How Is the Theme of Guilt Presented in the Novel “Great Expectations”?
“The Great Expectations” written by Charles Dickens is considered to be a classic novel consisting of various levels that can be interpreted on several aspects. The following paper focuses on the theme of guilt which starts to be evident from the very beginning of the novel till the last chapter.
Pip, the main character of the book, begins his life in a sort of guilty environment. In the first chapter, the author describes the grim relationships prevailed in his family. Judging by Pip’s sister attitude towards him, Pip should have felt guilty about everything he did, even for his living. Once during a dinner, the boy kept asking avalanche of questions thus making his sister angry to such an extent that she said people were put in the prison because of their evil actions, but what was interesting they “always began by asking questions” (Dickens 19). After saying that to the kid, she literally made him think that there is no way out and his destiny was already known. Consequently, growing up in such environment definitely had a significant impact on his development.
Other characters of the novel also contribute to Pip’s feelings of guilt. To illustrate, Pip once helped the escaped convict by stealing a file and food. He knew that stealing was regarded as a crime but still did it. After that Pip felt terrible guilt and his more or less calm life turned into fear of being discovered. The name of the convict was Magwitch, which is important because he appears in Pip’s life not only once. Formerly a convict, Magwitch was a key character in making Pip the gentleman. Despite the fact, that Pip could not figure out the reasons for such profound support, he knew Magwitch, “his second father,” was a good man with kind heart, even though committed crime (Dickens 453). Considering this from another angle, Pip is young and innocent, if not take into account all the attempts to make him guilty, but some critics believe that Pip was happy in his mind when the assault on his sister had happened even though he did not take part in it (Trotter 10). For Pip, it was a sort of revenge for all the reproaches he experienced during his childhood. Largely because of her bad temper Pip’s home was never “a very pleasant place” to him (Dickens 150). Moreover, Pip underwent a significant transformation after he had become a gentleman. It is especially evident if to consider the way his relationships with Joe changed. During his younger years, Pip was willing to become a blacksmith just like Joe. But after climbing the social ladder, he started to be ashamed that he was once a blacksmith boy. In addition to this, Pip was ashamed of Joe largely because he didn’t have any education.
What is more, the setting of the novel contributes to the atmosphere of guilt. Pip’s house was located near the marshes with the view on prison-ships. The word “prison” is immediately associated with sin and guilt. In addition to this, even in London where Pip moved to start a new life full of great expectations, he could not forget his past and escape from prison looming behind. In that case, it was Newgate Prison, where Jaggers used to work as a lawyer. At this point, it should be mentioned that not only Pip is associated with the guilt. Other characters in the novel undergo such destiny as well. To exemplify, Miss Havisham felt guilty because of her unfair treatment of Estella, her adopted daughter. Despite her initial aim to protect Estella from unfortunate destiny, the girl occurred in misery. Estella said about the cruelty of Miss Havisham “horribly cruel, to torture me through all these years with a vain hope and an idle pursuit, if she had reflected on the gravity of what she did. But I think she did not” (Dickenson 510). But it was too late when she realized she chose a wrong way of raising Estella.
Taking all points into account, it might be concluded that Dickens touches upon issues that remain relevant nowadays. The childhood shapes the kid`s mindset and influences a lot the way a child would develop. In case of Pip, the author shows that feeling of guilt the boy got used to since the first years is present during the whole his life. Moreover, Dickens warns the readers to be conscious while choosing a circle of friends or close people. The thing is, Pip after becoming a gentleman attempted to drop the connection with Joe, a man with lower status, but previously honored by him. By the Pip`s example, the parallel to our times might be drawn, as people often try to act the same and tend to abandon the ones who treat them well for the ones that don’t.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York, NY, Overlook Press, 2008.
Trotter, David. Penguin Classics Introduction To Great Expectations By Charles Dickens (Penguin Classics). [Place Of Publication Not Identified], Penguin, 2003.
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