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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTER 53

This dark night, with a red moon, creates a spooky atmosphere,
harking back to Compeyson and Magwitch's fight on the
marsh. (The coming battle will repeat that struggle, in a new
generation.) The solitude seems ominous-we know that
solitude's bad. And worse than mists, we have thick ooze
around the lime-kiln, and a choking vapor in the air.

Pip describes the inside of the shed in objective detail, like a
police report. He's a rational figure-suddenly hit by violence,
pain, and darkness. Dickens makes us feel how Pip feels. Yet
Pip acts strong, concentrating not on his fears, but on noting
the details of his situation. A match is struck, revealing Orlick,
more satanic than ever.

Pip and Orlick's conversation is tensely dramatic: quick
speeches back and forth, mixed with threatening glimpses of
powerful, vicious Orlick. Orlick's hatred has festered in
solitude. Everything boils together in his diseased mind; when
he accuses Pip of coming between him "and a young woman I
liked," it isn't clear at first whether it's Estella or Biddy, and it
probably doesn't matter. Orlick-who speaks of himself as "Old
Orlick," like a devil-has whipped up his own passions into
uncontrollable rage.

Pip, his mind racing, imagines how people will react to his
death-haven't we all thought about this?- but Pip mainly
regrets that no one will know his good-intentions. Some
readers say this proves that he's a better person already; others
say this is a moment of realization which will help him to
reform. At any rate, Pip decides to survive. Pride is a good
thing for once-it helps him to scorn and resist Orlick.

Orlick accuses Pip of murdering Mrs. Joe. Pip calmly replies
that Orlick did it. Of course Pip isn't to blame if Orlick, feeling
slighted by Pip, attacked her. That's crazy logic-though no
crazier than when Pip felt responsible for the leg-iron. But Pip's
outgrown that guilt. In contrast to Orlick's slow, muddled
mind, Pip's rapid imagination flings up dozens of pictures. But
you can't contrast these two so simply. Orlick's resourceful;
clinging steadily to his revenge, he has been as good as Pip at
dredging up information, solving the mystery of Magwitch.
Orlick's home base, though, is a world of evil-it seems natural
that he has linked up with Compeyson, like a kindred soul.



The dreadful suspense stretches out, as Orlick prepares to
attack Pip, and Pip sees the scene like a slow-motion movie
shot. Pip screams-it's a wild chance, knowing that they're so
far out. But a group of men burst in and rescue him. You may
feel that this rescue is too easy: Pip happened to drop the note,
Herbert happened to pick it up and decided to follow him out
there. But it does suggest that friends are crucial in "saving"
our souls. Pip's done a good deed for Herbert (though Herbert
doesn't know it), and Herbert, because he's fond of Pip, will put
himself in danger for Pip. -

NOTE: TRABB'S BOY
Trabb's boy, of all people, helps save Pip. Like Pip, he's
growing up into a good, useful person. And it's a realistic
change; he doesn't lose his liveliness. Pip himself sees Trabb's
boy in a new light-as he's learning to do with many people
lately.

Orlick, like the essence of evil itself, escapes and remains at
large. But Pip doesn't press charges because it would delay him
in helping Magwitch escape; helping someone is more
important to him than getting revenge. He goes home with
Herbert, sick and restless with pain. But the sparkling daybreak
at the end of the chapter is-we hope-a good omen.

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