The mid-1800’s were snarled with varying ideas on neurological science, with the beginnings of what could even be called modern psychology just emerging: Alexander Bain (The Senses and the Intellect, 1855) [a proponent of empiricism], Herbert Spencer (The Principles of Psychology, 1885). Anne Stiles explains the vague and conflicting nature of psychology in the Victorian era:
“Victorian psychology might best be characterized as ‘a point of intersection between various fields of knowledge – philosophy, physiology, aesthetic and social theory’ …[and] was inclusive enough to partially incorporate various fields of knowledge now characterized as ‘pseudosciences’, including phrenology, physiology, mesmerism, and the study of extra-sensory perception.”1
Denizens of the Victorian-era England, and authors like Dickens struggling with questions of identity, consciousness, and psychology, did not have an established monolith to adhere to (Dickens watched lectures on, and believed and practiced, mesmerism). Rather, a few journals were being published, and “authors, philosophers, and ordinary people” held the debate on the changing ideas of the time.
Retrograde Consciousness in Great Expectations (1861)
Dickens, though perhaps not explicitly alluding to phrenology, begins Great Expectations with Pip’s recollection of memories, narrating from the future– the theme of [self-]consciousness is immediately presented as a major one as the older Pip recalls his younger, immature self’s theory of identity:
“I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly…”
Dickens, through Pip’s narration, reveals a past style of thinking about psychology, class, determinism, etc., and promises us another way of being identified through self-consciousness (“childish”).
…and, immediately after this “phrenological scene”, presents us with the nasty character of THE CONVICT, who…
– SPOILER ALERT –
MAGWITCH IS THE BENEFACTOR. For the times, a lowborn man (and a convict– counterfeiting felony) would have been surprising to be revealed as the great benefactor (even Pip was disappointed), a fact known and taken for granted today– not only as a plot twist, but as a social comment. Even in Dickens’s earlier writings, such as Oliver Twist (1838), the title orphan ended up being of better blood after all. There was no physical crossing of class boundaries, because physically Oliver already belonged/was there. In Great Expectations, with Pip of lowly blood, one must ask must deeper what Dickens was saying about physical causes one’s personality and potential in life (i.e. psychology).
A theme spanning the entire novel, and indeed the title, Magwitch’s rise to wealth (and Pip’s, too) is accompanied by Magwitch’s remembrance and effort to help out Pip, who he remembers as helping him… and also, perhaps, to eliminate Pip’s young and restrictive ideas of class, which he revealed to Magwitch then:
“Now look here!” said the man. “Where’s your mother?”
“There, sir!” said I. …
…”Ha!” he muttered then, considering. “Who d’ye live with,–supposing you’re kindly let to live, which I can’t mad up my mind about?”
Restricting on the lower class as much as death 2 (being in a graveyard…), class boundaries and non-fluidity are pressed into Pip’s young mind much like the phrenological interpretation of Pip’s parents. Throughout the novel, Pip experiences many social realms, and he sometimes acts differently in each (his poor village, aristocracy like Miss Havisham, business in the city…).
Phrenology (popular 1810-1840)
Essentially, a take on psychology coming from a physiological origin. Bumps and hollows on one’s skull could be measured, and personality traits determined. Formulated in in the early 1800’s by Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim and popularized through the 1819 publication of Gall’s principle work on the subject, and, indirectly, later by George Combe’s The Constitution of Man, which was one of the best-selling works in the entire nineteenth century. Combe gave lectures and led the phrenological society in England. Shalyn Claggett explains that
“[p]hrenology offered a kind of biological determinism. … Despite the science’s emphasis on physiological distinctiveness and individuality, scholarship has tended to focus on how phrenology was deployed in the service of encompassing social systems, such as its…connection to the rise of the middle class and its intersection with racial typing. Such studies have importantly demonstrated the ways in which a biological theory of identity was used to further professional, economic, and nationalistic agendas.”3
Though its major popularity had died off by the time Great Expectations was published in 1861, it was known and damaging enough for the social critic in Dickens to take an explicit stab at it in Little Dorrit (1857) as well as its implicit mention in the graveyard scene, alluding to Thomas Hood’s text, “Craniology”:
“Patriarchy was the name which many people delighted to give him… So grey, so slow… so very bumpy in the head. …Philanthropists… had asked who he was, and on being informed… had cried in a rapture of disappointment, “Oh! why, with that head, is he not a benefactor of his species!”4
David Hume outlined his “science of man” in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), arguing that desire, not reason governed human behavior. He did not believe in innate ideas– essentially, humans are a “bundle of sensations” associated with the self (knowledge comes from experience).
