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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTERS 34 & 35

Pip takes a hard, guilt-wracked look at the changes in his
character. His money has led him only into a more miserable
way of life. He regrets the way he has treated Joe and Biddy,
and feels uneasy about the bad habits he has led Herbert into.
Notice how Pip's money makes him the social leader; Herbert
trails behind, too proud to accept a loan. How bad are Pip's
habits? True, he overspends, probably drinks a little too much
at parties; yet he doesn't seem to be womanizing or gambling.
In spite of the prudish literary customs of the time, Dickens
could have shown us a much more degenerate social life. Some
readers think Dickens disapproves of Pip, but others think he's
showing how hard Pip always is on himself.

It's interesting that Pip focuses on what's happening to Herbert.
Maybe Dickens is saying we recognize changes in other people
better than in ourselves; maybe he's saying that Pip could let
himself go to ruin, but is too good-hearted to let it happen to a
friend. Either way, it's Herbert we see, hungover at breakfast,
depressed at midnight, listlessly hunting for his big opportunity
at the Royal Exchange. It's Pip who brightly suggests they sit
down and "look into their affairs."

Dickens himself was obsessive about order; he couldn't start
work without his paper, pens, and inkwells lined up neatly, so
no doubt he sympathized with Pip and Herbert's urge to label,
list, and categorize their bills. Nevertheless, their elaborate
system is all form and no substance-they still don't pay the
bills. Maybe Dickens knew how easy it is to substitute
organization for action, and his scornful tone here criticizes
himself as much as Pip.

In the middle of feeling pleased with himself, Pip is halted
abruptly by the news of Mrs. Joe's death. He's surprised how
much this affects him. He may seem a little morbid here, but
it's a natural reaction, especially when you're a teenager, when
you realize that people you know can die. The tone here is
sobered by death, yet Dickens satirizes the trappings of the old-
fashioned funeral-paid mourners at the house door, heavy
black outfits for the bereaved family, a formal procession
staged by the undertaker. In contrast, he seems to respect the
religious burial rite, but then Pumblechook crops up, an
ingratiating pest. This jarring blend of the solemn and the
ridiculous is perfect tragi-comedy.

Sorrow has softened Pip, and he tries to mend his relations with
Joe and Biddy after the funeral. However, traces of
condescension remain; he thinks he's doing a great thing by
requesting his old room to please Joe. Grief has softened
Biddy, too, and she describes Mrs. Joe's death to Pip in simple,
moving language. Yet she's still wary of Pip's new intentions to
visit them more often-and with good reason, we feel. Pip's
stung by Biddy's little barbs, but he assumes an air of silent
injured dignity (remember the stuffy way he handled Trabb's
boy?), perhaps privately knowing she's right. The parting scene
the next morning paints Joe and Biddy in a warm, picturesque
light, and Pip seems honestly determined to visit more often.
But the mists surrounding his departure-symbols of his cloudy
moral sense-imply that he'll fail them again.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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