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How and why does Dickens show the Changing Relationship between Pip & Joe?

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The relationship between Pip and Joe is one of the focal points of ‘Great Expectations.’ Initially there is a strong, brotherly bond between the two. Their relationship then breaks down as Pip, feeling ashamed of his background and upbringing, moves to London to pursue his dream of being a gentleman. Finally, Pip returns to the forge at the end of the novel, having seen the error of his ways; and is reconciled with Joe. Dickens uses the characters of Pip and Joe, and their changing relationship, to show the true value of a ‘gentle man’ as opposed to a ‘gentleman.’ The main literary technique used to show the relationship at various stages of the novel is language, which Dickens uses extremely effectively throughout the narrative.

At the start of the novel, Pip and Joe share an easy-going, friendly relationship. Being fellow sufferers at the hands of Mrs. Joe, they naturally come together and grow to be very close. Their intimacy can be easily seen by the way they speak. They are very relaxed and laid-back when together, as shown by phrases like “wot larx” 1 and “ever the best of friends”2 – a phrase repeated constantly by Joe. Another indication of their closeness is the fact that they don’t keep any secrets from each other. To show this, Dickens makes use of the incident where Pip steals food for the convict. Afterward, Pip feels immense guilt which constantly eats at his conscience; not particularly because he had done something wrong, but because he believed that he had failed to live up to Joe’s expectations.

His state of mind is clearly revealed when he says, “I do not recal any tenderness of conscience in reference to Mrs. Joe……but as to him (Joe), my inner conscience was not so easily composed.”3 His boyhood innocence makes the reader sympathetic towards him, and makes them realise how emotionally deep the relationship between Pip & Joe goes. The main reason that Pip and Joe are so close is because of Joe’s easy manners and likeability. Pip’s na�ve childhood mind finds it easy to relate to Joe, almost as an elder brother. This is put into words by Pip, who says, “I loved Joe – perhaps for no better reason in those early days than because the dear fellow let me love him.”4 He is the one ‘normal’ character among a number of eccentric personalites, such as the tyrannical Mrs. Joe or the pretentious Uncle Pumblechook. Joe seems to be the only person who sincerely cares for Pip, and his compassion and understanding helps to nurture Pip and develop a healthy relationship between the two.

When Pip meets Miss Havisham & Estella, he becomes conscious that he is merely a “common, labouring boy.”5 Estella in particular treats him with such disdain, that Pip ends up reduced to tears. He begins to feel ashamed of things like his “coarse hands,” his “common boots,” and his habit of calling Jacks knaves. For this, he blames Joe and his crude, unsophisticated upbringing. His resentment towards Joe is evident when he says, “I wish Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, then I should have been so too.”6 That one day changed the course of his life and instilled in him the wish to be a gentleman. Following that incident, the interaction between Joe and Pip gradually reduces and is less personal. This is an immediate indication of a breakdown in their relationship. Pip spends more time at Satis House, trying his best to impress Estella. Estella ends up playing a big role in changing the relationship between Pip & Joe. At this initial stage, she unknowingly encourages Pip to break away from Joe, and she continues to have this effect later on in the book. Pip believed that Estella would not approve of Pip’s association with Joe, “a mere blacksmith.”

His alleged common-ness inspired Pip to be a gentleman, and this causes Pip to drift away from Joe. Finally, Pip leaves the forge and moves to London to fulfill his ambition of being a gentleman. Dickens shows the collapse of Pip and Joe’s relationship through Pip’s departure. He made a hurried exit without speaking to anyone. After all that Pip & Joe have been through, one would have expected a more poignant separation; but Pip only “threw (his) arms around Joe’s neck……and walked out.”7 In contrast, Pip’s taking leave of Miss Havisham, whom he has known for a much shorter period of time, is a lot more vocal and expressive. The contrast between the two goodbyes is used by the author to demonstrate the detachment of Pip & Joe; and also to show the ingratitude and snootiness of Pip.

The relationship reaches its lowest point in chapter 27, when Joe visits Pip in London. After his inheritance, Pip feels ashamed of Joe and is reluctant to meet him. When Joe arrives all dressed up, Pip is embarrassed by his clumsy manner, his large boots and his formal attire. It is actually quite commendable on Joe’s part to take so much effort and try to look presentable to Pip, even if he did end up looking rather unusual in comparison to when he wears his blacksmith’s outfit. Pip fails to see this and is very impatient with Joe, who is somewhat unnerved by this. His lack of appreciation and thankfulness towards Joe is evidence of what a shallow, insufferable person he has become. The distance between the two can clearly be seen through their language. In comparison to the early chapters of the narrative, their speech is much more formal and stiff.

