Great Expectations Essay Research Paper General InfoA

Great Expectations Essay, Research Paper

General Info:

A story of moral redemption.

The hero is an orphan raised in humble surroundings, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, comes into a fortune, and promptly disavows family and friends.

When the fortune first loses its lustre, then evaporates completely, he confronts his own ingratitude, and learns to love the man who both created and destroyed him.

The story is told by the hero himself, and the challenge Dickens faced in devising this first-person narrative was two-fold.

He had to ensure that Pip??s confession of his faults ring true, so that we do not suppose him to be admitting them merely in order to win our sympathy. And he had to validate Pip??s redemption by showing that it produces good deeds as well as good words.

Its admirable briskness is nowhere more apparent than in Pip??s account of the feelings with which he once greeted the prospect of a visit from his old friend and protector, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. ??Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties, with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.?? (218)

There are times when Pip lays on the self-mortification a little too thickly, and times when he appears desperate for our approval. By and large, though, he is hard on himself to exactly the right (the convincing) degree.


The proof of Pip??s redemption lies in good deeds rather than good words.: his secret acts of kindness, in securing Herbert a partnership in Clarricker??s, and in securing Miss Havisham??s good opinion of the long-suffering Matthew Pocket; his final refusal to accept money from MH, or from Magwitch; and, most significantly, his love for Magwitch.

The last of these good deeds, and the one hardest for the writer to authenticate, is made piercingly vivid by a subtle modification of narrative technique. This occurs in Vol III ch. XV, which describes the attempt to spirit Magwitch away down the Thames. Here, for the only time in the novel, the first-person narrative ceases to be Pip??s way of thinking, however, honestly, about himself, and becomes instead an act of attention to others, and to the unfolding events.

Ripples of unease spread through the narrative, in descriptions of the docks and the river, but this is a generalised anxiety, or alertness, rather than the self-absorption, justifiable or not, which has up to this time held Pip in its grip.

The love Pip feels for Magwith, after his capture, is thus a knowledge earned by self-effacement (destruction).


Pip certainly has some sins to expiate (compensate), notable his ingratitude towards Joe and Biddy, and his initial revulsion from Magwitch. But his sense of guilt seems consistently in excess of the actual wrong he has done: less gradually intensifying recognition of moral failure than a deep mysterious affinity with criminal conduct. This becomes explicit when, awaiting Estella??s arrival at the coach-office in Cheapside, he kills time by accompanying Wemmick on a tour of Newgate Prison.


Orlick is Pip??s shadow. We fist encounter him working side by side with Pip at the forge. When Mrs Joe is brutally struck down, Orlish assaults her, but Pip might be said to have supplied the weapon, a leg-iron. Pip is employed to entertain Miss Havisham; Orlick, somewhat later, to keep her gate. Pip regards Biddy as a sister, Orlick??s intentions towards her are less honorable.

Pip associates with Magwitch, Orlick with Magwitch??s bitter enemy, Compeyson. Orlick, in short, seems embarked on some great expectations of his own, sullenly tracking Pip??s upward progress from the marshes to Satis House and on to London. Pip cannot rid himself of this obscene shadow.

In Vol III, Orlick lures Pip to an abandoned sluice-house on the marshes, meaning not only to kill him, but to overwhelm him with accusations. Pip, he claims, has thwarted him at every turn. But the charge he makes with the greatest conviction is that Pip bears the ultimate responsibility of Mrs. Joe??s death, even though he himself struck the fatal blow. ??But it warn??t old Orlick as did it; it was you. You was favoured, and he was bullied and beat. Old Orlick bullied and beat, eh? Now you pays for it. you done it, now you pays for it.?? Orlick, who assulted Mrs Joe with intent, holds Pip, who inadvertently supplied the weapon, responsible for the crime. This fantasised inversion of responsibilities allows us to recognise Orlick as Pip??s double.


Dickens knew that there are always obstacles to be overcome in the fulfillment of great expectations, and that hose obstacles must sometimes be overcome violently.

Mrs. Joe was, in her refusal to see anything at all in Pip, an obstacle to great expectations. She had to go. And yet Pip, who childishly believes that achievement and status will be conferred upon him, without any effort on his part, cannot bring himself to get rid of her.

