Great Expectations Essay, Research Paper
The importance of Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations has two major parts: the significance of the character, and the symbolism of the character. The significance of Mrs. Joe is to complete the figure of Joe. The symbolism of Mrs. Joe is actually the physical manifestation of Joe’s fears in combination with his desire for a commanding father figure. Mrs. Joe’s reign of terror is obviously necessary for Joe’s existence.
In the beginning of Great Expectations, Joe requires identification as a major character. Without the weakness that Mrs. Joe instills in Joe through her reign of terror, Joe would never develop into a major character. Joe is identified as a compassionate, sensitive person. The best way to display this feature is to have the character appear vulnerable. Mrs. Joe serves as the tyrant for which Joe is made helpless. Joe, unless he is a scared character, does not recognize the friend he has in Pip. Without Joe as a major role in Pip’s life, Pip also seems very incomplete.
Mrs. Joe also serves as the comical interlude of an otherwise somber story. “When she had exhausted a torrent of such inquiries, she threw a candlestick at Joe, burst into a loud sobbing, got out the dustpan — which was always a very bad sign — put on her coarse apron, and began cleaning up to a terrible extent. Not satisfied with a dry cleaning, she took to a pail and scrubbing-brush, and cleaned us out of house and home…” Truly, a frightening creature could destroy a household by cleaning when she gets angry. Mrs. Joe seems to serve very well as a mother to Pip.
Besides the age difference and the motherly duties of housekeeping for Pip and Joe, the attitude of a scornful mother is also apparent. This, of course, draws Joe even closer to Pip, by relation. Mrs. Joe serves as link to make it possible that Joe appears to be the father of Pip. In addition, Joe, although terrified of Mrs. Joe, is a very honorable man and would never consider divorcing his wife. Through this condition, however, Joe appears to be even a more honorable man to choose to preserve the sacred marriage rather than seek his comfort. It is ironic that Mrs. Joe be referred to as Mrs. Joe constantly when there doesn’t seem too much a part of Joe in her. The main purpose it serves is probably to characterize Mrs. Joe as a more masculine, and, therefore, typically more commanding, character.
In the tradition of marriage, the wife usually gives up her last name to show that she is “property” of the man, therefore it is especially ironic that she be called Mrs. Joe when it is clear that Joe, rather, belongs more to her than vice-versa. It is also ironic that Joe be the one that seems to be stuck in tough situation in his marriage. Often, in this time, women suffered from the abuse of their husbands and expected to keep the marriage together regardless. However, Joe is clearly the one being abused in this story and he also is the only one decent enough to care enough about the marriage to try and keep it together by enduring the abuse of Mrs. Joe. Fifth, through love, Joe shows the audience that he is not just a very timid man but a whole-hearted man. It takes a loving man to stay in love with such a woman as Mrs. Joe.
No kissing ever took place between Joe and Mrs. Joe, and it becomes clear to the reader that the relationship between Joe and Mrs. Joe is a very “one-way” relationship. It would seem that Joe cares enough for Mrs. Joe, though Mrs. Joe never once seems to show a bit of compassion for him. Illustration of this can be seen in Mrs. Joe’s numerous derogatory references to being married to “a lowly blacksmith.” Surely, after Mrs. Joe dies, Joe reflects upon how he was treated and what he will do differently in the future. With Mrs. Joe gone, a piece of Joe’s life is again freed up and can slowly be reclaimed, making him into a stronger person. Eventually marrying Biddy makes it apparent that Joe is changed, as Biddy seems more the feminine, quiet, traditional girl, compared to Mrs. Joe.
Mrs. Joe represents the semi-aristocracy that oppresses Joe and Pip. She continually threatens them with bodily harm, pushing Joe and Pip together under a common oppression. This is also seen in the way she ridicules Pip through Estella and Joe through Pip. Although Mrs. Joe isn’t exactly wealthy, she has the aristocratic connections that define her as part of the elite class. A pair of nurturing parents supposedly fills the home life, however, in this book, the home serves as sort of a microcosm.
The social structure and events that take place within the house echo all the rest of the events in the book. This includes the theft of the file and food along with Pips first feelings of guilt. Mrs. Joe’s oppression of her husband and little brother is also very important.
Finally, Joe first sought this relationship with such an overbearing character because he has always needed someone to make his decisions. Before, he didn?t suffer under abuse, I assume, although he has always been clumsy physically as well as mentally. Examples of this are his general timidity to confrontation and his occasional stumbling over items, especially when trying to act in the presence of Pip when he is a gentleman. Joe’s speech and use of words illustrate his plainness and accented Pip’s aristocracy. Decisions never came easily for Joe and he’d much rather have someone else make them for him.
Being uneducated, it seems as Joe never felt sure that he could make an appropriate decision. When asking for Mrs. Joe’s hand in marriage, it can be assumed that Mrs. Joe did everything to make the marriage a reality. So, Mrs. Joe essentially created Joe to be the character that he allowed himself to be. With the slow death of Mrs. Joe, Joe reclaimed his life from his earlier insecurity. Mrs. Joe’s importance in tying Joe to Pip made the relationship between the two significantly more believable, and without her, the great expectation of this book would never have been met.