Their greeting immediately gives the impression of frostiness in their relationship. Joe’s salutation of “How AIR you, Pip”8 is extremely unnatural and artificial, and is far cry from the laid-back nature of their association at the start of the novel. Joe addresses Pip as “sir,” 9 acknowledging his newfound higher status. Joe’s simplicity and humility is illustrated by his quiet acceptance of Pip’s snobbery and cruelty. He refuses to claim the credit which he rightly deserves for bringing up Pip. This point is established when Joe leaves at the end, saying: “If there’s been any fault today, it’s mine,”10 a very untrue declaration. Another language device used by Dickens to convey the detachment of the pair is Joe’s usage of more sophisticated vocabulary. Joe tries to use more expansive terminology, but his discomfort with these expressions is evident due his mispronunciation of words such as “architectooralooral” Yet again, Joe’s dedication and loyalty to Pip is shown by Joe’s attempt to live up to Pip’s high standards. The use of the formal language point towards a serious breakdown in their relationship, and the principal cause of this is Pip.

Following this incident, Pip’s subconscious self is subjected to an unsettling sense of guilt and repentance. His inner mind starts to realise how ungrateful he has been towards Joe. However, Pip continually pushes this guilt to the back of his mind, and manages to invent a number of excuses to convince him self that it would not be in his best interests to at least visit Joe. Even after his miseries culminate in the death of Magwitch and his accumulation of debt, he still does not take the initiative to return to Joe. However, the story is narrated in such a way that Dickens always re-ignites sympathy in the readers towards Pip. Dickens’ technique of reflective narration by a future Pip is a very clever & effective. It adds another layer to the story, as it gives the reader an insight into Pip’s mind at that point of time. The repentance expressed by the future Pip undermines some of the negative impressions formed by the reader of Pip’s attitude and personality. Lines such as, “…Joe brought tears to my eyes; they had soon dried, God forgive me! Soon dried,”11 tell the reader that although Pip is ungrateful and unappreciative of Joe, he is actually a good person at heart who has simply been blinded by the notion of money and nobility, and therefore fails to recognise Joe as an integral part of his life.

Towards the end of the novel, Pip is reunited with Joe. Joe rescues Pip from debtors’ prison, where Pip had fallen ill. Much to Pip’s astonishment, Joe pays off all the debt and nurses Pip back to health. At this point, Pip realises what an amazing person Joe is. When Pip was in bad shape, it was Joe who unselfishly came to rescue and helped him out, despite Pip’s appalling treatment of him. The return of naturalness and familiarity in their conversation is immediately noticeable. Joe reverts to his old way of addressing Pip as “old chap,”12 and everything about their demeanour signals a return to the original brotherly relationship.

Once more, Joe’s humility and unassuming nature is shown, as his level of intimacy begins to slacken as Pip grows healthier. Despite all he has done, he still acknowledges a division in class between the two. He resumes calling Pip “sir” but it is still nowhere as formal as in chapter 27. He even ends up leaving, “not wishful to intrude.”13 Seeing Joe caring for him in such a loyal and compassionate manner makes Pip recognise the grave error he has committed. His repentance is reinforced after Joe leaves, as Pip understands how horrible he has been, and what a good, faithful, humble man Joe is. He finally appreciates the true value of Joe, and rediscovers his gratitude towards him. Therefore, Pip leaves his ‘expectations’ behind and finally returns to the forge. For a second time, he begs Joe’s forgiveness and expresses his shame and remorse.

Pip’s moral development throughout the novel is reflected through the changes in his relationship with Joe. The way he speaks and acts around Joe at different times in the story indicate Pip’s disposition and mindset at that point of time. In contrast to Pip’s dramatic transformation of character, Joe remains constant. He is always a kind, sincere, good-natured, likable man; irrespective of the fact that he just a poor, uneducated blacksmith. Dickens uses the character of Joe as a means of comparison to Pip, especially in the middle stages of the book. He is trying to tell the readers that one doesn’t need to have large amounts of money in the bank, or high social status to be a good person and lead a satisfactory life. Dickens wants to convey the value of a “gentle man” as opposed to a “gentleman,” and illustrate that the latter variety may not always be a good person while the former is certain to be. It is also partly a social criticism, which is common in Dickens’ novels. He is trying to show that society attaches too much importance on wealth and materialistic goods, and forgets about the qualities that really define a good person. In doing this, he is extremely successful, and the relationship of Pip & Joe teaches the reader a very important lesson in life.

To conclude, Pip and Joe share an ever-changing relationship, which is one of the main aspects of ‘Great Expectations.’ The relationship changes from a brotherly friendship at the start, to a more formal, reserved relationship after Pip receives an inheritance from a benefactor. The money and high status give Pip an inflated sense of self-importance and he forgets about Joe and all the things Joe did for him. Ultimately, he realises his folly, begs Joe’s forgiveness, and they are brought together again. The relationship is used to give the reader a message, saying that wealth and social status are not the most essential things in this world, but it is good morals and virtues which are necessary, Through the use of literary techniques such as language, Dickens is able to successfully relay his message to the readers, and produce a poignant and gripping tale about the moral journey of a young orphan named Pip.

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