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    Real or Fake?: Character Foils in Great Expectations Essay

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    One of the most remarkable aspects of Charles Dickens Great Expectations is its structural intricacy and remarkable balance. Dickens plot involves complicated coincidences, extraordinary tangled webs of human relationships, and highly dramatic developments in which setting, atmosphere, event and character are all seamlessly fused. Although, perhaps the most visible sign of Dickens commitment to intricate dramatic symmetry-apart from the knot of character relationships, of course- is the fascinating motif of character doubles or foils that run through the novel.

    The use of character doubles or foils in the novel effectively let readers understand important aspects and messages of the novel. Throughout the novel the foils of different characters give readers the opportunity to learn important messages about class, happiness, superficiality, satisfaction, greed, crime, punishment and money. The effect of class and superficiality on a person are clearly identified in the foil and comparison of Biddy and Estella. Biddy and Estella are both friends of Pip that take a key role in Pip’s life, but their level of compassion, attitude towards rank in society and their relationship with Pip, and overall happiness in life are very different. Biddy is a character that is considered common and not very beautiful on the outside but expresses a lot of inner beauty.

    She is kind and compassionate and understanding. Pip recounts Estella’s physical features, “ She was most noticeable I thought, in respect of her extremities; for, her hair always wanted brushing, her hands always wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending and pulling up at the heel” (Dickens, 45). This shows that Pip makes note that Estella is not beautiful. On the contrary Estella is a character that tends to be a snob although she expresses a lot of outer beauty.

    This relates to the message of superficiality. Although Estella is beautiful what is more important is the way in which you treat other people. As a result Estella can be considered superficial where as Biddy is real. Biddy is very kind and compassionate this is shown in the scene where Pip and herself are by the river, and she still shows her love towards Pip even though he says rude things like, “I should have been good enough for you; shouldn’t I Biddy? (Dickens, 136).

    Biddy is very easy going and allows Pip to be disrespectful although his comments hurt her. This shows that unlike Estella, Biddy is a very good friend who allows Pip to take her frustrations out on her, without saying rude things back. In his heart Pip knows fully well that Biddy is the ideal soul mate and wife for him, but he is completely overwhelmed by his foolish infatuation for Estella. This quote, “ The unqualified truth is, that when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible.

    Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection” (Dickens, 245-246). This shows that Pip realizes that he shouldn’t love Estella, they weren’t meant for each other and the only reason he is drawn to her is because of her beauty. This passage infers that Biddy would have a much better match for Pip. Biddy unlike Estella was never insulting or capricious and wonders, “How could it be, then that I didn’t like her much better than the two” (Dickens, 276).

    Biddy is unaffected by class and doesn’t care less about it. When Pip is a blacksmith she loves him. He is very kind and not condescending. When he is exposed to a higher class he becomes much more condescending and jaded, and she falls in love with Joe who is a lower class blacksmith. Biddy believes not in the rank or class but the kindness of a person.

    Estella’s view on a persons rank in society is a crucial point to the relationship they will have, when Pip becomes a gentleman. Once Pip becomes a gentleman, Estella starts treating his with more respect, and starts calling him ‘Pip’ his real name instead of boy, which she called him when he was a blacksmith. This shows the respect that Estella treats Pip with once he becomes of higher class, compared to the little respect she showed him when he was of the lower class. All Estella cares about is the position in society whereas Biddy doesn’t care about anything but the kindness and personality of that person. Kindness is much more important than class and as a result of Estella’s superficiality and her lack of ability to posses true love she ends up marring Drummel who doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and is abusive.

    We see that Biddy is rewarded for her kindness by marring Joe, who is a kind and compassionate person. Biddy is a very satisfied person and finds happiness with Joe, where as Estella is never completely satisfied or happy about the way her life turned out. This shows that social class and money cant get you everything that you want in life, including happiness you must earn it. Joe and Pumblechook are two very different characters that effectively show the effect that greed can have on a person and what it means to be truly satisfied in life. Mr. Pumblechook is a pompous and arrogant person who does anything to make himself look more important.

    He is a very greedy character who is never satisfied with what he has. This is shown when Pip comes back from Miss. Havisham’s after receiving money, “ It’s five and-twenty pound, Mum,” echoed that basset of swindlers, Pumblechook rising to shake hands with her; “ands its no more than your merits (as I said my own opinion was asked), and I wish you joy” (Dickens, 109). This effectively shows that although Pip had earned this money from Miss. Havisham, Pumblechook and Mrs.

