Term Paper: Great Expectations Dickens Judges

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[. . .] Pips progress, his fall and final enlightenment, is the vehicle that allows us to see the characters in their true light and not only in terms of their appearances. In this sense the relationship that Pip has with Joe is an important indicator or moral gauge, as the reader progresses through the novel.

When Pip encounters the world of Miss Havisham his innocence, already upset by his meeting with the criminal Magwitch, is shattered. In Satis house he encounters the antithesis of the straightforward innocence and warmth of Joe Gargery and enters into a social milieu that is steeped in concepts of social hierarchy and class, status and decadent desires.

But at Satis House, Pip also discovers that, to the upper classes of society, a blacksmith is as much an outcast as is a criminal. Miss Havisham and Estella represent a social class that Pip has never encountered before. www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=15308785" (Glancy 133) A character like Mr. Pumblechook is a snob and hypocrite, yet in terms of the class structure he is a common villager; Miss Havisham on the other hand represents the gentry, the landed families whose money is largely unearned. (ibid)

Pip's encounter with Miss Havisham causes him to reassess his own life and character, and especially his relationship with Joe. Through the eyes of Miss Havisham and Estella, Pip sees himself from the perspective of another class and his innocence is shattered. At the same time the generosity and simplicity of Joe's influence on his life is replaced by the apparent class and nobility represented by Miss Havisham. The name Hav-is-sham immediately reveals the true nature of this upper-class lady as essentially fraudulent in character. She is a disappointed women whose hatred of men is projected though her corruption of Estella, subsequently corrupting Pip's perception of life. Under Estella's well tutored gaze, Pip now sees himself in a different light and begins to be disgusted by his appearance and life style. His difference in class now becomes his obsession and causes him to deny his upbringing and relationship with Joe. Ironically Pip's desire to be a gentleman leads him away from all the values of what a true gentleman should be.

Pip blames Joe for his contemptible state, so Pip's separation from Joe begins. At this point in the novel, Dickens now carefully links Pip's new sense of shame at his social class with his guilt at being a young criminal. Estella's contempt not only makes him feel ashamed of his coarse hands, thick boots, and ignorant language; it also makes him feel that he "was in a low-lived bad way" (Glancy 64). His life at the forge thus becomes identified for him with his criminal connections, and both are totally unacceptable to Estella."

(Glancy 133)

We can also see the link that this part of the book has to Dickens's own life. Under the influence of Estella and Miss Havisham he now sees his role as a blacksmith as tantamount to being a criminal sentence as he feels trapped by his present life, just as the young Dickens sought to escape the blacking factory. Miss Havisham reveals her innermost secret and illness to the unknowing and innocent Pip:

Do you know what I touch here?' she said, laying her hands, one upon the other, on her left side.

Yes, ma'am.' (It made me think of the young man.)

What do I touch?'

Your heart.'


Carlisle 103)

And her intent is clearly expressed when she advises her protege Estella.

Havisham would embrace her with lavish fondness, murmuring something in her ear that sounded like "Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!" (ibid) Pip is the victim of this vengeance and he encounters the very opposite of behavior that one would ideally expect from those of high social status. The two women combine to devastate Pip's sense of identity.

He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!" said Estella with disdain, before our first game was out. "And what coarse hands he has. And what thick boots!" had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it. (Carlisle 73)

Under her veneer of aristocratic superiority Estella begins her cruel and endless taunting. "She gave me a triumphant glance in passing me, as if she rejoiced that my hands were so coarse and my boots were so thick, and she opened the gate, and stood holding it. I was passing out without looking at her, when she touched me with a taunting hand. www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=getPage&docId=96985258&keywords=labouring%20boy

Why don't you cry? www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=getPage&docId=96985258&keywords=labouring%20boy

Because I don't want to. www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=getPage&docId=96985258&keywords=labouring%20boy

You do," said she. "You have been crying till you are half blind, www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=getPage&docId=96985258&keywords=labouring%20boyand you are near crying again now." She laughed contemptuously, pushed me out, and locked the gate upon me. (ibid)

Under the influence of appearance, the reality of his relationship with others begins to be distorted. His view of Joe changes. Forgetting all the warmth and true affection that the good natured Joe has shown him he now is ashamed of being associated with a blacksmith and sees him as an uneducated fool. "When I got up to my little room and said my prayers, I did not forget Joe's recommendation, and yet my young mind was in that disturbed and unthankful state, that I thought long after I laid me down, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how thick his boots, and how coarse his hands." (Carlisle 83)

The reversal of expected relationships also extends to the city of London. Pip receives 'great expectations' from his unknown benefactor and goes off to become a gentleman in London. His expectation is that there he will find a life of genteel sophistication. In fact he finds the opposite. His life seems to become more and more associated with crime. The irony is clear. Social status and becoming a gentleman should be associated to refinement and the higher things in life. Dickens cleverly reveals the multiple ironies of appearance vs. reality. The social status of Miss Havisham's house is revealed as a sham and literality rotten and decayed, while London is steeped in decadence and crime.

In the background Pip is as yet unaware that his secret benefactor is in fact the criminal, Magwitch. In London he is taken to Mr. Jagger's criminal Law office which reflects the seamier side of London. "A 'shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam' (163), which seems to stick to him. Beside the market and dominating the London landscape is Newgate Prison. Pip's attempts to separate himself from crime are futile; Wemmick even tells him, "You are one of us, as I may say" (197). (Glancy 134) central example of the theme of this paper is the shadow that Magwitch casts over events. Instead of the superior influence of status and class, we are aware that much of the motivation of events in the novel has its basis in crime and decadence. The reality of class is revealed as the opposite of its appearance. The 'truth' that is revealed in the book is that love, sincerity and compassion are much more important in assessing character. These values transcend all class distinctions.

While Magwitch is a criminal, his intentions in helping Pip - as flawed as they are - are still more laudable than many of the actions of the other characters. Pips aspirations and desires for social status are dashed when a lowly criminal is revealed as the source of his 'great expectations'. But this is also his saving grace as he awakens painfully to the realization that the truth of human relationships lies in the way people treat one another; and that class distinctions have little to do with truth in these terms. His return to Joe and his sense of sorrow and guilt leads to Pips enlightenment and redemption. In the final analysis the novel attempts to show the interconnected quality of human society and that superficial social values are never a good judge of character.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000.

Born, Daniel. The Birth of Liberal Guilt in the English Novel: Charles Dickens to H.G. Wells. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Carlisle, Janice, ed. Great Expectations: Case studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford Books,!996.

Glancy, Ruth. Student Companion to Charles Dickens. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

House, Humphry. The Dickens World. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Kingsmill, Hugh. The Sentimental Journey, a Life of Charles Dickens. New York: W. Morrow & Co., 1935.

Martin, Andrew. "Class Conscious." New Statesman 3 Apr. 2000: 14. Questia. 22 Feb. 2004.

Newlin, George. Understanding Great Expectations… [END OF PREVIEW]

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