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Conscience as It Relates to Great Expectations

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Conscience is truly a dreadful thing. It judges us more heavily than any court and is inescapable. Mahatma Gandhi once said that, “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Conscience affects all of us. It is no wonder that Mark Twain had a desire for the simple life. He once said that, “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” One of the greatest examples of Conscience and how it affects a boy named Pip is found in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. What would you do if you were forced to do something that conflicted everything you believed in? In the story, Pip is confronted with a similar scenario in which he has to steal food for an escaped convict who threatened to kill him. While in the process of stealing he is tormented by his conscience. In he state his mistakes the squeaks of the floorboards as the floorboards screaming and warning his family of his theft. Pip, while taking the food to the convict, thinks the gates and the dikes are yelling at him, and that everything in the marsh was running at him instead of him running at it.

In the act of stealing, Pip gets away clean, although his conscience is truly the punishment for his actions. Pip is overwhelmed by the guilt that he stole and contemplates telling someone, yet regardless of his aching conscience he decides against it. Mistakes always seem to have a way of coming back to hurt you. Pip almost experiences this at the family Christmas party, when unbeknownst to him, soldiers are searching for the very same fugitive that Pip helped. Pip’s initial reaction was that the soldiers were there to arrest him, although as the issue developed he determined that they were only there to fix a pair of handcuffs. When the soldiers there offered to let some of the men of the family go to watch the apprehension of the fugitive, the men of the family happily obliged. After the soldiers obtain the fugitive Pip ensures that the convict knows that it was not him who led the soldiers to him. As time passes Pip has many prime opportunities to tell his family what he did yet, he as soon chooses not to. Pip struggles with the guilt that he stole from his family. Pip eventually is invited to a woman named Mrs. Havisham’s house to play with her niece Estella. Estella is very pretty though she has a heart of ice. When depicting his experience at Mrs. Havisham’s house to his family, he fabricates every part of it. He is fine with his convincing lie, though as it so happens he cannot bear lying to the father figure in his life, Joe.

Pip says that, “In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.” Later, likely a side effect of his seemingly self destructive conscience, Pip has a vivid dream of a man stirring his tea with an object that he stole. The man looked at him for a moment, made sure he knew that Pip knew he knew of the convict and what he had done, and then put the object back in his pocket. The character Pip in this story shows a perfect image of remorse rather than repentance. He knows he did what was wrong by lying, yet regardless of his merciless conscience he does it again. He is fine lying to the mother figure in his life, Mrs. Joe, and tries to assure himself that it is only her that he is hurting so long as Joe is not affected, as soon as once Joe is affected by his actions he immediately feels remorse. Pip in this story makes some mistakes that consequently affect his family and his conscience, yet the only consequence that brought him to action was his guilt relating to the damage he caused Mr. Joe. Pip’s conscience is evident throughout the story and his guilt causes him to misinterpret situations. If anything you do take with you from this story it is that Conscience is truly a dreadful thing.

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