integrated with the society whose values are creating and molding them’.
Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations and described Pips childhood experiences in great detail. It has been argued that most of the child characters Dickens portrayed in his novels resembled that of his own childhood experiences.
Like Pip, Dickens received very little in the way of formal education.
Charlotte Bronte uses many similarities in Jane Eyre that could be argued resemble her own experiences. She too like that of Jane was the daughter of a clergyman and was sent to a school called Norwood, which bares many similarities with that of Lowood. She also became a governess and this suggests that her own experience of a middle class working woman fighting to find a place in Victorian society was used to express her own views of life in that of Jane Eyre.
In Great Expectations, Pip is typical of the main character in a Bildungsroman novel, as he is an orphan. Pip is brought up in a working class environment with his older sister and her husband, Joe Gargery. Pip rejects Joe as a substitute father and looks on him as more of a friend. This is evident in the passage when Joe states?’you and me is always friends’ (12;ch.2) 2. The absence of a father figure for Pip reinforces the need for him to find some sense of identity and belonging in society.
The possibility of a better life becomes apparent to Pip on his first meeting with Estella and Mrs. Haversham at Satis House. It is at this stage in the novel that Pip realises for the first time that he is of a lower social status. It is evident that Pip is aware of his social status when he says ‘I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very different pair’ (60;ch.8) 3.
In Jane Eyre, once again the main character is typical of the Bildungsroman. Jane is an orphan living with her relatives, the Reeds. However she is brought up in a middle class society but is reminded that she is an outcast. Jane’s struggle with her identity and place in society began before she was born, with her mother marrying a poor clergyman, who was considered beneath her by her family.
Jane also experiences conflict within class structures in society. This is evident when the Reeds attempt to bully and suppress Jane at every opportunity they can, reminding her that she has no money that she can rightfully call her own. Jane’s struggle is not only to find a place in society but also to find a place in society as a woman. Jane is aware from an early age that she has no power as a female of her social status, while John Reed is fully aware of his importance as a male. Thus Jane’s educational growth begins when she is unjustly locked in the red room at Gateshead and is sent away to Lowood to be educated. Once again although Jane receives a formal education, she embarks on her own educational growth in life towards maturity and finding an acceptable place in society.
Jane’s struggle and discontentment is evident in the various stages of the novel. Firstly as already stated at Gateshead and again at Lowood, where she was subjected to terrible humiliation and degradation at the hands of the Reverend Brocklehurst. It seems that Bronte was suggesting that all men in society, even holy men, treated woman unjustly. Even Jane’s relationship with Rochester at Thornfield remind Jane that as a middle class woman, who had to earn her own living, she did not fit into conventional society.
Being a governess meant that Jane was educated to the extent of a lady but being paid a salary put her almost at the level of the servants. Even though Jane loves Rochester she is not prepared to become his mistress, as he is already married to Bertha, leaving Jane no alternative but to leave Thornfield to embark on the next stage of her journey within the novel. It is clear that she was searching for her own identity when she states to Rochester?
‘I tell you I must go?Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think that I am an automaton? ?a machine without feelings? And can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong’ (252;ch 23) 4.
Whilst at Moor House, Jane’s relationship with St John Rivers, once again reminds Jane of her status within society. She is not in love with St John and he is not with her but he still tries to repress Jane by expecting her to marry him and accompany him as a missionary’s wife to Africa. Jane is not prepared to marry him and is well aware of the implications if she is to go away with him, as a friend. Although Jane struggles to find her rightful place in society she always believes that she is equal to those around her.
Pip’s education begins not in the formal sense of the word but within his own personal growth. He feels sure that if he were to become a gentleman, it would make him a better person and he would better himself within society. His ultimate goal is to become a gentleman and win Estella’s love. It is this desire that makes Pip unhappy with his life at the forge and the prospect of becoming a mere blacksmith.
Pip’s education was very limited and although he was sent to evening school whilst he apprenticed to Joe, he learnt more in terms of a formal education from Biddy. He states?’At last I began, in a purblind groping way, to read, write and cipher’ (44;ch7) 5.
Pip’s education is again typical of the Bildungsroman in that he is unassisted and self-educated. His desire to leave the forge is fulfilled when he is visited by Mr. Jaggers, who tells Pip of his inheritance and the mysterious benefactor, whom Pip believes is Miss Haversham. This becomes evident in the novel when Pip states?’Miss Haversham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale’ (138;ch18) 6.
This change from poor working class to a rich gentleman is once again typical of the Bildungsroman but not in the traditional sense. Usually a man has to work to earn his money and become a gentleman, which is contrary to the way that Pip has earned his fortune. Pip’s inheritance changes Pip from a likeable innocent character into one that desires unrealistic expectations for his life. Due to his good fortune, Pip now looks down on his family as beneath him and considers Joe to be common and uneducated. This is evident when he tells Biddy that Joe? ‘Is rather backward in some things. For instance in his learning and his manners’. (148;ch19) 7.
