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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTERS 23 & 24

Now that Pip's in London, he has to learn its social customs.
Dickens therefore moves from his former tragedy-comedy
blend into chapters of social satire.

At the Pockets', the social order is upside down. Both of the
grownup Pockets were bred to higher expectations than they've
reached: Mrs. Pocket, obsessed with titles, has only a flimsy
claim to aristocratic pretensions; Mr. Pocket has a top-notch
education, but it has gotten him nowhere. His authority over his
pupils is uncertain, too. The absent-minded teacher looks
young in spite of his gray hair; his student Drummle is the
opposite, an old-looking young man. The other pupil, Startop,
seems too delicate to handle so much learning. The household
is really run by the servants, not the masters. The kitchen
serves better food than the dining room upstairs, and the nurse
can swat the baby if she pleases; like the tradesmen who
fawned on Pip, these servants consider the moneyed classes to
be fair prey. Dickens had a reputation as a radical, but he seems
to fear this undermining of the social order.

Pip, who has to concentrate on his table manners, quietly
observes the dinner party. The snakelike neighbor Mrs. Coiler-
a total caricature-and Drummle, the lumpish baronet-to-be,
play up to Mrs. Pocket's snobbery. All this makes Herbert
uncomfortable. (Herbert is a good index of how Dickens
expects us to react, throughout the novel.) When the children
come in, Dickens describes them as interchangeable objects,
reflecting how little attention anyone pays them. The baby's an
"it," always upside down or doubling over. At the same time,
the little Pockets act like miniature adults, dutifully watching
out for each other, patiently waiting to be cared for. Again, the
natural order is overturned. This is comedy, but in an
exaggerated, almost manic mood. Pip, who's still getting his
bearings, does not comment on it, but Dickens' tone suggests
that we should be critical.



This impractical domestic scene contrasts to the tough business
environment of Jaggers' office, where Pip goes soon to arrange
for sharing rooms with Herbert. Jaggers grills Pip on how
much money he wants (almost as Pumblechook did-except
that Jaggers is harshly negotiating real sums of money).
Wemmick, Jaggers' hard but lively clerk, openly admires the
lawyer's bullying manner and inscrutable skills. Everyone here
seems to have been taken over and warped by his work.
Jaggers' other clerks-on display, almost like animals in a little
zoo-are nothing but grotesque caricatures. Wemmick shows
off the plaster busts in Jaggers' office with affection; we gather,
however, that these were a pretty grisly pair of clients, who
were cast in plaster after having been hanged. Wemmick's
imaginative nature seems to have taken off in perverse
directions. His own particular obsession is money-or, rather,
"portable property" (people in Jaggers' world always have a
precise legalistic term for everything). Wemmick is somehow
an appealing person, however; he invites Pip to come to his
house for dinner sometime, and Pip accepts.

The final paragraph gives us Jaggers, like a powerful wizard, in
control of the courtroom. This scene is impressionistic, not
realistic; we see faces and figures in confusing glimpses, we
don't catch the exact words that are spoken, the mood is
exaggerated and intense. Jaggers is a force to be reckoned with
here, but this isn't the kind of world Pip expected to be "lifted"
into.

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