Notes on Great Expectations 1. Plot and Great Expectations Great Expectations an example of how narrative plot works in the novel. The word "plot" has multiple meanings in English, including: i. A hole in the ground in which one is buried ii. A strategy for accomplishing something. iii. A series of points that describes the shape of a curve. iv. The line of a story - "what happens." v. All of these ideas are encoded in the opening scene of the novel, suggesting that Dickens plans to play with the idea of plot in this novel. Aristotle described the plot of a tragedy: i. duration - unities of time (one day) and place (one location) ii. shape - must have a beginning (rising action/exposition and complication), middle (climax/moment of discovery), and end (falling action/denouement/conclusion). iii. magnitude - the story must have significance, importance. "What happens" always has an archetypal shape. i. "What happens" is always what is deviant; readers view "normal" or "happy" lives as eventless. (Peter Brooks: "the true plot will be the most deviant.") ii. Plot is the equivalent of Freud's two drives, eros and thanatos, warring against each other: the desire for life ("what is going to happen") warring against the quiescence of death ("nothing more can happen"). Great Expectations contains two conflicting deviant plots - to which he purposely adds a second level of deviation. i. The deviant plots being invoked here are two: (1) the child's desire to discover its origins (Oedipus) and (2) the child's attempt to rise above an abusive and/or humiliating domestic situation ("Cinderella," Dick Whittington). ii. These two plots have conflicting shapes: tragic (Oedipus - one's parents are one's nightmare) and comic (Cinderella/Whittington - triumph over abusive circumstances, ultimate prosperity). iii. Thus Great Expectations has a complex, often conflicting shape, with the tragic and comic warring against each other - comedy within tragedy, a mediated compromise. iv. The two plots cancel each other's action out, as Pip gradually discovers that because of his origins and thus finds that his hoped-for advancement cannot take place. v. Dickens's twist on the traditional plots makes the plots doubly deviant: the expected plot never takes the shape we expect; we cannot see Pip as a tragic Oedipal figure, or as a triumphant Cinderella. At the end of the novel, we're as confused about his identity as he was at the beginning of it. 2. Plot & Relationships Great Expectations, like most highly plotted works, encourages us to examine connections between people, events, and things.The plots of Great Expectations force us to recognize connections: i. between people ii. between places (locations) iii. between events iv. everyone is related to everyone else; everything is related to everything else Yet, at the same time, Great Expectations forces us to see the improbability of connection between people. While there are a few relationships that seem health (like Joe and Biddy at theend), most are harmful - death-oriented. Dickens's worldview influenced by the 1858-1860 breakup of his own marriage to Katherine and his secret relationship with the 18-year-old actress Ellen Ternan. Traditionally the "plot" of parent/child and marital relationships is a comic one: love flourishes between people held naturally to "love" one another and is a force that resists death. But in the deviant plots of Great Expectations, none of these relationships happens normally; hence the novel teems with plots. Marriages and courtships are brutal and brutalizing, emblematized by abuse and sadism. Parents are rarely around to raise the children of these unions. (1) Joe and Mrs. Joe (2) The Pockets (3) Miss Havisham and Compeyson (4) Jaggers and Molly/Magwitch and Molly (5) Estella and Pip/Estella and Drummle (6)Parent/child relationships are either sadistic or nonexistent. (7) Parents brutalize and take advantage of their children (Miss H; Mrs. Joe; Mrs. Pocket; Gruffandgrim (Clara's father); Magwitch and Molly with Estella; etc.) (8) Or parents are absent or useless; a surrogate is raising the child. Family love exists primarily in inverted or surrogate relationships where either (a) the child is parenting the adult (Jane/Mrs. Pocket; Wemmick/Aged P; to some degree, Joe Gargery); (b) a non- relative surrogate is raising a child (Joe or Magwitch raising Pip; Wemmick and Herbert assisting Pip); (c) Nonsexual friendships are the only reliable ones: Pip's relationships with Herbert Pocket, John Wemmick, Magwitch; Estella in the original ending - "we shall continue friends apart" Though even in these relationships, the gifts that the principals give one another must be kept secret from others - hence the secret names, notes, and plots that are hatched by the characters. If one has a happy emotional life, like Wemmick's home life, it must be kept secret from the rest of one's world - "Walworth sentiments and Little Britain sentiments." 