Jane’s material wealth is once again inherited but this is in the final stages of her development as a character within the novel. This is where the similarities end between Jane and Pip, concerning money. Jane is fully aware of the value of money since she has had to work to provide for herself. By inheriting she manages to secure her rightful place in society. Pip however does not know the true value of money and thinks that it is the answer to all his problems. His snobbery becomes evident when he realises that his true benefactor is Magwitch, the convict, who he encounters in the first stage of the novel. On realising this fact he is disgusted that his benefactor is a murderer, a twist in the novel, which seems to teach Pip a lesson about gentleman in society. Pip realises that money does not make you a gentleman and real gentleman have qualities, which money cannot buy.
Once again as seen with Jane Eyre, Pip leaves his home to embark on a journey of education, leaving the forge, which is situated, on the marshes, near the Thames for London. Again this conforms to the typical Bildungsroman novel, where the main character will embark on a journey, usually leaving a small provincial town for the big city, in order to find his trade or occupation. Often this will be a disappointing experience, where hopes and dreams are shattered and a realisation of what they had left behind them was not so bad. Although with Pip he does not work when he gets to London, Jane has to work as a governess in order to survive.
It is in London that Pip embarks on the next stage of his educational growth, in order to find his real self. Pip squanders his money socialising in order to establish himself as a gentleman but by doing this he only succeeds in getting himself and his roommate, Herbert Pocket into serious financial difficulty. Pip feels sure that Mrs. Haversham intends him to marry Estella and the realisation that this is not so, does not enter Pip’s head until his encounter with Magwitch in London. Pip states?’Miss Haversham’s intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not designed for me; I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience.’ (323;ch39) 8.
Once again the similarity with Jane becomes apparent in that Pip experiences disappointment in matters of love. This conforms to the Bildungsroman, where the individual will encounter love affairs or sexual encounters within their educational journey, which are disastrous.
In the final stages of the novel there is usually, according to the traditional Bildungsroman, a lesson to be learned before the character is fully matured. Pip learns just how wrong he was about what qualities make a true gentleman. This is apparent when he finds out his benefactor is Magwitch, the murderer. Although at first this was a shock for Pip, he realises just how much Magwitch has sacrificed for him by returning to England and risking capture by the police. Pip also feels guilty about the way he has snubbed Joe when he came to see him in London and the fact that he felt ashamed of him. This embarrassment was evident when he stated that?’If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money’ (218;ch27) 9.
Pip realises the error of his ways and tries to make amends by helping Magwitch escape his captures. He also finds out that Estella is Magwith’s daughter, which is ironic as Estella frowned upon the working classes, only to be the offspring of something far worse, a criminal. Although Magwitch dies, Pip was by his side and gave him comfort in his last hours. After his illness he returns to the forge to Joe and Biddy, penniless since the crown reclaimed his inheritance. He has learnt a valuable lesson and has come full circle by returning to his roots without a penny, fully matured and understanding the real qualities of a gentleman.
Jane also returns to her roots by attending the side of her Aunt Reed at her deathbed, only to find that the Reeds have suffered and lost most of their wealth at the hands of John Reed. John Reed has received his comeuppance and died at an early age. When Jane inherits her Uncle’s money and discovers who her real family are, she returns to Rochester only to find out that he has been maimed in the fire at Thornfield. It seems that Jane has also returned to her past to find happiness with Rochester. She is now a lady and is accepted as Rochester’s wife in society. Jane had to be a woman in her own right in order to be able to conform to society. Although Jane has fought for most of her life against the social order, in the end she does not challenge but upholds the values of society.
Dickens and Bronte both express strong opinions in their novels about Victorian society. Dickens implies through the development of Pip that middle class values were hypocritical. He suggests that moral values such as generosity and kindness were far more important than being rich and powerful. Dickens reinforces this by allowing Pip to become rich and then lose his money. If Dickens had allowed Pip to stay wealthy, then he would not have been able to emphasise his point to the reader.
He also questions moral values through the character of Magwitch. He illustrates that people of low social status are capable of possessing better qualities than that of the rich and powerful, who were considered to be far superior as human beings. By doing this he goes one step further and insinuates that the justice system is corrupt. He does this through the character of Magwitch, who is killed at the hands of the law and possesses the qualities that Dickens promotes.
Bronte suggests that patriarchal society was hypocritical since men preached values that they could not uphold themselves. The rules were made by men and were allowed to be broken by men. Rochester is allowed to take mistresses, which is accepted in society but if had Jane become his mistress, she would have been considered an immoral woman. Brocklehurst expected the patrons of his school to look plain, yet his own wife and children were decked with frills and curls. Bronte suggests that Victorian society promoted values that were one sided and treated women unjustly.