Point of View
The first-person narrator of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is an adult Pip who tells the story in his own voice and from his own memory. What is distinctive about that voice is that it can so intimately recall the many small details of a little boy’s fear and misery, as well as the voices and dialects of others-from the rough country speech of Magwitch and Orlick to the deaf Aged Parent’s loud repetitions or the mechanically predictable things Jaggers says. Yet other details seem to be forgotten. Pip tells almost nothing of his beatings from Mrs. Joe, but a great deal about his fear of them, using adult vocabulary and concepts in these reflections. The opening scene with little Pip in the cemetery recalls the tombstones as looking like “lozenges,” soothing the throat of this mature narrator. This way, the adult Pip not only evaluates events as he remembers them but also adds a deeper insight than he would have had as a child. The story unfolds chronologically from Pip’s earliest memories to his most recent experiences. And while some critics justify Dickens’ revised ending, Pip’s development is most believable for modem readers if he parts from Estella with the final realization that he could never have been happy with her and her man-hating legacy from Miss Havisham.
In Great Expectations, Pip must not only work out his problems but also sort out reality from his childhood dreams. Realistically, the only way that he can do this is by trial and error and learning from his mistakes. First comes his education, demonstrating that becoming a gentleman means more than having material wealth. Pip may read as many fine books as he can, but the most important lessons come not from them (he does not quote from them) but from his analysis of real people and events in his society. While Drummle is financially wealthier than Herbert Pocket or Startop, among Pip’s London friends, Drummle has no redeeming qualities nor does he value his friends, which Pip learns is the most important thing in his own life. In his development, Pip discovers that Miss Havisham has not been his kindly benefactor as he had assumed. Even so, he is able to both save her life and help her to find a little left of her soul before she dies. By helping someone who only appears to be better off than he is, he fmds honor in his own name, as humble as that may be. It is ironic that the criminal Magwitch had insisted, as a condition of Pip’s allowance, that he keep his boyhood name “Pip” rather than “Phillip.” He finds that the requirements of maturity are taking responsibility for one’s actions, and this is what Pip must do by the end of the novel. He admits that he has at times been ashamed of his country life and friends. Pip also reveals that while he once enjoyed being treated royally by Uncle Pumblechook and Tragg in town, he sees now that this was a false honor. The true nobility is in his homecoming, which is similar to the biblical prodigal son’s return. Pip confesses to Joe and Biddy that he has been too proud to appreciate their unfailing love until he finally comes back to them with his new knowledge.
With so many serious things to think about and the ever-present dangers that appear, Pip is always glad to slip away to Wemmick’s miniature castle, complete with a tiny moat and cannon, where all good things seem possible again in this stronghold against the evil of the outer world. One of the best features of the place is the stereotypical character of Wemmick’s father, the laughable Aged Parent. Good-natured, deaf, dependent, and weakened by age, the old man is no threat to Pip or to anyone. Instead, he requires the protection of those who have power in the world, that is to say Wemmick and Pip. Wemmick’s devotion to his old father Volume 4 Great Expectations seems to Pip to be a wonderful thing, especially in a society that constantly seeks out the weak to take advantage of them. However, the fragility of the situation makes Wemmick’s house seem all the more magical. As close as it is to the unforgiving city life of London, it is a world apart-something about which Wemmick constantly cautions Pip. It is not to be mentioned to Jaggers or to anyone outside of this rare and delightfully protected environment. Pip is rewarded for honoring Wemmick’s trust and friendship by being allowed to cook and watch over the Aged Parent, as well as being honored as Wemmick’s only wedding guest who is not kin. Pip soon becomes as fiercely protective as Wemmick is of this place where evil dare not enter.
The distinctions between the city, the town, and the country are the most apparent shifts in Pip’s story. Although all of them harbor dangerous elements, all of them also carry the forces of good. The difference is that the marsh folk are more obvious in their desires. Orlick is the example of a man without a soul, and Pip recognizes this from the beginning. It is no surprise when it is revealed that he was Mrs. Joe’s savage attacker. The fact that he would also kill Pip points out Orlick’s lack of distinction between those who deserve his vengeance and those who do not. He readily attacks anyone who gets in his way. However, in town Tragg’s boy makes Pip the laughingstock of all who have more in life than he will ever have, thus showing humor and a knowledge of the world that Orlick does not have. Even so, Orlick believes he has power over others who may be better off than he is, which he tries to prove. By contrast, along London’s sooty streets are those who know Jaggers. They both fear and respect him as someone with the education and social power to help them. He is as impersonal as the buildings around him, but if he cannot save their lives they are certain that they could not have been saved by anyone. That kind of blind trust is not found in the village-where even Tragg’s boy dares to mock Pip-or on the marshes where brute strength may means survival. Of the three, the city is least likely to recognize individuality, which Pip indicates by noticing the overall dirtiness and decay of it as soon as he arrives there. A person may hide on the marshes or outside of the city, whereas the city has too many eyes to cover up anyone or any deed for long. Even Pip must escape to the suburbs (Wemmick’s) for a time to avoid those eyes.
Marie Rose Napierkowski, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 4, Charles Dickens, Gale-Cengage Learning, 1998