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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTERS 16 & 17

Typically, Pip at first feels guilty for Mrs. Joe's attack. He
realizes this is silly the next day, but as clues are revealed, Pip
discovers a tangible cause for guilt. Whoever struck Mrs. Joe
used a filed-apart leg-iron, which Pip knows came from his
convict (that incident refuses to die). Pip, on sheer hunch,
suspects either the one-eyed stranger from the pub, or Orlick.
But he has no proof, and the London detectives from Bow
Street are complete incompetents, so the mystery goes
unsolved. Violence seems to have sprung irrationally out of
nowhere, and still roams wild.

Brain damage has left Mrs. Joe an invalid. This once-
forbidding household grows quiet, and then a gentler influence
moves in as Biddy comes to nurse Mrs. Joe. This help, to
comfort Joe who, we notice with respect, genuinely mourns his
wife's accident. It's particularly galling that the police strongly
suspect he did it.

The mystery is somewhat cleared up when Mrs. Joe takes an
intense interest in Orlick. (She's got a mental block on his
name, but she describes him on her writing slate with a T,
standing for his hammer-a tool of violence, and a tool of the
devil.) Her ingratiating manner towards him not only shows
how much she has changed, but also suggests she's afraid of
him-that he was her attacker. Pip never draws this conclusion,
however. Perhaps he doesn't want to know evil, or perhaps he's
too passive to do anything about it.

Pip begins to settle into this life. When he visits Miss
Havisham, he sees how dull and gloomy the house is, now that
Estella isn't there. Pip's still under her influence, but at the
same time he's noticing Biddy-slowly and unconsciously-not
instantly, as he fell for Estella.



NOTE: PIP AND BIDDY
If you judge Pip harshly, you'll see he's condescendingly
admiring Biddy, and rejecting his feelings for her. If you judge
him kindly, you'll see that he's simply unaware of how quiet
affection can ripen into real love (as opposed to infatuation).

Pip's Sunday walk with Biddy resembles the Sundays with Joe,
except that Biddy is too honest to let things stay peaceful. Pip,
confiding his ambitions to Biddy, blurts out his secret love for
Estella. Why? Because he feels attracted to Biddy, he may be
trying to share his most intense feelings with her, or he may be
trying to protect himself against getting involved with her.
Either way, since he knows how she feels about him, he's being
thoughtlessly cruel. You'll have to imagine her reactions to this
conversation-Pip can't afford to record them honestly. Note
two things: Biddy gives hard advice, just as Joe would; and she
doesn't say things she could to draw Pip back, because she
won't lie. It's an agonizing, realistic scene of two souls never
quite linking up, but coming so close. You may dislike Pip
here, but you may also feel sorry for him. When he describes
love as "That wonderful inconsistency into which the best and
wisest of men fall every day," it's hard to blame him for this
obstinate madness.

However, when Orlick appears to be paying Biddy attention,
Pip feels jealous; his feelings for Biddy are still there. Orlick's
continual presence makes Pip's life seem grim. Orlick's a real
problem, but Pip doesn't deal with him; he's too uncertain of
what world he wants to live in. And as the section ends, there's
a hint that Pip's indecision will be resolved in a surprising way.

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