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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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Pip is the psychological center of the book, but his brother-in-
law Joe Gargery is the moral center. Pip struggles to be good;
Joe simply is good by nature, without realizing it.

Joe's good-heartedness remains as a standard while Pip goes
through a rainbow of changes. But Joe is not a perfect hero. He
often appears weak, letting himself be cowed by Mrs. Joe,
Pumblechook, and even Miss Havisham-so that we're
surprised when we recall he's a brawny blacksmith. In certain
scenes he seems stupid; at the beginning of the book, he's like
another child, whom young Pip feels he's already outgrowing.
Joe can be clumsy, shy, and ignorant. Though we may squirm
at the way Pip looks down on him, we too are embarrassed by
Joe's social blunders. But Joe has moments of dignity, when his
instincts make him act nobly. Because he's common and
uneducated, he proves that you don't have to be rich and well-
bred to be a true gentleman.

Perhaps Pip should follow Joe's example of goodness. But Joe
can't teach Pip how to be good, because he isn't consciously
virtuous. The few times he tries to tell Pip how to behave, his
advice is so mixed up with rambling nonsense that it's hard for
Pip-or us-to take him seriously.

While Pip the narrator recognizes Joe's goodness, Pip the
character goes on treating him badly. Joe forgives Pip for this;
we can admire that, or wish he had more gumption. As you
read, think: how would you behave towards Joe Gargery? It's
one thing to criticize Pip for being a snob, and another thing to
have to live with someone like Joe.


In the first vivid scene in the graveyard, the convict appears as
a threatening, violent figure to Pip. At the same time, Dickens
shows us what Pip does not recognize: the man is cold, hungry,
and desolate. Throughout the book, we're unsettled by mingled
fear of, and sympathy for, this man.

Notice how the convict seems like a creature from a primitive
world of struggle and survival. Some readers have even seen
the convict as a psychological symbol of man's evil nature,
which Pip is trying to repress in himself. The convict appears
on dark, stormy nights. He is often compared to an animal,
especially a dog; he also seems like a cannibal, threatening to
eat Pip, wolfing down his food. His greed for revenge, his lust
to make money, even his gratitude to Pip, are simple savage
emotions that seem out of place in Pip's social setting. (It's
fitting that he makes his money on the raw frontiers of
Australia-the opposite side of the world.)

At the same time, look for the convict's moments of grace.
When he is recaptured, he lies to protect Pip. He is inherently
noble (from what we learn of his upbringing, it seems he had
no choice but to become a criminal). He swiftly stops himself
from being "low," (like Joe, his morals are instinctive, not
taught). He also shows great courage and loyalty-traits Pip

The convict, like Pip, is constantly changing his name:
Magwitch, Provis, Campbell. He is searching for a son, just as
Pip is searching for a father. But he's a risky blend of decency
and evil. Should we expect Pip to accept the convict with open
arms when he walks back into Pip's life? If Pip's snobbery to
Joe is the ultimate test of his weakness, Pip's ability to love the
convict becomes the ultimate test of his strength.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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