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Great Expectations - Pip

There’s an important term you need to know, and that is: bildungsroman. This just means a story or novel which follows the life and times of one main character. There are often other characters in the story, but the whole story is the life of one person.

‘Great Expectations’ is a bildungsroman, because it follows the life story of Pip. And, as I mentioned, there are other characters in there too.

As a bildungsroman, Great Expectations presents the growth and development of Philip Pirrip, better known to himself and to the world as Pip.

You’ll know already that Pip is both the main character and the narrator.

What’s the correct term for ‘main character’?

As the focus of this bildungsroman, Pip is by far the most important character in Great Expectations: he is both the protagonist, whose actions make up the main plot of the novel, and the narrator, whose thoughts and attitudes shape the reader’s perception of the story.

As a result, developing an understanding of Pip’s character is the most important step in understanding Great Expectations.

Because Pip is narrating his own story many years after the events happen, there are almost two ‘Pips’ in Great Expectations: Pip the narrator (telling the story) and Pip the character—the person who it’s all about.

Dickens takes great care to make sure that the two Pips are separate - giving the voice of Pip (the narrator) perspective and maturity. This means that Pip the adult, telling the story after it’s all happened, can now see where he went wrong, what he thought wrong, and how he managed to make a mess of it all. 

Dickens also shows how Pip (the character) feels about what is happening to him, as it actually happens.

This is a very good technique of writing used by Dickens, and early in the book it is done best, when Pip the character is a child; here, Pip (the narrator) gently pokes fun at his younger self, but also enables us to see and feel the story through his eyes.

What’s a simple word for ‘poking fun at’ someone?
It just means to ‘tease’ someone.

If you’ve read some of the book pdf, you will remember the part when Pip returns to the village and meets the shop-boy from the Tailor’s shop:

Casting my eyes along the street at a certain point of my progress, I beheld Trabb’s boy approaching, lashing himself with an empty blue bag. Deeming that a serene and unconscious contemplation of him would best beseem me, and would be most likely to quell his evil mind, I advanced with that expression of countenance, and was rather congratulating myself on my success, when suddenly the knees of Trabb’s boy smote together, his hair uprose, his cap fell off, he trembled violently in every limb, staggered out into the road, and crying to the populace, ‘Hold me! I’m so frightened!’ feigned to be in a paroxysm of terror and contrition, occasioned by the dignity of my appearance.

As I passed him, his teeth loudly chattered in his head, and with every mark of extreme humiliation, he prostrated himself in the dust. This was a hard thing to bear, but this was nothing. I had not advanced another two hundred yards, when, to my inexpressible terror, amazement, and indignation, I again beheld Trabb’s boy approaching. He was coming round a narrow corner. His blue bag was slung over his shoulder, honest industry beamed in his eyes, a determination to proceed to Trabb’s with cheerful briskness was indicated in his gait.

With a shock he became aware of me, and was severely visited as before; but this time his motion was rotatory, and he staggered round and round me with knees more afflicted, and with uplifted hands as if beseeching for mercy. His sufferings were hailed with the greatest joy by a knot of spectators, and I felt utterly confounded.

I had not got as much further down the street as the postoffice, when I again beheld Trabb’s boy shooting round by a back way. This time, he was entirely changed. He wore the blue bag in the manner of my great-coat, and was strutting along the pavement towards me on the opposite side of the street, attended by a company of delighted young friends to whom he from time to time exclaimed, with a wave of his hand, ‘Don’t know yah!’ Words cannot state the amount of aggravation and injury wreaked upon me by Trabb’s boy, when, passing abreast of me, he pulled up his shirt-collar, twined his side-hair, stuck an arm akimbo, and smirked extravagantly by, wriggling his elbows and body, and drawling to his attendants, ‘Don’t know yah, don’t know yah, pon my soul don’t know yah!’

The disgrace attendant on his immediately afterwards taking to crowing and pursuing me across the bridge with crows, as from an exceedingly dejected fowl who had known me when I was a blacksmith, culminated the disgrace with which I left the town, and was, so to speak, ejected by it into the open country.

It’s all about when Pip goes to buy a new suit, to go up to London. Trabb’s is the name of the suitmaker (or tailor) and the boy is a shop boy. The shop boy knows Pip from when Pip was poor and makes fun of him getting a new suit. Not only that, the boy falls over as if pushed by the force of Pip’s new wealth; he makes fun of Pip to his friends saying like ‘My goodness! this young gentleman is far too good for me!”

This shows that the narrator Pip looks back and can now, as an adult, see the humour in that situation - although, at the time it was mortifying.

As a character, Pip’s two most important traits are his immature, romantic idealism and his innately good conscience.

What’s a ‘trait’?
It’s something which is part of our personality - something we do all the time or often, without really noticing.

On the one hand, Pip has a deep desire to improve himself and attain any possible advancement, whether educational, moral, or social.

His longing to marry Estella and join the upper classes stems from the same idealistic desire as his longing to learn to read and his fear of being punished for bad behaviour: once he understands ideas like poverty, ignorance, and immorality, Pip does not want to be poor, ignorant, or immoral.

When did he realise he might be those things?
On his first visit to Miss Havisham’s.

Remember he starts to hate calling the playing card by the wrong name. Actually it is not a wrong name, but ‘jack’ is not the name that people in higher society call it. And Pip notices this difference for the first time.

Pip the narrator judges his own past actions extremely harshly, rarely giving himself credit for good deeds but angrily feeling bad about himself for bad ones.

He cannot see that he did good - such as caring for Joe, being a kind person to the convict, even going to the graveyard to remember and talk to his deceased family.

He tends to make situations too simple, based on nothing much and this leads him to behave badly towards the people who care about him. 

‘Superficial’ means:
It means that although someone might say something, they do not really believe or do it themselves.

When Pip becomes a gentleman, for example, he immediately begins to act as he thinks a gentleman is supposed to act, which leads him to treat Joe and Biddy snobbishly and coldly.

That is not how gentlemanly people act towards those who are of a lower social class at all. But Pip thinks it is.

On the other hand, it's not all bad, Pip is at heart a very generous and sympathetic young man, a fact that can be seen in his many acts of kindness in the book (helping Magwitch, secretly buying Herbert’s way into business, etc.) and his essential love for all those who love him.

The problem with that is that we should love all people, not only those who love us back.

Pip’s main line of development in the novel can be seen as the process of learning to use his innate sense of kindness and conscience above his immature idealism.

‘Innate’ means:
It means something which is born into us, something we cannot change - it’s a natural - and unchanging - way of behaving, because we are who we are.

Not long after meeting Miss Havisham and Estella, Pip’s desire for being a richer and better person overshadows his basic goodness. After receiving his mysterious fortune, his wishes seem to have been justified, and he gives himself over to a gentlemanly life of idleness, in London with Herbert. Herbert tries to start a business; but Pip does nothing all day except socialise.

But the discovery that the wretched Magwitch, not the wealthy Miss Havisham, is his secret benefactor shatters Pip’s simple view of his world.

The fact that he comes to admire Magwitch while losing Estella to the brutish nobleman Drummle ultimately forces him to realise that social position is not the most important thing in his life - or anyone’s life, and that his behaviour as a gentleman has caused him to hurt the people who care about him most.

Once he has learned these lessons, Pip matures into the man who narrates the novel, completing the bildungsroman.


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