3. The Orphan as Emblem of Lack of Connection "He's a likely young parcel of bones that. What is it you call him?". . . . "What in the blue blazes is he?" asked the stranger. Which appeared to me to be an inquiry of unnecessary length (Chapter 10). 19thC novels, like children's fairy tales, are full of orphaned protagonists. Their lack ofparents (a "deviant" plot as family stories are concerned) is - surprisingly - more positive than negative. Our first impulse is pity - we see orphanhood as negative. Lack of parents may mean lack of resources and love as well as exposure to danger But lack of parents can be positive - a kind of freedom: i. exposure to adventure ii. fluid social class standing - orphans define their own identity iii. no pressure from parental expectations iv. freedom to define the self against foster-parents, who typically represent the worst aspects of socialization v. orphans may "choose" and define their own family Thus a "deviant" plot may not be as negative as semantics and our prejudices about "happy ending" storylines encourage us to assume. i. the orphan plot tells us something about individuals and the family, and about how people become adults; ii. the orphan plot implicitly criticizes tight-knit families as "plotless." Pip's orphan status confuses him - calls into question our ideas about how children should be treated. In the graveyard, Pip searches for a definition of "family" that he will never be able to"read" properly, even once he manages to decode symbolic discourses like language. i. How can we describe parents who managed to raise both Mrs. Joe and Pip? How can Mrs. Joe and Pip be related? What was this family like? ii. At home at the forge, Pip gets no better idea who his family is: Joe? Mrs. Joe? Pumblechook? Wopsle? Because they alternate between sadism and kindness, he remains permanently confused. iii. Pip has the traditional ideology that "family" means "unconditional love," or giving without thought of return. As a child, he also fantasizes that he is a savior and should be celebrated, like the baby Jesus whose birth the family celebrates at Christmas. iv. He sometimes receives this - as from Joe - but he views Joe as "another species of child," not as a parent who has the power to protect him. Pip is more vulnerable to adults who treat him as a pestilence or as a source of food (the opposite of unconditional adoration) as when his sister complains about having to raise him "by hand" or Pumblechook refers to him as a "porker." Pip, failing to recognize any true parents in his own household, then becomes vulnerable to two adults: the convict and Miss Havisham, and his relationship with these adults seems to produce magical results. Magwitch asks from Pip what a child should ask from an adult: food and tools to become free - provisions. Later Magwitch will provide for Pip, and take the name "Provis," but at the beginning of the novel the child-adult relationships are reversed. i. Pip's early sense of guilt arises from the guilt he feels at stealing food for the convict, and from his identification with the lost and needy one weeping in the graveyard, searching for his freedom. ii. Joe's compassionate evaluation of the convict echoes his compassionate treatment of Pip, completing the circle. Miss Havisham asks Pip to behave like a child - only children "play" - but under extraordinary circumstances. She represents the impossibility, even destructiveness, of marriage and children. (1) Satis House not enough after all: stopped clocks, dead celebration, no lights, no food, nothing. (2) THe defunct brewery. (3) The parasitic relatives. (4) Estella, her "ward," seems to have been begotten magically and is a tool rather than a person. (5)Her demands of Pip are magical and nonsensical, compelling him to accept a frightening situation as normal (something he's used to, unfortunately; he cannot "play" at his own house, either). Later Pip's connections to these two adults appear to culminate in magical, unexplained benefits. i. The convict at the Blue Boar gives him two pound-notes, stirring his drink with the file stolen from the forge; this leads Pip to believe he is being "paid off" for his deeds. ii. Miss H pays for his apprenticeship, and then his "expectations" appear; Pip assumes, in the absence of any more convincing explanation, that Miss Havisham is the funder of his expectations. Miss H does nothing to discourage the notion that she is the author of his expectations and that she intends Estella to