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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTER 39

In the previous chapter we saw Pip uselessly trailing behind
Estella at parties; now we learn that he spends his days reading.
He blames this aimlessness on the fact that his "expectations"
are still so vague. If you were Pip, you, too, would probably be
restless to get things settled.

Now we close in on a dramatic scene. It's a dark and stormy
night (the kind of weather in which this novel began). Pip is
alone in the top rooms of an out-of-the-way building near the
river. You can hear the slashing rain, smell the smoky
chimney, see the lights outdoors flickering. Winds howl, and
bells toll the late hour. Then-a footstep falls.

When Pip listened to Joe climb the stairs in chapter 27, he was
ashamed. This time he's afraid. Imagine this as a movie scene,
shot down a stairwell: a man circling upwards, moving in and
out of a patch of light, his face hidden in shadow then visible
for a moment. He's described in sentence fragments, in
separate, disconnected details. Pip absorbs the facts, but can't
comprehend why this ragged old sailor stretches his arms
towards him. We can't blame Pip for his brusque manner; how
would you react to a dirty stranger on a late, stormy night? But
Pip also acts superior: he resents the man, thinks he's crazy,
shrinks from him. Dickens makes Pip squirm; he draws out the
suspense. The stranger sits, looks Pip over. Pip is about to grab
him when, flash! he recognizes him. In emotional surges of
words, he recalls that terrifying figure-the convict.

At first Pip pulls away and tells him, in frosty polite language,
to get lost. The man's hurt look makes Pip act more kindly. But
when Pip tries to give him money, the convict dramatically
burns it. (Remember how Joe reacted when offered money?)
The man has a certain power, despite his rough clothes and
lower-class accent, that silences Pip.



Now the convict is in control, asking leading questions, dealing
out his knowledge of Pip's affairs, one horrible fact at a time.
Realization hits Pip so hard that he passes out, but he can't
escape the truth; the man explains it eagerly now. He "made a
gentleman" of Pip; he is Pip's "second father." From his story,
we sense that his dream of making Pip rich was the one thing
that kept him going for years. He pounces on Pip's possessions,
and offers to buy the "bright eyes" of Pip's love. Like Miss
Havisham, gloating over Estella's beauty, festooning her with
jewels, the convict feeds on his child selfishly, vengefully.

Then the convict reveals that if he's captured, he could be
sentenced to death. Pip feels that the convict's unclean money
is a burden; added to this now is the burden of protecting him
from the law. Pip doesn't even love him, and yet he
immediately shoulders the responsibility, feeding the old man,
putting him to bed, as if he were the father and the convict his
child. Consider why Pip does this. Some readers think he's
acting out of guilt; others think he's being decent and kind.
Which interpretation fits your image?

Alone, Pip sorts out his crushed dreams. He has lost his
expectations of Miss Havisham's respectable fortune; he has
lost his dreams of Estella; but worst of all, he has lost his real
friendship with Joe. He almost seems to be lashing himself
with regrets. "I could never, never, never, undo what I had
done." As his anxiety mounts, irrational fears set in-fears for
the convict, fear of the convict (after all, he's a violent
criminal). Pip peeks at the sleeping man, his peaceful face at
odds with the pistol on his pillow. Pip locks the door-to lock
him in or lock others out?- then falls asleep. But when he
awakens, the morning is still dark and dead, just like his
expectations.

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