- Length: 1706 words (4.9 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Josh Billings once said "to bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while". There are few things as important in the development of youth as the influence of the adults that surround them. The example of influential adults will almost always dictate, in some way, the behaviour of children. Young people look for role models and examples in the adults they meet. In Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations (1860), vivid adult characters such as the eccentric Miss Havisham, the enigmatic lawyer Jaggers, the simple but kind blacksmith Joe and the mysterious convict Magwitch have fundamental influences over the development of the story's protagonist, Pip. They do this in two ways. In a novel about a young man's moral education, the major secondary adult characters in the story contribute to Pip's growth either as instigators of his expectations or as paternal figures or sometimes as both.
Appropriately, the characters who bring about Pip's "expectations" play an integral part in his life; they influence him and shape his development throughout the novel. Firstly, Miss Havisham's was a significant impact on Pip's life. It is at Satis house, her strange, decaying mansion, that he initially comes into contact with the upper class life for which he later aspires. As his first contact with a wealthy person, Miss Havisham prompts Pip to try and better himself financially. She also, indirectly, pressures Pip into changing through her influence over Estella. Estella's cruel behaviour towards Pip is the direct result of Miss Havisham's teachings. Embittered by her own broken engagement, Miss Havisham taught the girl to be cruel to men, so she learned to "break their hearts and have no mercy!" (Dickens, 108). Thus, the beautiful Estella's cold reaction to Pip and the way she patronizes him are major reasons why he felt the need to change. It was she who convinced him that he was "in a low-lived bad way" (75) and needed to heighten his social status in order to be worthy of her notice. The impact of Miss Havisham's financial splendor and indirect cruelty make her a crucial instigator of change in Pip.
Unlike the will to change that Miss Havisham's influence inspires, the presence of the lawyer Jaggers in Pip's life brings tangible means to change. As the bearer of the news of Pip's new fortune and his guardian throughout his education, Jaggers, acting on behalf of his unidentified client, is the character who transforms Pip's life financially allows him to hope for the life Miss Havisham and Estella inspired him to have.
Jaggers pulls Pip from his quiet life in the country with Joe and moves him to London where he is educated as a gentleman and given a generous allowance. Jaggers is a cold and stiff gentleman whose frequent hand-washing is his way of disassociating himself from his lowly clientele and who even takes a liking to the "generally despised" (336) Drummle. This snobbery is one of the many traits that Pip begins to associate with being a gentleman and thus he acts rudely towards Joe, the man who has raised him, when the blacksmith visits London. Jaggers' of apparent gentlemanly behaviour' steers Pip in the wrong direction. It is, however, a direction he needs to go in before he can discover the error of his ways and find his way to what is really important. Jaggers' influence stretches beyond that of providing Pip with economic means. He is a major reason for Pip's acquired snobbish attitude towards those who love him. The adult figures who provide the inspiration and deliver the means for Pip's expectations influence him to think he needs to better himself through social status, wealth and snobbish, gentlemanly behaviour.
