, Research Paper
Great Expectations and Fairy tales
Tolkien describes the facets which are necessary in a
good fairy tales as fantasy, recovery, escape, and
consolation – recovery from deep despair, escape from
some great danger, but most of all, consolation. Speak-
ing of the happy ending,?all complete fairy stories must
have it?However fantastic or terrible the adventure, it
can give to child or man that hears it,?a catch of breath,
a beat and lifting of the heart near to tears.
(Uses of Enchantment, pg.143)
Great Expectations shares many of the conventions of fairy tales. The one dimensional characters, the use of repetition, and the evil women seem to make the similarities strikingly strong. However, are they strong enough to conclude that it is indeed a fairy tale? It can not be ignored that it also falls short on some important areas, such as the traditional fairy tale ending. Is there enough evidence to classify it either way?
Fairy tales have characters of complete good or complete evil. There are no characters who posses both of these qualities. In reading Great Expectations it is plain to see that there is indeed total goodness and total evil. This can be seen in many of the characters. There is no goodness to be found in Orlick. He plays the role of the bully. His hot temper results in the near death of Mrs. Joe and in the near death of Pip. Compeyson is another who has no goodness to be found in him. He is full of evil and hate. It was said that “He had no more heart than a iron file, he was cold as death and he had the head of the devil” (348). He broke the heart of poor Miss Havisham so he could have her money. He also longed to kill his enemy, Magwitch, and ends up reporting him to the officials to get him put to death. Nowhere in this tale do either of these men show one ounce of compassion or
goodness. They can both be regarded as the enemies and the “Bad guys” of the story.
Joe is a character who shows complete goodness. He is kind hearted and gentle. His generosity and forgiveness is demonstrated countless times in the story. When the escaped convict speaks about the food he stole from Joe and asks his forgiveness, Joe’s response is not one of anger. “God knows you are welcome to it- so far as it was ever mine?we wouldn’t have you starve to death (40). His forgiveness is further demonstrated by his reception and willingness to take care of Pip after Pip had been so cruel to him. He simply replies that “you and me was ever friends” (463). His wonderful kindness to his mean wife, Mrs. Joe, demonstrates his unconditional love. He speaks nicely of her even though she is not very nice to him. Biddy shares these characteristics with Joe. She still cares for Pip even though he has been rude to her and pushed her out of his life. Biddy and Joe are both totally good. However good and evil is not always so clear cut.
Some characters appear to fit the fairy tale pattern of being all bad or all good but when they are further explored it cannot be said that they do not fit totally into either side. Consider Molly. She was a “jealous woman, and a revengeful woman; revengeful to the last degree” (405). She had murdered another woman. She told her husband (Magwitch) that she had also killed their daughter (which was not true). But when given the option to give up her child so it would have a chance at life she agreed selflessly: “If you are saved, your child is saved too; if you are lost, your child is still saved” (413).
Mrs. Joe Gargery is also an example of an more rounded character. She is mean and seems to be without a heart. She always went on as to “all the illness I had been guilty of, and all of the acts of sleeplessness I had committed?and all the
times she had wished me in my grave” (28). Yet had Mrs. Joe been all bad she would not have raised Joe by hand, she would simply have cast him out.
Mrs. Havisham appears to be coldhearted and evil. However when the reason for her anger and resentment for men in discovered her feelings are better understood. In the end she realizes the harm that she has done, to herself, to Estella and to Pip. She begs that Pip will “take the pencil and write under my name, I forgive her” (403). She repeats over and over again “What have I done, What have I done.” (403)
Fairy tales do not, as a general rule, represent the middle class citizens. In a fairy tale, people are either extremely rich or extremely poor. In Great Expectations, this is not the case at all. In fact there are very few characters who would not be considered middle class. Most have to put in a honest days work to survive, most live in plain houses, and finally almost all of them are under the leadership of someone else. This shows that they are not at the top of the ladder. Miss Havisham and Mr. Jaggers are the only two that would not fall into the middle class society. In this respect the characters are not like the characters of fairy tales.
Repetition is an important element in fairy tales. It is used to emphasize a point. It is important because it may take someone a while to grasp what has happened. If it is repeated they have time to understand it. Repetition is very prominent in Great Expectations. When Pip comes into his good fortune and is
leaving town, he goes into see Mr. Pumblechook, who is continually saying “May I, may I” and then shaking the hand of Pip. He repeats this several times. This is done to signify his changed attitude towards Pip now that Pip has come into money. He is self-seeking in his acts of kindness as he is only kind to those who are in a higher position than him.
Repetition is also seen in the life of Pip. In the beginning of the story he is a kind and loving boy, but as the story goes on he becomes hard and cold to the very people he was once so close with. However, near the end of the story, his behaviors and feelings from the beginning of the story come back. Although he has definitely grown and changed considerably, it should be noted that his changes bring him back to the loving and warm-hearted child that he was once know to be. He once again appreciates Joe and all he has done for him, and he “fancied that he was little Pip again” (467).
