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Pip's development or education, which has been called a snob's progress, makes this novel a bildungsroman; a novel of education, the bildungsroman typically follows the hero's process from childhood innocence to experience. One of the great ironies of this novel is that Pip's financial and social rise, which results from his having "expectations," is accompanied by an emotional and moral decline or deterioration. Does any good beside his buying a partnership for Herbert come out of his expectations?


Though Pip's dream of transformation alienates him from Joe, Joe continues to have a positive influence on Pip. Pip acknowledges that he fulfilled his obligations as an apprentice blacksmith because of Joe's integrity and commitment, just as later he takes his studies seriously because of Matthew Pocket's integrity and commitment as a teacher.

Why, when his dream of being transformed into a gentleman is about to come true, does Pip pass the loneliest night of his life? When Pip leaves for London, he cries as he looks at the signpost, which is an obvious symbol for Pip's future and which is used repeatedly. It is easy to dismiss the passage which follows as only sentimental, but is it? For Dickens and his age, tears had a moral value; crying could arouse feelings of love and the sense of connection to and responsibility for others. How do you think this passage should be read?
        Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. If I had cried before, I should have had Joe with me then (page 160).
After the London breakfast, Pip reflects that his tears at his treatment of Joe "had soon dried–God forgive me!–soon dried" (page 244); this response prepares for his ignoring Joe when he visits Miss Havisham. Pip says of his attempts to rationalize not seeing Joe, "All other swindlers upon earth are nothing to the self-swindlers, and with such pretences did I cheat myself" (page 225). This statement implies that his behavior is worse than that of Pumblechook, whom he earlier identified as a swindler, and that Pip's own behavior is criminal. Why does he say this? In what way(s) is his behavior worse than Pumblechook's and so criminal?

In rejecting Joe, Pip of course is rejecting unconditional love, as well as selflessness, honesty, faithfulness, and compassion. As a gentleman with expectations, Pip does not entirely lose these qualities, however; they are expressed mainly in his relationship with Herbert. In embracing his great expectations, he replaces Joe as a guardian with Mr. Jaggers. Joe, the man of love, sees under the surface to the nature of people and things (he cuts short Pip's dilemma with the moral truth that "lies is lies"); Jaggers, the man of facts, looks at the surface and is guided by the evidence, not feelings (during the conversation in which Jaggers confirms that Magwitch is Pip's benefactor, Jaggers insists for the record that Magwitch is in New South Wales, though he knows Magwitch is in London ). Why is Joe unable to communicate with Jaggers when Jaggers reveals Pip's great expectations? And why is Joe unable to speak directly to Miss Havisham.when she ends Pip's employment?


Like Thackeray, Dickens contrasts the traditional concept of a gentleman as a man of wealth, status, and leisure with the gentleman as a man of moral integrity. Herbert Pocket describes Compeyson, the pseudo-gentleman, by quoting his father: "no man who was not a true gentleman at heart ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner. He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood, and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself" (page 179). Herbert and Matthew Pocket are gentlemen because of their behavior and moral integrity, not their birth.

By this criterion, is Joe a gentleman? And was Pip more of a gentleman as a child, before he encountered Miss Havisham and became discontented with his life? As child, he felt compassion for the convict; he saw the humanity in the convict; as a gentleman with expectations, he is a snob and continually judges by the external criteria of status and wealth. In London, where Pip lives out society's–and his own–concept of a gentleman, he leads a directionless, futile life; he has no intellectual, cultural, or spiritual values and no meaningful  purpose. Pip's being a gentleman seems to consist of having good table manners, acquiring an upper class accent, wearing the right clothes, and going into debt. He joins the Finches of the Grove, a group of empty "gentlemen" whose only activity and purpose seems to be to spend money foolishly. Drummle, who is a gentleman because of his family and wealth, is not only a member of the Finches but is accepted in fashionable society, despite his stupidity, ignorance, and brutality. Perhaps the ultimate example of the meaninglessness of Pip's life as a man of expectations is his hiring The Avenging Phantom, shortened to the Avenger. What or who is being avenged?

Dickens uses the portrayal of the gentleman to show one more of society's faulty and destructive values. The destructive potential of wealth in Pip's society is shown by his emotional and moral deterioration in becoming a gentleman.

Though Magwitch has disappeared for over two hundred pages, his revelation is subtly prepared for by Pip's continuing connection with crime and criminals: the leg iron used to assault his sister, the man with the file and the two pounds, the two convicts on the stagecoach with Pip, Jaggers's criminal practice, and his visiting Newgate with Wemmick. At a thematic level, Magwitch as the source of Pip's great expectations connects criminality, wealth, and status; Magwitch's appearance affirms another theme--the inescapable effect of the past on the present. The determining nature of the past on the present is most obvious in Miss Havisham and her broken heart.