“The mind is a kind of theater, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.” [A Treatise of Human Nature, I.IV.VI]
Marx (1818-83) & Political Consciousness
Marx believed that man’s consciousness is created from his existence within an external environment, instead of a consciousness existing as an island.
“No less a supporter of the proletariat than Karl Marx affirmed that Dickens ‘issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists, and moralists put together.5
Marx’s political definition, “class consciousness,” requires people [the proletariat] to recognize and become solely aware of one’s place as belonging to a level of a class system [which privileges some, and hinders others]. He wanted people to reject “false consciousness” [Engels’s term], that is, ideologies [religion, patriotism, etc.] that take one away from awareness of one’s place in class, one’s primary identity.
The father of psychoanalysis, Freud began his career well after Dickens, but it was a response to the ideas of that previous generation. He had three states of mind, analogous to an iceberg– only the conscious, the tip, can be seen easily. The conscious is an awareness of current events; the preconscious feelings or thoughts that are not currently in one’s conscious mind, but can be remembered easily; the unconscious feelings or memories one has repressed or is otherwise completely unaware of their influence on current decisions and feelings. Freud also had a model of the human psyche: id (‘instincts’), ego (‘reality’), and superego (‘morality’).
How does Pip’s consciousness change as his circumstances change?
How does Dickens use Pip as a self-conscious narrator traveling through different realms of consciousness (poor village, city, aristocracy) as he ages/matures in his character arc to make a social critique of the bad/mis-used “scientific” or ideological views of his day?[:which classes/characters in the novel had differing views of consciousness/themselves, and how does Pip as a traveling, self-reflective character interact/respond?]
1 Anne Stiles, “Victorian Psychology and the Novel“. Stiles suggests these novels for further thought and research, especially for the later half of the century: Dracula (1897), Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), all of which have an obvious psychological focus.
2Pip’s childish thoughts on his role and belonging are similar to Wordsworth’s 1798 poem “We are Seven.”
3Shalyn Claggett’s “Putting Character First: The Narrative Construction of Innate Identity in Phrenological Texts”
4Rodney Stenning Edgecombe’s “Hood’s ‘Craniology’ and the Head of Christopher Casby in Little Dorrit“
5Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, “Charles Dickens“
The blog post discusses how Dickens uses Pip’s story of rising to status from being born of “low-blood” to show that physical factors affect one’s personality and sense of self. Pip’s sense of self and the way he perceives the world around him is reshaped throughout the novel from his experiences with his environment and other characters. Dickens’ seems to be taking a Humean philosophical view of the way in which individual’s sense of self is created and altered.
Several examples are prevalent in Great Expectations in which Pip’s sense of self is formed by factors beyond his control. This sense of deterministic causality is shown to influence the way Pip’s interacts and makes choices in the novel. A primary example of circumstances that change Pip’s personality is when he first visits Miss Havisham and Estella. The way Estella treats Pip for being of the working class causes Pip to contemplate his own sense of self and to realize his place in a society that is restricted by the Class System. “Biddy, I am not at all happy as I am. I am disgusted with my calling and my life”, Pip says to Biddy when he reveals he desires strongly to become a gentleman (Dickens 101). This event causes Pip to have contempt towards Joe, construing his personality to make Pip resentful towards his current lifestyle. This speaks volumes about how we do not have complete control over how we exist. It defeats the idea that those who have reached a certain status have done so because of their own volition and action. At the very least, these causal events open the door for a new road to be taken instead of another.
Another example where an action beyond the control of the individual changes the way they live and view life is when Mrs. Joe is attacked in her home. The blow to the head causes her whole personality to change and her entire sense of self is shifted. She is no longer bullying and irate constantly, but much more subdued and calm. It seems that this event has changed Mrs. Joe so much that she has actually lost her old sense of self and gained an entirely new one. This event completely changes the way Mrs. Joe could have lived and sets her up for an entirely new path.
