The importance of Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations has two major parts: thesignificance of the character, and the symbolism of the character. Thesignificance of Mrs. Joe is to complete the figure of Joe.
The symbolism of Mrs. Joe is actually the physical manifestation of Joe’s fears in combination withhis desire for a commanding father figure. Mrs. Joe’s reign of terror isobviously necessary for Joe’s existence. In the beginning of Great Expectations,Joe requires identification as a major character. Without the weakness that Mrs.
Joe instills in Joe through her reign of terror, Joe would never develop into amajor character. Joe is identified as a compassionate, sensitive person. Thebest way to display this feature is to have the character appear vulnerable. Mrs. Joe serves as the tyrant for which Joe is made helpless.
Joe, unless he isa scared character, does not recognize the friend he has in Pip. Without Joe asa major role in Pip’s life, Pip also seems very incomplete. Mrs. Joe also servesas the comical interlude of an otherwise somber story. “When she hadexhausted a torrent of such inquiries, she threw a candlestick at Joe, burstinto a loud sobbing, got out the dustpan — which was always a very bad sign –put on her coarse apron, and began cleaning up to a terrible extent.
Notsatisfied with a dry cleaning, she took to a pail and scrubbing-brush, andcleaned us out of house and home. . . ” Truly, a frightening creature coulddestroy a household by cleaning when she gets angry. Mrs.
Joe seems to servevery well as a mother to Pip. Besides the age difference and the motherly dutiesof housekeeping for Pip and Joe, the attitude of a scornful mother is alsoapparent. This, of course, draws Joe even closer to Pip, by relation. Mrs. Joeserves as link to make it possible that Joe appears to be the father of Pip. Inaddition, Joe, although terrified of Mrs.
Joe, is a very honorable man and wouldnever consider divorcing his wife. Through this condition, however, Joe appearsto be even a more honorable man to choose to preserve the sacred marriage ratherthan seek his comfort. It is ironic that Mrs. Joe be referred to as Mrs. Joeconstantly when there doesn’t seem too much a part of Joe in her. The mainpurpose it serves is probably to characterize Mrs.
Joe as a more masculine, and,therefore, typically more commanding, character. In the tradition of marriage,the wife usually gives up her last name to show that she is “property”of the man, therefore it is especially ironic that she be called Mrs. Joe whenit is clear that Joe, rather, belongs more to her than vice-versa. It is alsoironic that Joe be the one that seems to be stuck in tough situation in hismarriage. Often, in this time, women suffered from the abuse of their husbandsand expected to keep the marriage together regardless. However, Joe is clearlythe one being abused in this story and he also is the only one decent enough tocare enough about the marriage to try and keep it together by enduring the abuseof Mrs.
Joe. Fifth, through love, Joe shows the audience that he is not just avery timid man but a whole-hearted man. It takes a loving man to stay in lovewith such a woman as Mrs. Joe.
No kissing ever took place between Joe and Mrs. Joe, and it becomes clear to the reader that the relationship between Joe andMrs. Joe is a very “one-way” relationship. It would seem that Joecares enough for Mrs. Joe, though Mrs. Joe never once seems to show a bit ofcompassion for him.
Illustration of this can be seen in Mrs. Joe’s numerousderogatory references to being married to “a lowly blacksmith. “Surely, after Mrs. Joe dies, Joe reflects upon how he was treated and what hewill do differently in the future.
With Mrs. Joe gone, a piece of Joe’s life isagain freed up and can slowly be reclaimed, making him into a stronger person. Eventually marrying Biddy makes it apparent that Joe is changed, as Biddy seemsmore the feminine, quiet, traditional girl, compared to Mrs. Joe. Mrs. Joerepresents the semi-aristocracy that oppresses Joe and Pip.
She continuallythreatens them with bodily harm, pushing Joe and Pip together under a commonoppression. This is also seen in the way she ridicules Pip through Estella andJoe through Pip. Although Mrs. Joe isn’t exactly wealthy, she has thearistocratic connections that define her as part of the elite class. A pair ofnurturing parents supposedly fills the home life, however, in this book, thehome serves as sort of a microcosm. The social structure and events that takeplace within the house echo all the rest of the events in the book.
Thisincludes the theft of the file and food along with Pips first feelings of guilt. Mrs. Joe’s oppression of her husband and little brother is also very important. Finally, Joe first sought this relationship with such an overbearing characterbecause he has always needed someone to make his decisions. Before, he didntsuffer under abuse, I assume, although he has always been clumsy physically aswell as mentally.
Examples of this are his general timidity to confrontation andhis occasional stumbling over items, especially when trying to act in thepresence of Pip when he is a gentleman. Joe’s speech and use of words illustratehis plainness and accented Pip’s aristocracy. Decisions never came easily forJoe and he’d much rather have someone else make them for him. Being uneducated,it seems as Joe never felt sure that he could make an appropriate decision. Whenasking for Mrs. Joe’s hand in marriage, it can be assumed that Mrs.
Joe dideverything to make the marriage a reality. So, Mrs. Joe essentially created Joeto be the character that he allowed himself to be. With the slow death of Mrs.
Joe, Joe reclaimed his life from his earlier insecurity. Mrs. Joe’s importancein tying Joe to Pip made the relationship between the two significantly morebelievable, and without her, the great expectation of this book would never havebeen met.