    Joe believe that they are entitled to it. This shows that he puts materialistic things such as money before family. Although Mr. Pumblechook is Joe’s uncle it appears that he has more in common with Mrs. Joe.

    They are both two individuals who are not happy with what they have, and always want more. They do not care if they have to hurt others to get there. Pumblechook and Joe serve as good character foils because they both are connected and related to Pip. They both take part in Pips life growing up although Joe is always nice to Pip and takes care of him, while Pumblechook is cruel and dismissive to Pip when he is young and has no prospects, and it is not until after Pip becomes rich that he shows his false morality and shallow emphasis on class by completely reversing the way he treats his nephew. Joe is a kind hearted man who cares immensely for Pip and was the one person growing up that Pip could count on and relate to.

    Joe recounts, “ ‘When I offered to your sister to keep company, and to be asked in church at such times as she was willing and ready to come to the forge, I said to her, ‘ And bring that poor little child. God bless the poor little child,’ I said to your sister, ‘there’s room for him at the forge!’” (Dickens, 49). This shows how kind and compassionate Joe is and puts others before himself. In contrast Mr. Pumblechook shows his greed and arrogance in such ways, as bragging that Pips newfound fortune is all his doing.

    He believes that because he introduced Pip to Miss. Havisham it was his doing that made Pip a gentleman. Another way Pumblechook shows his unsavory nature is during Mrs. Joe’s funeral, he spent his time stuffing himself with food and flattering Pip about his new social status instead of showing compassion for his loss.

    This shows that Pumblechook does not care about anyone but him self. Although Joe is of the working lower class he is satisfied with what he has in life. Even when Pip had completely lost touch with Joe, Joe never stops loving him. When Pip was in extreme dept and was sick it was Joe who gave him the money and stayed with him. This shows that compassion, kindness and happiness is more important than greed.

    Joe is rewarded for his kind nature by marring Biddy who is someone who is also kind and compassionate and someone that you can trust. In the end Pumblechook is never satisfied with what he has, and is greedy. Through these two characters Charles Dickens lets readers discover that money doesn’t always make you feel satisfied in life, and that being greedy will not get you any further. Magwitch and Compeyson are two characters that follow the same path through parts of the novel and effectively teach readers that although money is powerful family and friendship is more important.

    They also show us how crime is intermingled into the novel Great Expectations. Magwitch and Compeyson are introduced to the readers at the beginning of the novel on the marshes. At this time they are identified as the escaped convicts. These two characters act as a devise to keep the topic of crime present throughout the novel. Magwitch is the nicest and most generous of the two although he is of lower class and that effects him greatly throughout the novel. We first see how kind Magwitch is on the marches he sys, “I took some witless, up at the village over yonder – where the church stands a’most out on the marshes.

    It was some broken witless – that’s what it was – and a dram of liquor, and a pie (Dickens, 39). Magwitch does this to spear Pip from getting in trouble. Unlike Magwitch, Compeyson is not a very nice man. He was able to only get half of the sentence that Magwitch received just because of his gentleman ways. He was the one that was going to marry Miss.

    Havisham but left her at the alter. What is different about Magwitch than many other characters in Great Expectation is that Magwitch becomes wealthy through hard work and devastating conditions. He is a self made man. Although Magwitch does use money to help Pip, it is the tender friend ship towards the end that is the most powerful. This shows us that money isn’t everything, friendship is more important.

    Compeyson did not believe this according to Magwitch, “ ‘He’d no more heart than an iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the devil afore mentioned’”(Dickens, 369). This just shows us that Compeyson was a coldhearted man that never actually escaped from crime. In the end Compeyson died from drowning while in a fight with Magwitch. Magwitch dies away from crime with Pip by his side. Some of the most powerful devises Charles Dickens uses in Great Expectations is the idea of character doubles or foils.

    Through these foils readers learn powerful messages from each pair. Through Biddy and Estella readers learn about the effect superficiality and class can have on a person, through Joe and Pumblechook we learn about greed and satisfaction and through Magwitch and Compeyson we learn that friendship is more important then money and that crime is always present throughout the novel. All of these foils add contrast and excitement to plot as well as the extraordinary tangle webs of human relationships. Works CitedDickens, Charles.

    Great Expectations. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003. PRINT

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