This idea of causal determinacies affecting individual’s lives so greatly speaks to the injustice Dickens saw in the Victorian Class System. If our lives are shaped by factors beyond our control than it would be unfair for individuals to be grouped into classes for which they had done nothing to deserve to be placed there. It explains why and how the lower class acts the way it does and explains why people of the aristocracy act the way they do. This idea has pervaded into modern times in the form of explaining why people who live in poverty cannot pull themselves out of such a hole. Their circumstances practically block these individuals from success and personal progress. Causal determinism reveals the immorality of the Class System that Dickens attacked so often because of this Humean idea of the self in which individuals are formed through external factors.
While we agree with group five’s assessment of Pip’s sense of self and his perception of the world, we disagree with the notion that reason overrides emotion in shaping one’s life and actions. As we see in the novel, Pip is governed by both at various times in his life, however by adulthood his opinions are more based around emotional observations rather than logical ones. For example, whenever Pip looks down upon Joe and his poor neighbors, his thoughts are centered not so much around the logical observations of upper class-vs-lower class (i.e., “their quality of life is poorer because of XYZ”). Instead, Pip’s observations are based on emotion and are heavily influenced by his relationship with Estella–whose own opinions are heavily disparaging and based around prejudice rather than fact.
In spite of this, it’s worth mentioning that Pip is not strictly governed by his emotions; he does have moments in which logic and reason override sentiment. For example, when Pip discovers the truth about Estella’s parents and their criminal activities, he deliberately avoids telling Estella for fear of her being dragged into London’s criminal underworld with this knowledge. Instead, he tells Jaggers and Wemmick when he finds he is unable to keep this information to himself, and ultimately confirms to the dying Magwitch that his daughter is alive and well. Yet despite the moral implications of withholding such vital information from her, Pip chooses to keep her in the dark for the purely logical reason of protecting her, albeit in a convoluted manner.
However, the aforementioned example is something of an anomaly; it is clear that he is just as readily governed by sentiment and emotion rather than questioning the logic of the events of his life. Such an instance appears in the novel’s early pages, wherein Pip is confronted by Magwitch. Despite the objectively uncertain circumstances around Magwitch, given his behavior, the young Pip never once questions the claim that Magwitch had a terrifying young man hiding in the shadows nearby who meant to do him harm. One might easily write this off as the thoughts of a naíve young boy, but Pip is telling this story as an adult. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the adult Pip never makes a comment on the shady nature of his first encounter with Magwitch; he only focuses on the string of events Magwitch sparked that ultimately put Pip on the road to becoming a gentleman. Children have a very limited understanding of the world and reason, and so it would make sense for young Pip not to question this concept in their initial meeting, but the adult Pip ought to know better, and still views this moment through a very emotional lens.
While we agree with Group 5’s assertion that multiple theories of psychology may have played a part in Pip’s self-identification, Marx’s theory of class consciousness in particular can be seen fairly early in Pip’s formative years. Prior to meeting Estella and Miss Havisham, Pip’s regard for Joe’s stations in life is marked by nonchalance, a matter-of-fact acceptance of what he sees Joe go through from day to day: “Joe had been put upon the kitchen door-step to keep him out of the dustpan—an article into which his destiny always led him sooner or later…” (p.22-3). Once Pip is introduced to Estella, an affluent and beautiful young lady who doesn’t pull any punches, he begins to gain class consciousness. Pondering Estella’s censure of his “coarse hands,” Pip reflects, “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong that it became infectious” (p.52). Thus, Pip begins to spurn his social status as well as Joe’s: “I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too” (p.53). Pip’s disdain soon becomes shame when he introduces Joe to Estella and Miss Havisham; compared to his “refined”—although often deprecating—lady-love, Pip’s guardian appears shabby and contemptible.
We agree, but we think that Pip’s sense of consciousness also includes an internal aspect separate from his grounding in his social identity. This can be seen through Pip’s reaction to discovering that Magwitch is his benefactor. In addition to being disappointed that Miss Havisham was not grooming him to become Estella’s husband, he also faces the moral dilemma of receiving aid from a man he despised, not for his social standing, but due to his criminal past. From a solely Marxist sense of consciousness, Magwitch’s past shouldn’t matter in regards to his actions of raising Pip to the gentry.
