Character Pip in “Great Expectations”
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Throughout Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ Pip’s character undergoes constant changes when it develops, matures, and his experience of the outside world grows. Dickens tells the story through Pip narrating and this gives him a personal connection with the reader and it is easy to understand and reciprocate his feelings. One of the main themes in ‘Great Expectations’ is the idea of change. Pip experiences the rise to an upper-class life and then the fall from grace initiated by the return of Magwitch.
One of the major things that Pip learns about is love; love within families, love between friends, and most important, his love for Estella. Before his visit to Satis House Pip has had almost no contact with girls his age and so on meeting Estella, a girl of such elegance and beauty, he experiences feelings and emotions which are completely new to him. He is amazed by her power and the way she puts Mr Pumblechook down. She calls him ‘boy’ and commands him with tremendous authority. She says things like ‘don’t loiter boy’ (Ch. 8 p. 55) and ‘don’t be ridiculous boy’ (Ch.8 p.56) which make Pip feel pathetic and useless. Pip starts to feel an immense passion for Estella and the bitter reception that she gives him just strengthens and feeds his obsession with her. Pip realises the strength and complications of love through his obsession and is prepared to go to any extreme just to win her heart. Dickens creates a cold-hearted, younger version of Miss Havisham to destroy Pip and shatter his heart.
He uses cruel and insulting language to reject Pip from the higher class of living and makes him think about his current humble life at the forge. Estella calls him a ‘common labouring-boy’ (Ch. 8 p.59) which puts Pip in his place and makes him think about the way he lives. The fact that Estella says that Pip has ‘coarse hands’ (Ch.8, p.60) and wears ‘thick boots’ (Ch.8, p.60) upsets him and shows us how insensitive Estella can be. This is the first time in his childhood that Pip has become self-conscious of his appearance and this is where is desire to be a gentleman begins. Dickens makes the reader feel sorry for Pip in this first visit to Satis House. He is at an age when he is easily influenced and he is almost helpless to insults and criticism thrown at him.
All the way through ‘Great Expectations’ from his childhood in the marshes to his life as a gentleman, Pip is forever learning about himself. He is very ignorant about who he is and refuses to even consider returning to his humble life from his luxury life as a gentleman. Self-knowledge and self-discovery is an important theme in the novel. Pip rejects his humble origins at the forge and aspires to become a gentleman. Although he is given material wealth and taught table manners and how to speak in a different may, he loses much in the process. It is only through hardship, loss, and the example of Joe that he comes to humbly realise the worthlessness of his previous behaviour and the emptiness of his ambitions.
As the novel of ‘Great Expectations’ develops, so does Pip’s character. He learns that he cannot escape his past and his childhood and there are roots that he cannot get away from. The reappearance of Magwitch stirs up memories for Pip and brings the past back to haunt him. Pip also learns that his natural status in life is not to be a gentleman, but he belongs in the marshes working as a blacksmith in the forge. It is the visits from Joe that makes him realise all this. Joe does not change. He realises that he is in his element at the forge and he never loses his basic decency and honesty. One of the reasons why Pip is so embarrassed and ashamed of Joe is because Joe reminds him how he should be living and makes him feel tremendous amounts of guilt. ‘And in the first flow of my repentance it was equally clear that I must stay at Joe’s’ (Ch. 35 p.223).
When Pip says this it is one of his few admittances to his guilt shows us where his heart really lies. Pip lives his whole life in denial and continues to try and run away from his past life and his past character. It is only through old connections (Biddy, Magwitch, Joe etc.) that Pip realises he cannot escape from his old way of life. He is bound to the past. Even if he desires to return to his simple life at the forge, could he ever return fully? His character and attitudes have changed since he left and it is impossible to change back again. He is a different man now with different values and expectations. Biddy realises this even if Pip does not, and she understands that they could never be together. I feel sorry for Pip in this situation. His move from a simple boy to a gentleman symbolises advancement through life from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. He is only human and made a mistake which was driven by his love for Estella. He did not know that there was no going back.
Linked with the theme of self-knowledge, Pip begins to learn that being a gentleman, a dream he has clutched since meeting Estella, does not make him feel happy. Spending money freely and dining in a posh manner does not complete him. This is because the life that he should have led lies back at the forge with Joe and Biddy and not in London. It is only through relentless rejection and guilt that he comes to regret his decision to become a gentleman and realises how false his current life is. Pip experiences rejection throughout his life but seems immune to its pessimistic powers.
After the death of Miss Havisham, Pip returns to the forge to marry Biddy and on arrival, realises that she is married to Joe. However, instead of being selfish, Pip shows joy and happiness for the both of them and wishes them well. This shows us that he has learnt about selflessness and is capable of loving and caring for others. He puts his friends first and ensures their happiness by telling them that ‘you receive my humble thanks for all you have done for me’ (Ch. 19 p.473). His blind obsession with Estella and his belief that they are destined for each other continue until the latter is shattered by the arrival of his real benefactor and by Estella’s marriage to Drummle. All he experiences from Estella is cruel rejection. However, he appears blind to rejection’s pessimistic powers and persists with winning Estella’s heart. When Estella’s father, Magwitch, is on his death bed Pip reveals his feelings by telling him that his daughter ‘is a lady and very beautiful. And I love her!’ (Ch. 56 p.460) Nothing has changed. His feelings for her remain as passionate as ever and he has disregarded any warnings and cruel insults that she might have given him.
In ‘Great Expectations’ Dickens’ language and narrative techniques are very simple and effective. Dickens is famous for his use of language to describe people, places and features of landscapes. Dickens is very good at generating a visual image in the reader’s mind of what is being described. For example when Pip makes a visit to Satis House just before Miss Havisham’s death, there is a vivid description of the area he walks through.
Dickens uses gloomy and saddening sentences like ‘the swell of the old organ was borne to my ears like funeral music’ (Ch.10 p.390). A sentence like this injects an atmosphere into the readers of the decay and ending of life which all builds up to such an event; the death of Miss Havisham. Also, Charles Dickens’ use of language to create characters is an important aspect of his writing. The names of Charles Dickens’ characters give an idea of their character. This is known as characternym and is used with almost all the characters in the novel. For example, the name Jaggers. This gives the impression of a strong willed man who is not to be crossed. Pumblechook: this sounds like someone who is full of his own importance and is rather foolish. Characternym is good because it makes it easy to associate a character with their personality and it gives a quick impression of what they are like.
Towards the end of novel Pip begins to learn about the most important things in his character: selflessness, humility and compassion. He learns this through the arrival of Magwitch and the reality of who his benefactor is. He demonstrates the significant change in him when Biddy asks him about his obsession with Estella. He tells her that ‘that poor dream, as I once used to call it; has all gone by, Biddy, all done by!’ (Ch. 19 p.476). When Pip agrees to help Magwitch his character begins a gradual change. He stands by Magwitch and visits him in prison and even helps him escape from London. This shows warmth in his character and dedication to a man whom he owes so much. However, Pip realises that he cannot be happy living as a gentleman and believes that he would like to return to the forge and settle down with Biddy.
To conclude, Pip is continuously learning about life and it is obvious to see a strong development in his character. His childhood innocence and satisfactory way of living is shattered by his visits to Satis house. He drifts away from his roots at the forge and experiences a luxury way of living whilst staying in the centre of London. However, he comes to recognize the importance of family and realises that he cannot escape his humble background. He learns what it is like to live his dreams and ambitions and experiences the rises and falls of a high status life. And most importantly, he learns what it means to be human.