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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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Other readers think Pip isn't being harsh on himself at all-just
honest, owning up to faults we all have. Though he seems like
a nasty little kid and an unpleasant adolescent, these readers
point out, Dickens is just giving us a realistic portrait of child
psychology. Most small children, like Pip, are likely to lie,
cheat, and steal to get around adults; they don't automatically
love their elders and they may hate going to school or to
church. (If you've ever been a babysitter, you know that all
little kids aren't sweet angels.) And adolescents are often like
Pip is: painfully self-conscious, critical of their parents and
their parents' friends, unsatisfied with their own daily lives,
easily taken in by glamorous but undependable friends. This is
all just part of growing up. Watching Pip go through these
various stages, we may remember the way we acted at the same
age-and wince at the memory.

Pip does seem to view the universe in pretty simple moral
terms. Things are either good or bad, noble or common,
beautiful or ugly. This is in part a result of his romantic nature,
which wants everything in the world to be lovely and perfect
and feels frustrated when things fall short of this ideal. It's a
product of his upbringing, too-he has no real moral training as
a child, only strict threats of punishment, so he forms childishly
harsh, absolute ideas of right and wrong for himself. This is
also a fairly typical way of viewing the world when you're
young, and still trying to judge the people around you. But as
he grows older, Pip learns that other qualities-sympathy and
forgiveness, for example-need to be used to temper moral
judgments. Life isn't as simple as he wants to make it.

Pip doesn't act as if he enjoys life very much. He's a loner as a
child, surrounded mostly by adults. Our first view of him is in a
graveyard, musing over the tombstones, and the fact that he
seems so much at home there tells us something about the
morbid streak in his personality. When he is later brought to
"play" to amuse rich Miss Havisham, the idea is ironic, and yet
fitting because she's a grotesque old bird herself. But Pip does
seem to have fun sometimes: as a boy out on Sunday
afternoons with his brother-in-law Joe; in London, with his
friends Herbert Pocket or Wemmick, even with his
disreputable dining society, the Finches of the Grove.
Underneath his shy manner, he longs for friends, and he learns
in the course of the book just how important friendship can be.



Since Pip is the narrator, his personality affects the tone of the
book. We follow Pip from a solemn, solitary little boy to a
melancholy middle-aged man; as he grows up, we see the
events and characters of the novel through his changing eyes.
When Pip is very young, he has a child's vivid imagination that
visualizes the world around him as a horror story, a fairy tale,
or a cartoon comedy. When Pip becomes an adolescent, he
becomes more wrapped up in himself and his own self-image.
After he receives his "expectations" and moves to London to
become a gentleman, he carefully notes and describes how
people around him act, because he's trying to learn how to
behave in polite society.

Throughout these stages, Pip remains passive; things happen to
him, and he reacts to them, but he doesn't do much on his own.
This isn't because he's weak, however, it's mostly because he's
shy. Though he tells us how strongly he feels about various
people or events, we must remember that he presents a silent,
noncommittal face to the world at large. Once he has learned
who brought him that fortune, however, Pip finally has to break
out of his shell, to take on adult responsibility, to lay plans and
carry them out. He begins to ask questions instead of just
observing what goes on; he also has to fight back against the
forces that have molded him. As you read the novel, note these
stages of Pip's development both as a person and as a narrator.

The different elements of Pip's personality seem to be
constantly in conflict. For example, when he first learns that he
has "expectations" of a great fortune, his mind goes off in a
dozen different directions: selfishness, joy, guilt, suspicion,
embarrassment, and fear of his own new future. Take special
note whenever Pip describes such emotional turmoil. Because
Dickens isn't trying to make Pip look good, he can show the
whole range of selfish, resentful, kind, and guilty sensations we
all experience. Dickens is so brutally honest that we may be
tempted to say Pip's a bad person-until we search our own
minds and discover that they work the same way.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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