Escaping the Society’s Box: Pip’s Journey in the Great Expectations
A person can best serve society or civilization, meaning the people in their lives, by pursuing his/her own personal health, goals, and passions versus trying to do what society dictates. In two contrasting journeys, a young woman in a downward spiral sets out to find a way to heal herself while a young boy in Europe, follows his dreams of becoming a gentleman.
In Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Pip pursues a life that society dictates would be the best life and best position to get what he wants, but in the end he does not get the girl because he did not pursue what was in his heart. First he shut himself away from his family, second he left his life to go to London to become a gentleman, and third he broke himself off from his friends. “I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too.” (Dickens 52) Pip does not realize how fortunate he is to have a family and a stable income as well. Instead, he focuses on what he doesn’t have rather than what he does have. “O dear good Joe, whom I was so ready to leave and so unthankful to, I see you again, with your muscular blacksmith’s arm before your eyes, and your broad chest heaving, and your voice dying away. O dear good faithful tender Joe, I feel the loving tremble of your hand upon my arm, as solemnly this day as if it had been the rustle of an angel’s wing!” (Dickens 120) Pip’s decision to leave his whole life is significant because his love for Estella overwhelms his love for Joe, his father figure and mentor for his whole life. At the end of the book, Pip realizes that he has made a mistake. “You made your own snares. I never made them.” (Dickens 305) Pip confronts Mrs. Havisham realizing that he’s been played by her and Estella. In his lust filled haze, he has pushed away all of his friends to pursue his dreams of being a gentleman, all to impress Estella. As a result, he’s learned a valuable lesson, money can’t buy happiness or love.
In contrast to Pip’s journey, Cheryl Strayed followed her inner voice to find what was most important to her in ways that were completely outside of society’s box. Rather than doing what everyone else wanted her to do, she dropped everything to go hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Cheryl did the exact opposite of what society wanted her to do. By doing this she was able to heal the hole that her mom’s death left. “I felt myself splitting in two. There was the woman I was before my mom died and the one I was now, my old life sitting on the surface of me like a bruise.” (Strayed 33) At the beginning of her journey, Cheryl is starting move out of the old era of her life. “I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.” (Strayed 36) After her mother’s death, she began a downward spiral that no matter how much she tried she could not get out of. Her hike, alone, across a 2,650 mile trail, opened something inside of her that she realized she would not have found if she had followed society. “… I’d finished walking a long way on something called the Pacific Crest Trail. And how it would be only then that the meaning of my hike would unfold inside of me, the secret I’d always told myself finally revealed.” (Strayed 310) By hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl was forced to be alone, without any distractions, and think about what were the most important things to her personally, which led her to a successful and happy life.
People get in trouble in life for attempting to collecting as many external riches as they can, rather than having a treasure trove of internal things. Pip learns this the hard way, he expects Estella will love him, but only if he learns how to become what society says is the only way to get what you want. On the other hand, Cheryl ignores society and heads out into the wilderness to heal herself physically, emotionally, and mentally. In the end, she is able to get what she wants by doing the opposite of what everyone else would do. This proves what Wendell Berry writes, “You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.” By breaking away from society’s box, Cheryl finally is able to heal and get what she wants versus Pip, who followed society, and in the end did not get what he wanted. Remember to always follow your heart, no matter what society’s box tells you what to do.
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