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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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For a small boy, Pip is capable of some pretty complicated
moral reasoning. Notice how convoluted his language gets, too,
while he's trying to work his way out of this dilemma. He has
gotten away with his crime, but now he has to live with the
secret. Some readers say that Pip's conscience is so strong, he
is punishing himself with worry. Others point out that Pip has
no remorse about stealing from Mrs. Joe; he's just worried that
he'll never be able to look Joe in the face again.

Is Pip being a little hypocrite to deceive Joe? Maybe, but at
least he has enough good judgment to understand how valuable
Joe's trust is. The language turns simple when he tells us that
he loves Joe. In rhythmic sentences, all beginning with "What,"
Pip views his daily routine, in which Joe plays such a big part.
Yet the older Pip who narrates this comments bitterly on his
decision to go on lying. He criticizes this tendency in human
nature, but he comes down hardest on himself.

Gentle comedy follows this serious note. In the heat, light, and
noise back home, Pip has a loopy, slightly scrambled view of
the company; while this satirizes them, it also expresses exactly
what things look like when you're kept up long past your

The first chapters all take place in just a few hours. In Chapter
7 Dickens widens his time scope, and shows us Pip's ongoing
life. Pip's ironical tone signals a shift to satire. He describes
simple things in formal language, giving us a view of himself
as an overly serious child. He tells how he, as a child,
misinterpreted certain adult phrases and actions. While this
pokes fun at those concepts, it also reminds us how young Pip
still is at this point.

Dickens often satirized education; here he goes after Mrs.
Wopsle's school. Her name sounds like "wobble" or "lopsided,"
and that's what the school's like.

Dickens frequently made up ridiculous names for his
characters, names with buried puns or names that have a
certain suggestive sound. As you meet new characters in the
book, think about what qualities their names express.

Pip's struggle to learn is vividly represented by physical battle
with the alphabet and numbers. Dickens exaggerates this to
show how very real this battle is for little kids, and how
impossible it is for them to pick it up without any help. Pip's
letter to Joe is clumsy and poorly spelt-it even contains dialect
(which we haven't heard in Pip's speech). As Joe admires Pip's
writing, Pip realizes that Joe can't read or write, another
measure of how Pip is passing him by. Joe's ignorance and his
attempts to sound profound keep cropping up in the dialogue.
But satire fades to the background as Joe movingly relates his
own wretched childhood, and explains why he gives in to Mrs.
Joe. He is not a dumb beast: his simple, unquestioning love for
the little boy is his main purpose in life. Joe's hearthfire casts a
warm glow; notice how Joe is attached to the fire throughout
the book. Yet outside, the cold night wind begins to whistle,
and Pip is already looking out the window to the marshes and
the stars.

Then the mood changes abruptly. Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook,
looking self-satisfied, break sharply in with big news:
Pumblechook has arranged for Pip to go "play" for Miss
Havisham-who, they plot, will "make" Pip's fortune. Pip
knows she's the local rich eccentric, but he can't imagine why
he should go there. He has no choice, however; like a prisoner,
he's stuffed into his suit, and Mrs. Joe gives him a bath so
rough it feels like punishment. (Notice the vivid detail of her
wedding-ring, supposedly a symbol of love, scraping harshly
over his face.) The stars he looked out at before now shine
down unhelpfully as he drives away with Pumblechook.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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