Magwitch's determination to make Pip a gentleman is mixed; he is genuinely touched by the defencelessness and vulnerability of Pip as a child and by his kindness, but at the same time he wants revenge against society by creating and owning a gentleman. Magwitch has been persecuted and imprisoned since childhood. Like Pip, Estella, Biddy, and Joe, he was an abused child. His first memory of his identity is being abandoned and stealing turnips to survive; his experience and language resemble Pip's when Magwitch holds him upside down: "I first become aware of myself..." (page 344). Magwitch's mistreatment is institutionalized; he is not given food or the opportunity for an education but is treated like a criminal and locked up. Does society have any responsibility for raising him to be a "varmint"? Does the story of his hardships and his making no excuses for his crimes create sympathy for Magwitch?

Pip is initially horrified at Magwitch's revelation, which spells the end of his dreams of being awarded Estella, and by Magwitch's coarseness. Touched by Magwitch's genuine joy and tears at seeing him, Pip sees his humanity and offers him hospitality. Magwitch, who created Pip's life as a gentleman with his money, rightly identifies himself as Pip's second father. Magwitch's generous feelings for Pip are contaminated by his view of Pip as an object which he has bought: "If I ain't a gentleman, nor yet ain't got no learning, I'm the owner of such" (page 322). Holding society's view of the all-importance of money, he even offers to buy the woman Pip loves, threby reducing her to an object. However, hasn't Pip been willing to sell himself to Miss Havisham in order to receive Estella? And doesn't his willingness to accept Estella from Miss Havisham reduce Estella to an object too? Why is Pip's participation in these transactions with Miss Havisham acceptable and Magwitch's offer to buy Pip's beloved unacceptable? Do they really differ morally?

Pip is horrified that he abandoned Joe for Magwitch; does this response to Magwitch imply that abandoning Joe for Miss Havisham was a lesser offense or even an acceptable action? Why does Pip feel he cannot turn to Joe in this crisis? He explains his rejection of Joe, as well as Biddy, in these terms:

          I would not have gone back to Joe now, I would not have gone back to Biddy now, for any condition–simply, I suppose, because my sense of my own worthless conduct to them was greater than every consideration. No wisdom on earth could have given me the comfort that I should have derived from their simplicity and fidelity; but I could never, never, never undo what I had done (page 324).
Is he driven by a sense of unworthiness or is he rationalizing a decision based on baser motives? Are false pride and perhaps snobbery why he turns away from the unqualified love Joe and Biddy have for him?

He also rejects Magwitch's money, a decision which Herbert agrees with. Why? Magwitch earned his money with hard work and determined effort; it has no criminal taint. Neither Pip nor Herbert has any objections to his living on the unearned money of vengeful, crazy Miss Havisham. Why is living off Miss Havisham acceptable and living off Magwitch unacceptable? Is snobbery the answer? If Miss Havisham's being a lady and Magwitch's being an ex-convict make the difference, then both Herbert and Pip share the same social values, i.e., like the rest of society, they are judging Magwitch and Miss Havisham by social status.

Pip's response to Magwitch's generosity brings up another issue; to what extent does Pip accept responsibility for his choices and behavior? What does his acceptance or non-acceptance indicate about Pip's growth?

When he learns that Magwitch is risking hanging, he complains, "Nothing was needed but this; the wretched man, after loading me with his wretched gold and silver chains for years, had risked his life to come to me" (page 323). Didn't Pip eagerly accept those chains when told of his great expectations and unhesitatingly agree to ask no questions?

Pip, speaking as the adult narrator looking back, seems reluctant to accept full responsibility for some of his behavior. In reflecting on how his experiences at Satis House affected him, he asks,

          What could I become with these surroundings? How could my character fail to be influenced by them? Is it to be wondered at if my thoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into the natural sunlight from the misty yellow rooms? (page 94).
His reluctance takes the form of dismissing the issue of responsibility as unimportant:
          How much of my ungracious condition of mind may have been my own fault, how much Miss Havisham's, how much my sister's, is now of no moment to me or to any one. The change was made in me; the thing was done. Well or ill done, excusably or inexcusably, it was done (page 106).
When he accuses Miss Havisham of unkindness in allowing him to believe that she was his benefactress, isn't he shifting responsibility/blame onto her? She rejects the notion and shifts responsibility/blame back on him, "You made your own snares. I never made them" (page 361). Pip makes no response to her rejoinder, either at the time of their conversation or as the narrator looking back at events.

The definitive rejection of all responsibility is the Eastern tale of the slab of marble, in which he is a victim of an inevitable train of events or fate (see pages 312-3).

Day 1 Pages 1-124
    Overview of Dickens
    Some General Comments
    Dickens and Society
    The Opening of Great Expectations
    Pip's Sense of Guilt
Day 2 Pages 125-253
    Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham
Day 3 Pages 254-366
    Pip's Expectations
Day 4 Pages 367-490
    Redemption and Love
    The ending

May 7, 2002