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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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Once again, Pip magically escapes being found out. The
soldiers are not here for him; they need to have their handcuffs
fixed by the blacksmith. As Joe steps into his forge, he seems a
responsible adult for the first time. Indeed, everybody shows
another side; strict Mrs. Joe liberally hands out drinks,
Pumblechook is jolly, and the terrifying soldiers turn out to be
a bunch of goofs, puffed up with the excitement of their hunt
for the convicts (especially the sergeant, so aware that he's
working for the King).

Pip does a sort of moral flip-flop, too; watching these law-
abiding people enjoying themselves, he has a rush of sympathy
for "his" convict, shivering out on the marshes, waiting to be
caught. Even though Joe and Pip join the man-hunt, they do so
only out of curiosity, and they really feel on the side of the
underdogs, the convicts. Although Pip has felt isolated from
Joe by his guilt, they're allies again now.

Watch throughout the novel Pip's fluctuating relationship with
Joe, and how sensitive he is to it. It's one of the most important
ways we can measure Pip's changing character.

We move out into the dreary desolate landscape of tragedy
again-fiercer this time, with a blood-red sunset. In this world
of struggle and survival, Pip feels vulnerable, whisked along on
Joe's back; we realize afresh that Joe is a big strong man and
Pip is still a small boy. Pip knows, helplessly, that he may get
in trouble too if the convict is captured. But there's no stopping
the man-hunt, with its galloping pace, far-off cries, and helter-
skelter paths. The description is disjointed and confused, like a
real chase. And it ends abruptly, when they stumble upon the
pair of convicts, locked in a furious fight.

After all this action, it's ironic that the convicts are so much
more involved in their own fight that they're actually glad to
see the soldiers. Pip's convict seems half mad, with his greedy
laugh and incoherent boasts. How do we feel about him here?
Some readers have been awed by his passion for revenge;
others admire how brave and strong he seems, compared to his
enemy; others believe this just proves he's a violent criminal.
At any rate, the scene's so intense that we forget Pip-until his
convict fixes a long perplexing look at him.

The breathless action winds down gradually. The prisoners
stop being figures of crime and passion, and appear exhausted,
limping and shivering. Then, Pip's convict is transformed
again, into a figure of dignity and goodness: he works out a
way to get Pip off the hook, by confessing to having stolen the
food and the file himself. Pip makes no comment on this act of
grace; either he is overwhelmed or too shy to comment, or he is
confused by it. Joe, however, immediately forgives the man for
stealing from him. Joe is deepening from a comic figure into a
real person.

In our final view of the convict, now that he's caught, we look
on him with pity. Rowed away by callus fellow prisoners, he
heads for a ship which is itself chained up. The reference to
Noah's Ark is grimly ironic, for this ship carries no hopeful
new life. The final sentence makes us feel that the convict is
gone, for better or worse.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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