marry him. iii. The file is found to have been the weapon used to subdue Mrs. Joe, an action that eases life for Pip and Joe and that each may subconsciously have wished to perform. Great Expectations: Resolving the Plot(s) Against Pip 1. GE as a Bildungsroman (novel of education) designed around Cinderella story a. GE embodies typical childhood fantasy: of sudden transformation into a realm in which yearnings are magically fulfilled without effort, because of the intrinsic and mysterious virtue of the fantasizer. i. It is an appropriate fantasy for Pip because he is orphaned, has been "brought up by hand," with a strong sense of being unwanted. ii. He feels himself to be different: he reacts more intelligently and with greater sensitivity, than others around him. iii. The "normal course" of life, of apprenticeship, mastery of the trade of blacksmithing, marriage, children, and death, doesn't seem enough for Pip. iv. Persecution has left him with a fluid identity; he doesn't know whether he really is "wicked" and a suckling pig, or whether he's a good boy; he doesn't know what normal is. v. He is "fatherless" and thus vulnerable to taking adult men as father-substitutes - and to identifying with them perhaps more than he should: Joe, Jaggers, Magwitch. 2. Two powerful fantastic characters typical of fairy tales enter his life and change his view of himself: the witch, Miss Havisham, and the bogeyman, Magwitch. a. Magwitch represents the bogeyman, the stranger, the inevitable threat of the outside adult world every parent tries to protect a child from - but cannot always do so. i. He "erupts" into the first chapter, representing everything a weak and passive child fears in the adult world: the capacity for wickedness, the brutality of the animal need to survive (shown in the way Magwitch eats), implicit violence, and the possibility of being outcast and utterly alone. ii. Pip already suspects himself of having these characteristics; contact with Magwitch intensifies his sense of identification and fear. (Later this is affirmed by Pumblechook, who relates with great relish "Let this be a lesson to you" the story of George Barnwell, the wicked apprentice who kills his master.) iii. Magwitch represents the possibility of what Pip may become - the guilty, evil, lower-class villain who had no right even to be born. b. Miss Havisham ("have-a-sham" and "having shame") is a witchlike figure with a dual meaning: horrible decay and shining promise (as in "fairy godmother.") i. She has sacrificed her life to memorialize dead hopes and betrayal; the wedding dress, shoes, feast all represent possibility and fertility; her preservation of them represents its loss. She is the monster side of the female. ii. Pip realizes early, when he plays "beggar your neighbor" with Estella, that Miss H has trained her to destroy men, but he is so smitten with Estella that he ignores the problem. iii. Miss Havisham also represents the promise of adulthood, because she is rich and because she has adopted Estella (as Pip wishes to be adopted), whose very name encodes the "Cinderella" fantasy Pip has been wishing for himself. iv. Pip does not speak truthfully of Magwitch or of Miss Havisham to anyone because they remind him intently of his own inadequacy: Magwitch of his criminal side, Miss Havisham and Estella of his working-class background. 3. Mythic significance of the fairy-wishing story a. It is the old story of male desire to rise in the world: of Vulcan desiring Venus; of boys who want to compete and win (consume) beautiful and status-rich women who make objects of themselves; of wanting to be something more, of your parents to be something more, than you and they actually are. b. But the fairy world is interrupted by the moral universe of give-and-take. Miss Havisham and Magwitch vanish (to emerge again later) when Pip's expectations "come through" and he readies to go to London. 4. The Fathers a. The characters are divided into two groups, headed by two opposite surrogate fathers:Joe Gargery and Jaggers. i. Both names begin with "J," interchangeable with "I" in the ancient Roman alphabet. Dickens uses these two characters to embody two different attitude towards the moral universe - a universe Pip must negotiate as he anticipates his expectations. ii. Both men’s power lies more in potential than in use: Joe, in his physical strength, never used, and Jaggers, in his knowledge of the shameful secrets of others, which he holds over them and uses to keep them in bondage. Joe: i. Lives by feeling. The true “harmonious blacksmith” of the text. ii. He looks at every situation as a whole and relates himself to it as his heart tells him to do. He doesn't judge people by their appearances (his