Orlish puts into effect Pip??s fantasy of vengeance. ??You done it; now you pays for it.?? The guilt acknowledges the fantasy. No wonder that when Pip first hears of her death he assumes that he is in some way reponsible.

There are other obstacles in his path, Uncle Pumblechook, who never misses an opportunity to patronise him or deprive him of credit. Orlick does for Pumblechook, too, leading a gang of thieves who loot his shop, drink his wine, pull his nose, and stuff his mouth full of flowering annuals. Since Pumblechook has done Pip insult rather than injury, the vengeance wrought on him is less severe, but vengeance it none the less it, as the gusto of Joe??s description of the event makes plain (446).

Some obstacles, however, are beyond Orlick??s reach, and require the services of a second double, in the shape of Bentley Drummle. Drummle is an upper-class copy of Orlick. Like Orlick, he is powerful, swarthy, inarticulate, hot-tempered. Like Orlick, he lounges and lurks. After Estella has rejected Pip??s love, Drummle marries her, and beats her up. Both men disappear from the narrative once they have fulfilled their function by executing Pip??s unacknowledged fantasies of violent revenge.


Pip, then, may well have something apart from ingratitude to feel guilty about. However, he associates guilt not with particular events, but with a general unease which he has felt as long as he can remember.

Magwitch??s appearance in the churchyard coincides with his first impression of ??the identity of things?? (3). Pip feels uneasy from the moment he begins to feel at all. But even that first impression is in some respects a second impression. It marks the moment not when he ??found out??, but when he ??found out for certain??, that the marshes were the marshes, the river the river, and so on. Magwitch is not altogether a new thing, but rather a thing peeled away from or toen off a landscape Pip has inhabited since birth. ??A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and toen by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose theeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin?? (4).

Magwitch is an atmosphere, a condition, not a moral dilemma. He soon returns whence he came. By the river stands a gibbet, with some chains dangling form it which had once held a pirate. Pip??s last sight of Magwitch, after their first encounter, is of him ??limping on towards this latter, as is he were the pirate come to life, and come down, and going back to hook himself up again.?? (7)

Chapter II introduces us to Pip??s sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who, having brought him up ??by hand??, needs no convincing of his aboriginal criminality. Mrs. Joe thinks it hard enough to be a blacksmith??s wife (??an dhim a Gargery??) without also being Pip??s mother (9).

Her permanent sense of grievance has long since persuaded him that he must always have been a criminal.

The guilt sharply reawakened by Magwitch is a familiar feeling. He thus takes a double ??oppressed?? conscience back out on to the marshes with him, in Chapter III. Criminality, in the shape of the convict, is and always has been a physical condition, of filth and hunger, which may at any moment enfold him, but which can also be annulled by an act of kindness.

Cognitive Revision

Great Expectations is, so it would seem, the story of cognitive revision- Pip??s discovery that Magiwthc his benefactor, not Miss Havisham- which precipitates a moral revision: ??I only saw in him a much better man that I had been to Hoe?? (446). But the terms of that cognitibe revision throw considerable doubt on it efficacy. The task facing Pip is to replace a fairy god mother by an excaped convict; or, the world of desire by the world of guilt.

Chapter VIII, which describes Pip??s fist visit to Satis House, brutally emphasises the difference between those worlds. While the encounter with Magwitch repeats a sense of guilt with is as old as life and consciousness itself, the meeting with Estella and MH is the birth of a new concept of the self: it dates the first perception of the self as deficiency, as defined by lack and hence as subject to desire.

Pip becomes aware, for the first time, of the coarseness of his hands and the thickness of his boots. The yearning created in that moment is a yearning both for Estella and for social status. It is because he feels a new feeling at Satis House, rather than the repetition of an old one, that he identifies his great expectations with MH and Estella. ??That was a memorable day to me for it made great changes in me.?? (72)

The scene in VolIIChXI, in which Trabb??s boy makes savage fun of Pip??s new clothes and new manner, wonderfully catches the seer unfamiliarity of the self created by desire. QUOTE: ??Words cannot state?K..don??t know yah!?? (246)

Trabb??s boy was vigourous, containing uncontrollable and precise vengefulness.


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