In contrast, the two father figures in Great Expectations influence Pip's development in a positive way and help him to become a better person. At the beginning of the novel, the first two male characters that Pip's narration introduces to the reader are the mysterious convict on the marsh and his brother-in-law, and substitute father, Joe Gargery. Though the character of the convict, Magwitch, is not developed until much later in the novel, Joe is described more vividly in the opening chapters than almost any other character. This reveals Pip's deep connection to Joe that dates back to well before the beginning of the novel. Joe raises Pip as his own when his parents die and he is taken in by his sister (a woman referred to only as Mrs. Joe). The blacksmith raises him to be good, kind and generous. His influence can be seen in Pip's fundamental inclination to help. After being threatened by the convict on the marsh, Pip could easily have not returned but instead, his values, instilled in him by Joe's example, dictate that he should return and bring food to the convict. This action, in particular, sets the entire series of events of the novel in motion and had it not been for Joe's generous example, Pip might never have done it. It is also Joe and his perpetual, unconditional kindness towards Pip that helps him learn that the values of character are independent of social class. Thus, eventually, Pip feels extreme guilt about his earlier treatment of Joe and abandons his snobbish attitude. It is apparent, in this remorse, that Pip maintains his sense of right and wrong that he learned while under Joe's charge. Joe is the unchanging character who remains good throughout the novel. The points in the novel where Pip feels closest to Joe are poignant in that they are the places where Pip has his priorities straightened out. Joe is the perpetual father figure in the novel; right to the end, he cares for Pip when he returns badly wounded from a battle with Orlick, his late sister's murderer. This fatherly instinct touches the adult Pip and reminds him of how Joe cared for him when he was a child. Dickens' consistent portrayal of Joe as the ideal fatherly figure is stressed by the diction of one of his final descriptions of the man: "the tenderness of Joe was so beautifully proportioned to [Pip's] need that [he] was like a child in his hands" (501). Joe is set up to be the exemplary father figure. He leads by example, through being kind and generous he influences Pip to be such. He accepts Pip when he rejects his post as Joe's apprentice and moves to London to adopt a lifestyle completely unfamiliar to Joe. He does not blame or lecture Pip when he does something wrong, like treating him rudely in London; instead, he trusts Pip to know what's right and to have learned from his example. It is through the constant love and positive influence of Joe that Pip is able to grow and become the good, kind adult that Joe tried to teach him to be.
The infrequent presence of Magwitch in Pip's life effectively contrasts with the consistency of Joe's influence. Though his presence was rare, Magwitch's impact on Pip and his growth was enormous and perhaps the most meaningful of the novel. He is also the only character to have a major impact on Pip both as an instigator of his expectations, through his anonymously providing Pip's fortune and as a father figure who has an emotional impact on Pip. Pip's kindness towards the convict on the marsh comes back to benefit him when the provider of his fortune is revealed to be Magwitch, the reformed convict himself. Magwitch reveals that "[he's his] second father. [He's his] son- more to [him] nor any son" (345). Magwitch's anonymous generosity towards Pip influences Pip to copy his benefactor and remain anonymous as he aids his friend Herbert in his business pursuits. When Magwitch first arrives on the scene in London, taking the name of Provis, Pip show's a distinct displeasure at his presence, revealing in narration "if I had loved him insead of abhorring him, if I had been attracted to him by the strongest admiration and affection, instead of shrinking from him with the strongest repugnance, it could have been no worse" (348). However, as he gets to know Magwitch, Pip learns to love and appreciate him despite his status as a convict. In fact, Pip's affection towards Magwitch grows to the point that he risks his life, and the lives of his friends, to help him escape down the river. When Magwitch is arrested after Compeyson's death, Pip stays by his side, feeling that "that was [his] place henceforth while [Magwitch] lived" (479). Pip's growing admiration of Magwitch also reinforces the insight gained with Joe that virtuous people exceed the limitations placed upon them by their social status. The lessons taught to Pip by the presence of Magwitch in his life give credibility to the statement Magwitch made, upon his re-entering Pip's life, of him being a father figure in Pip's life. It is Magwitch's money that allows Pip to improve himself', but it is Magwitch's goodness and personal influence that teaches him enduring ethical values.
Through raising expectations and influential father figures, the adults throughout Great Expectations affect Pip in both positive and negative ways. Though some lead him down the path of materialism and snobbish personas, others teach him kindness, generosity and what is of real value in life. When Josh Billings said "to bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while" he meant it. Jaggers' cold snobbery and Joe's kindness teach Pip by example. He adopts their ways of relating to the world, at least for a time. In the end, Joe's influence proved to be stronger, thus his example stuck with Pip. It is the nature of the child to decide who to emulate. While the strong influence of Jaggers' and Miss Havisham's examples intensely led a small portion of his life, it is ultimately Joe and Magwitch, who are fundamentally good people, who make the strongest impact on Pip. It is through leading by example that the adults who had the strongest impacts on Pip influenced him. If the adults lead life the way they think children should, inevitably they will follow.