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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTERS 3 & 4

As Pip runs out onto the marshes, the gloomy mood of tragedy
falls on the story again. The mists reflect Pip's moral
uncertainty. The spooky fog makes him imagine accusing
figures at every turn; it also hides the straight path (a symbol of
virtue) which Pip would follow on Sunday (a holy day) with
Joe, his guardian and friend.

In this confusing mist, Pip approaches the wrong man out on
the marshes. This second convict is not as sympathetic as
yesterday's; wordlessly, he hits Pip and runs away. When Pip
finds "his" convict, the man seems in comparison more human
than before: cold and wet, nervous, ravenously hungry, with a
pathetic click in his throat. Pip shows his better side, too, as he
treats the convict kindly. When Pip mentions the other convict,
however, the man becomes violent again, hitting himself and
chafing his own leg as he files his manacle. In spite of a
moving speech about his wretched night of waiting, he's still a
dangerous criminal. The eerie sound of the file rasping through
the mists haunts Pip as he slips away.

Pip now believes that he too is a criminal. Back in the slapstick
world of the Gargery house, he expects a policeman to be
waiting there to collar him. His agitation goes unnoticed,
luckily, beside Mrs. Joe's vigorous preparations for Christmas
dinner. But Pip feels treated like a criminal, gulping breakfast
with Joe, putting on his prisonlike Sunday clothes; the sermons
at church have a powerful effect on his aggravated conscience.

In Pip's guilty frame of mind, he sees everything around him
sharply. He notices his sister's hypocrisy in not going to church
herself, and at dinner he gives us devastating capsule
descriptions of the adult guests, especially Uncle
Pumblechook. He observes the dinner from a child's
perspective, stuck at the corner of the table with
Pumblechook's elbow in his face, Mr. Wopsle's nose wagging
at him, and Joe apologetically spooning gravy for him every
few minutes. But although he tries to stay out of their
conversation, they focus their attention on Pip. He may be
exaggerating this because he feels guilty, but if they really do
lecture him like this, it's no wonder he's such a nervous child.



NOTE: DICKENS' USE OF SATIRE
Dickens certainly plays up the scene for satiric effect. Watch
how each person, like a mechanical doll, repeats his or her
own obsession or favorite expression. Dickens ruthlessly
exposes them, and yet because Pip describes it innocently, the
characters simply satirize themselves with every word.

Just as the comedy works up to a high pitch, Pumblechook asks
for the brandy, which we know Pip stole. Pip's suspense is
painful but comic, as he clutches the table leg. Several recent
incidents slide together, for Pumblechook discovers that the
bottle, which Pip thought he refilled with water (such a careful
little crook), was really refilled with Mrs. Joe's vile tar-water
that Pip and Joe had to drink. Pumblechook deserves to choke,
of course, and Mrs. Joe deserves being embarrassed. But
though Pip may deserve to be discovered, he isn't; inexplicably,
Pumblechook passes over the incident. There is no rest for the
guilty, however, and when Pumblechook calls for the pork pie,
Pip's agony returns doubled. Dickens plays the scene for all it's
worth, drawing out this spell of suspense more slowly than the
first, each comment and gesture looming large. Then, just when
Pip can take no more-bang! a bunch of soldiers bursts in the
door with a pair of handcuffs. Disrupting the holiday feast so
suddenly, this is like an apparition of Pip's guilty mind come to
life.

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