The relationship that is described between Magwitch and Compeyson is a repetition of the relationship between Pip and Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham took Pip in and made him think she had good intentions. All she really wanted was to see him get hurt, to pay the debt that she felt her ex lover owed her. She told him to “love her, love her, love her” (240) because she knew the end result would be pain. Miss Havisham ended up making Pip’s life miserable. Magwitch was but a servant, or a helper to Compeyson. Compeyson brought him to believe that they were partners but indeed he was but a “poor tool in his hands” (348). He broke Miss. Havisham’s heart and stole her money. When the two were brought to court for the matter, Compeyson said to Magwitch “Separate defenses, no communications; and
that was all” (350). This partner or “friend” in crime turned on him as he had always intended to do if there was trouble and hurt him very badly. The relationship between Miss Havisham and Pip, and Magwitch and Compeyson is repeated to make sure that the impact of betrayal is made clear.
In many fairy tales there is the idea of an evil stepmother and a nice father. This is depicted in the story through Joe and Mrs. Joe. Joe warns Pip when he is going to get in trouble and tries to help him the best he can. Meanwhile, Mrs. Joe does nothing but get angry and tells Pip how she wishes he were in his grave. This relationship is seen also in Mr. & Mrs. Pocket when she was getting angry at Jane for taking a nutcracker away from the other very young child. Mr. Pocket tries to come to Jane’s rescue saying that “Jane only interfered for the protection of the baby” (194). But there was no reasoning with Mrs. Pocket as much as Mr. Pocket tried. “I will not be interfered with”, (194) was all that Mrs. Pocket said and she continued her punishment of the child. Her anger at being questioned shows her pride and arrogance. This is typical of fairy tale stepmothers.
Miss Havisham is also very much like an evil stepmother or a witch. She takes all of the joy that could have been in Estella’s and Pip’s lives. She appears to Pip like a fairly nice old woman who is trying to help him out. But just as the bad people in fairy tales hide their true identity and intentions , so does she.
It is very common to have a fairy Godmother or a genie who helps the distressed hero out of trouble. In Great Expectations it is clear that Magwitch is that “Fairy God Mother”. He is the one who gives Pip the chance to become a gentleman. Although he is not a “Fairy Godmother” a parallel can clearly be drawn.
It is clear to see that when Magwitch is giving Pip his money to become a gentleman that he is like a fairy Godmother. When we see Magwitch, his appearance is far from that of a traditional Fairy Godmother, but his function is the same. It becomes less obvious in the end that he is still acting in a fairy tale like roll because he is no longer providing something that can be seen. Near the end he is not giving Pip money but bringing him back to his youthful feeling of love and friendship. These things are far more valuable than the money he gave to Pip.
Fairy tales are told, for the most part, to amuse and encourage children to use their imagination. It would bring them to a fantasy world. This world of fantasy,
that is so critical in the making of a good fairy tale, can be found in Great Expectations. The first time that Pip is at Mrs. Havisham’s he sees a disturbing sight. He saw “a figure hanging there by the neck” (64). It was Miss Havisham, but when he looked again he “found no figure there” (64). He sees this same thing on his last visit to Miss Havisham’s. He is not seeing what is reality, therefore what he sees is a fantasy.
Fairy tales are told through the eyes of children. There is rarely an adult hero or main character. Pip, however, is an adult for the majority of the story. This would suggest that this story is not similar to that of a fairy tale in the way of narration. However it should be noted that even though Pip is physically older he is still the same young and caring loving Pip that he was at the beginning of the story and he “fancied that he was little Pip again” (467). The narration also follows the narration of a fairy tale because it is in the past tense. This is the same as most fairy tales
are written. However it is in the first person and a fairy tale is usually in the third person.
The ending is perhaps the strongest evidence against Great Expectations
being a fairy tale. Fairy tales end happily ever after. “The happy ending,?all complete fairy stories must have it” (Uses of Enchantment, pg.143) The ending is very ambiguous. It is not known if love wins and they live happily or if once again they part. This ending leaves a lot to be desired if a happy ending it what is expected. A fairy tale leaves no question that the two lovers end up together. In Great Expectations the ending is very uncertain. Estella says “we will continue friends apart” (484). Pip talks about “no parting from her” (484). It is very hard to understand whether or not they end up happily ever after or not.
There is much evidence that points to the many similarities between fairy tales and Great Expectations. Many of the conventions of a fairy tale such as repetition, pure evil and pure good characters, and fantasy are satisfied with this tale. Nonetheless, the differences such as some of the rounded characters, the classes of the people in the story, and most of all, the ending implies that it is closer to reality than a fairy tale. The use of some elements of fairy tales aides in lightening some of the mean and cruel situations in the story. However no definite conclusion can be reached as to exactly what kind of conventions it follows. Like any good book, it follow not one, but many of the different styles to make the book that much more enjoyable.
or used as reference
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1996
Bettelheim, Bruno. The uses of Enchantment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977
Students at Canisus High School. Great Expectations Online- The man behind the
pages. 1996-97. On-line. Available: www.canishuishs.buffalo.ny.us/ expectations/ credits.htm.
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