reaction to Magwitch; his response to Mrs. Joe; his acceptance of Pumblechook). iii. Joe holds a poetic, romantic view of the world. He thinks metaphorically and emotionally; generally not "successes" in the material sense, but rich emotional life. Sees himself in connection to others. iv. Others like him: Biddy. Herbert Pocket. Mr. Pocket. Later, Magwitch. Wemmick at Walworth. v. Strength: body, heart. Jaggers: i. Lives by the letter: literally, he respects the letter of the law. He breaks each situation down into evidence; does nothing more or less than is required of him. He requires others to “spell things out,” as when Pip hesitates about how much money to request. ii. His life is compartmentalized and most of his power comes from implicit threats - what he knows about people that can hurt them. Power of secrets he holds over others. iii. Others in the novel who are like him: Estella. Molly. Miss Havisham. Magwitch. Drummle (to a lesser extent). Denizens of Little Britain, who are afraid to invade his unlocked house. iv. In Jaggers’s materialistic and analytical view of the moral universe, the factual world is the only world that can be trusted. Literal. He is a material success. Jaggers does not connect with other people but sees how people can be useful. See his reaction to Wemmick’s hidden life at Walworth. 5. Comparing Joe and Jaggers in action. a. Before the novel's action begins, each of them has come across a mother and baby, and each has responded differently. i. When Joe comes across Mrs. Joe and her infant brother, he adopts them even though the circumstances of his marriage to Mrs. Joe are less than ideal and the child is not his own. ii. Jaggers, in contrast, separates the mother from the child. He puts the child up for adoption to the highest bidder (who turns out to be the nutty Miss Havisham) and the mother becomes his personal servant, whom he keeps in her place by blackmailing her with the threat of revelation. b. In their relationships with Pip. i. Joe's relationship to Pip is based on feeling - he allows nothing to cloud it; he remembers shared experiences with phrases like "What larks!," phrases which become metaphors for what has passed between them. This comes out in the scene where Miss Havisham pays for Pip's apprenticeship; Joe, who will not let anything come between them, talks only to Pip, refusing to make the deal an economic one. ii. Jaggers, in contrast, bases his relationships on economic necessity and has a pessimistic outlook in the phrases he repeats to Pip. He never tires of telling Pip that in their relationship is is acting only as a businessman. He simply carries out his instructions. He sees life as a dung-heap onto which he sometimes ventures to pick out a jewel, but which contaminates him so badly when he goes near it that he has to constantly wash his hands. 6. Alternatives to the extremes of Joe and Jaggers: Wemmick and Magwitch. Both have knowledge of both good and evil ways of life. a. Wemmick - In London, the person who bridges the gap between material and poetic views of life is Wemmick, the clerk whose personal and professional lives are so compartmentalized that his face literally changes shape as he commutes between Walworth and Little Britain. i. At Walworth, Wemmick is the gentle, dutiful son of the Aged P and the lover of Miss Skiffins. At Walworth, Wemmick's property (castle, pig, moat, cannon) is feudalized and anything but "portable." Seems to represent an old, nostalgic world in which connection to other people is more important than money. ii. At Jaggers's office he is the cut-and-dried, post-box-mouthed clerk who advises Pip to get and keep "portable property." When Pip asks him for advice, he says "Do you want my Little Britain advice or Walworth advice?" At the office, Wemmick represents the new bourgeois man, always thinking of money and advantage, and never willing to allow his emotions to influence his business decisions. iii. Wemmick represents the comic costs and advantages of schizoid adaptation to a world that cannot be reconciled to itself. Pip also crosses from side to side, attracted and repulsed by each, but he views Wemmick as mechanized and somehow odd, though a good friend. b. Magwitch i. Magwitch is Pip, potentially, under worse circumstances: note the similarities between the way we confront Pip in Chapter 1 and the way Magwitch describes his own childhood in the opening of Chapter 42: “I've no more notion where I was born, than you have - if so much. I first become aware of myself, down in Essex, a thieving turnips for my living. Summun had run away from me - a man - a tinker - and he'd took the fire with him, and left me wery cold.” "I know'd my name to be Magwitch, chrisen'd Abel. How did I know it? Much as I know'd the birds' names in the hedges to be chaffinch, sparrer, thrush. I might have thought it was all lies together, only as the birds' names come out true, I supposed mine did.” ii. But Magwitch, like Wemmick, has a double or split life: the evil life of his childhood and youth, and the good life he begins to live “arter Pip stood my friend” (ch. 42). The doubleness or turn of his life encourages Pip to see that and evil life can be turned around. 