Joe is certainly one ‘of God’s sort’, in fact a ‘gentle Christian man’, and his ‘industrious good heartedness stands out so boldly’.9 His capacity for forgiveness is immense, especially for his father, who despite having ‘hammered away at mother’, Joe creates a poem: ‘what sume’er the failings on his part/Remember reader he were that good in his heart’. This is intensely touching, but one wonders how, following his tragic childhood he could emerge with such a poetic heart.
As Eliot suggests, Dickens ‘scarcely ever passes from the humorous and external to the emotional and tragic, without becoming…transcendent in his unreality’.10 Joe is poised between the extremes of a comic child character and a wise adult, yet this does not make him any less real. It may even show that he has been trapped in the scars of his childhood. Although Joe has witnessed his mother ‘drudging and slaving and breaking her honest heart and never getting no peace in her mortal days’, and has clearly been emotionally responsive to her wrongs, he nobly wants to break the cycle.Order now
However in the same breath Joe is trapped in that cycle. Despite all his good heartedness he is ultimately powerless, especially against the tyrannical Mrs Joe. Although his lappings of gravy on Pip’s plate are comic and endearing they ultimately do not protect Pip from the sermonizing guests. Although his heart is in the right place, it does not produce much action. A similar episode is during the chase of the convicts, where Joe would have given ‘a shilling if they had cut and run’, but ironically he helped in their recapture11, by fixing the manacles and ultimately by chasing them.
Dickens may well idealise Joe but he could never really be Pip’s, once he has his social pretensions, guardian angel. In marrying Mrs Joe the blacksmith he has sacrificed his position of authority. He can only ease Pip’s upbringing, not prevent the bullying and the beating. Pip comments that he had ‘always treated him as a larger than species of child, and as no more than my equal’, and a larger child does not compensate for Pip’s, his mother’s or the convicts brutal treatment.
The organic innocence of Joe12 is starkly contrasted in the remains of the character called Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham is a woman who has not emerged from her want of love, her need to be a bride. She has disturbingly emerged as a bitter, twisted ghoul, an almost ‘monstrous double of the man who once trespassed against her and whom she never forgave’.13 She has learnt the power of hate, and the need to wreak revenge. Far from emerging a higher moral character Miss Havisham internalising her devastating experiences, and so pollutes all that is around her. Her wants are destructive desires that have ‘gnawed away’ at her. However, this so-called fairy godmother when making Estella could be seen in a different light. Her past harsh treatment, and her future moulding of the young girl could be seen to contain some morals and good intentions, as she is only trying to prevent Estella’s heart from being broken by dangerous love. High morality and refined sentiment are thus made difficult to define.
The same is true of Pip’s predicament. He too has been ‘made benefactors miseries, as well as with good intentions’.14 He is in many ways, however the romanticised convict. His upbringing, or rather his having ‘grow’d up took up’ parallels that of Pip who was ‘brought up by hand’. The violence here is painstakingly clear. Magwitch tells of being ‘carted here, and carted there, and put out of this town and put out of that town…whipped and worried and drove’. He has been neglected, treated unjustly and with contempt, and it clear that such harshness has moulded the adult, despite being softened by the kindness of Pip. His revelation of being Pip’s benefactor can been seen in many lights. In many ways he is considerably noble, working hard for the benefit of the young boy, sacrificing his safety in New South Wales to return, and ultimately giving Pip what he most longed for – expectations. However Pip never expected it to be Magwitch, and in many ways the extreme rewards he offers Pip are misguided.
This fairy godfather, apart from being a convict, is a reversal of a benevolent hand that helps Dickens earlier novels, namely because he uses Pip. He expects the boy to remember him, ‘holding out his hands’, which have sadly worked to both cradle Pip and metaphorically to hold him in his grave. He also expects him to be grateful for taking him out of the forge and keeping him ignorant of his identity for the first part of his life. He is however able to recognise in Pip nobility that will later help Pip to recognise it in himself. Yet this ‘second father’ has, in many ways, survived his harsh background only to become a man who destructively cares for everybody else. He is the male Miss Havisham who abuses Pip so as to wreak his revenge on a society that has misused him: ‘If I ain’t a gentleman…I’m the owner of such’.
This is clearly not a fairy-tale novel, and it must be remembered that Pip is also far from being an angelic creation. In fact Great Expectations is Dickens’ first real attempt to concentrate intensely on the psychological make-up of his characters. Once Pip is informed of his great expectations he attaches false hopes to a fairy-tale dream embodied in Satis House, the so-called ‘Enough House’, and thus hankers continually after the station of gentleman, a clear result of the want, an almost disease caught as a child. Miss Havisham’s false love and allowance of the vulnerable child’s placement of his fantasies upon her is one of the most disturbing evils throughout the entire novel.
The hope he invests in Miss Havisham gives Pip the confidence to create for himself a protective bubble, which will one day magically make his shame of the forge and the convict on ‘the mesh’s’ disappear and almost instil in him ‘high morality’ and ‘refined sentiment’, as if they are commodities that go hand in hand with the classes that are higher up the social scale. When the truth emerges Pip’s whole world is devastated. The passage to a greater inner awareness and ultimate goodness is considerably more complicated that a fairytale godmother and godfather, or even a grass roots, inherited moral conscious. First Pip has to realise, the hard way, that he is not living in a fairytale vacuum, and then to recognise the good qualities within others and then to appreciate them.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens wrote that when you ‘crush humanity out of shape…it will twist itself into the same tortured forms’. As Pip is scared by the past, so too is Estella. She has been crushed out of shape by the hammer of Miss Havisham’s destructive need for revenge on the male race. Consequently her growth is twisted away from the sunlight and made to ‘blossom’ in the shadows of Miss Havisham’s ‘broken heart’. Far from acquiring high morality and refined sentiment, Estella becomes a beautiful fairy-tale princess with one fault – she has ‘no heart’.
‘There is no sentiment’ in the stone cold star, implied by her name, that is ‘far out of reach… admired by all who see her’. Certainly her character evokes pity, as we see a woman who has been denied her childhood, her femininity and has ultimately been moulded away form her ‘right nature’, a movement that could never have occurred in inherently good characters such as Oliver Twist.15 Though Jaggers professes to have saved her from ‘growing up to be hanged’ (ironically would this have been her ‘right nature’?) Estella is subjected to an almost greater barrage of ‘harsh social relations, ignorance and want’. Her adoptive ‘family’ are parasites, she is kept ignorant of her own parentage and also of her own heart and is not allowed any role in deciding her own desires, needs and wants. She cynically recognises that she and Pip are ‘mere puppets’, particularly as she near on prostituted by Miss Havisham.
However, despite her harsh upbringing, Estella’s only way of breaking the vicious cycle is by defying her puppeteer. In one of the most honourable acts of the novel Estella sacrifices herself to the violent Bentley Drummel. In many ways this could be seen as a rebellious rebuke of Miss Havisham, but also an ability to protect others, such as Pip from ever being attached to her in a way that she cannot return. Her marriage allows Estella, like Pip to have the final say in the battle with her maker, and in doing so hints at her capacity to transcend to higher morality, quite considerable considering she has been trained as a moral void and bred in ignorance all her life.