7. GE resolves - and Pip achieves his understanding - by confronting the bad- in good. a. Pip begins the process with three horrible revelations: i. Miss Havisham is not his fairy godmother, and Pip is not the son of a metaphorical dynasty whose motto is “enough.” ii. Estella is not "intended" for Pip, but that he was merely part of her training process in destroying men, something he has suspected all along; moreover, she is not a pure and beautiful spirit, but the daughter of a murderess and a criminal whose origins are even more ignoble than his own. iii. Magwitch the convict has in fact "authored" Pip's expectations; he is a common criminal who eats like a dog, and he has been rewarded for thievery. iv. Pip learns that psychological energy is never lost or created, but merely recycled: karma prevails in the universe. Pip was secretly glad when Orlick attacked Mrs. Joe, because he saw her as evil; later, when Orlick attacks him, he is forced to see himself in the same role. b. The implication of Pip's discoveries is that life is not, as Jaggers thinks, a dung heap from which jewels can be retrieved and polished up, but a dung heap that fertilizes everything in the same way - where a beautiful flower grows literally out of shit. In the words of Yeats's Crazy Jane, "God has pitched his tent/In the place of excrement." c. Joe has essentially already accepted this moral compromise. Although Joe is not an intellectual, he sees that the moral universe is a complicated place in which people are always changing roles and cannot be taken at face value (as money is tendered and exchanged for its face value in the world of Little Britain). Like King Lear, he has "taken upon himself the mystery of things." 8. Pip’s recognition is facilitated through Pip's changing attitudes towards Jaggers and Joe, who provide two moral points of reference for him. a. Pip represents an impure mixture of the qualities of both of his metaphorical fathers: i. the acquisitiveness and pragmatism of Jaggers (represented in his gift to Herbert of money to start a business) ii. and the emotional idealism of Joe (his love for the abusive Estella in spite of her cruelty to him). b. But he differs from his guardians in that he is a fantasist, not a realist. i. They are ready to accept the consequences of their actions (Joe marries Mrs. Joe; Magwitch remains isolated). ii. Pip wants the benefits but not the detriments of his life. He responds to the difficulties of his situation by selectively cutting himself off from his own past and separating himself from those who care about him, devoting himself to the woman who keeps herself separate from him at all costs. He becomes a snob because he is unable to commit himself to an idea of who he is. iii. Pip conveys his impurity - essentially his fluidity - to us by representing his own baseness without flinching: by describing his bad attitude towards Joe, his humiliations by Jaggers and Trabb's boy, his difficulties with Estella. iv. Thus, autobiography serves as confession for him - a reckoning at middle-age with the problems of his youth, however painful those have been. He reminds himself of his own history so that he will not repeat it; he paints himself so that he will know what he truly looks like. v. By the time the novel ends, then, it doesn't really matter whether Pip gets or doesn't get to marry Estella. By this time, Estella has been so discredited as a fantasy, and Pip so disillusioned as a fantasist, that they are not the same people they once were; at most, they are a middle-aged couple who have failed. c. The forge provides the central moral point of reference. When Pip returns to the forge at the end of the novel, Joe has married Biddy and they have produced a child named Pip,a new "seed," a generation untainted by the cruel loves of the past. Things have righted themselves - though, in keeping with the novel's deep sense of compromise, Pip himself is to be only a peripheral member of the new family. d. One way to view the novel is as a reflection of Dickens's own attitudes towards its narrative: part Joe and part Jaggers, one half sentimental and emotional and the other part deeply controlled and materialistic.
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