Pip’s sense of self-consciousness is what prompts his emotional reaction to the revelation of discovering his benefactor’s true identity. In Magwitch’s words, “ ‘Look’ee here, Pip. I’m your second father. You’re my son—more to me nor any son. I’ve put away money, only for you to spend’ ” (Dickens 134). The relationship between the two complicates Pip’s sense of consciousness, and shows that there’s much more at work than an economic tension resultant of Marxist class structure.
Society Shifts Pip’s Perception of Beloved Bumpkins
Great Expectations is centered around a reflective narration from an adult character in relation to his childhood. Human nature tends to look for exact moments of change rather than at a gradual shift in character. Moreover, people are naturally biased towards their own actions and opinions and are more likely to distort the reality of the past. We see this in Pip’s retelling of Estella’s mockery of his rural background. In all reality, it is unlikely that his character changed in that one split second. Rather, humans gradually undergo change as a result of the day-to-day occurrences of their lives. It is unlikely that Pip would notice all of these subtle changes, and consequently he instead attributes the source of his change to the most significant event he remembers. As a result, we can infer that Pip is a somewhat unreliable narrator and we must take his account of the story with a grain of salt.
One of the strongest points of comparison between Pip’s views of the world as a child versus an adult occurs in relation to Joe. Joe raised Pip and was essentially a fatherly/brotherly figure in his life, and was idolized as such. Even when a young Pip discovers that Joe is illiterate, it does not seem to damage his admiration for the man, and he displays no scorn for this lack of knowledge. However, Pip’s changing mindset eventually results in him viewing Joe as an embarrassment due to his ratty clothes and ignorance. According to Pip, this change takes place when he becomes aware of his own shortcomings in comparison to Estella: “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.”
This unreliability may also come into play with the nature of Pip’s childhood. Although this is never expressed in so many words, it is clear that Pip grew up in an abusive environment, and suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his sister Mrs. Joe, who is portrayed as an overbearing matriarchal figure who perpetually bemoans Pip’s existence. Looking at these events through the lens of his changed adult perspective, the reader is forced to question whether or not Pip’s change in perspective would impact his views of his upbringing. Pip’s disparaging description of his childhood could be a way in which his older-self attempts to deny his origins and attempts to distance himself from the rural bumpkins and their general mentality. It is possible that Pip could have been perfectly content with his life as a child, and it is equally possible that his sister was not the abusive monster she was depicted as. However, with the benefit of hindsight, an older, more “worldly” Pip could have a corrupted view of his childhood–or even outright lie about said childhood–in order to justify his new found elevated place in society.
It is important to note, however, that these ideas are purely speculation made possible by the fact that Pip is an unreliable first-person narrator. #boom
Group 5 – Matt Spitzer, Kristen Druse, Klarisa Loft, Joe Fennie, and Courtney Cavallo
Group 4 is claiming that Pip is an unreliable narrator throughout the novel. However, we have to disagree, for we believe that Pip becomes more reliable as the story progresses. Once he enters the world of the higher classes, he gradually gains perspective. He meets various new circumstances that he would’ve have been sheltered from otherwise as well as surrounds himself with people who offer multiple perspectives, educating him on different ways of thinking and how certain people function as opposed to others. For example, in relation to Joe Gargery, Pip thinks of him as weak in the beginning because Mrs. Joe runs the household and he submits to anything she says. He also speaks negatively about his sister:
“and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand. She was not a good-looking woman, my sister; and I had a general impression that she must have made Joe Gargery marry her by hand” (Dickens 12)
Pip sees himself and Joe as complete equals, demonstrating a little lack of respect as opposed to Mrs. Joe. However, he is basically calling her ugly in this passage as well. Pip’s views on Joe in particular are very one-sided, likely due to the fact that they are essentially all he has known throughout his life as a child.
When Pip enters into society, through the assistance of Magwitch and Miss Havisham, he gradually gains perspective on what other people are like as well as the fact that there are multiple sides to every person as well as situation. This is proven when he returns to Miss Havisham’s after some time in society and wants to protect Joe from both her and Estella and the way they would treat him as well as the other negative things society presented to a person like Joe: “Ah me! I thought those were high and great emotions. But I never thought there was anything low and small in my keeping away from Joe, because I knew she would be contemptuous of him. It was but a day gone, and Joe had brought tears into my eyes; they had soon dried, God forgive me! soon dried” (Dickens 187). Pip is now recognizing that there is more to Joe and that he can sympathize with him as well as protect him from the things that Pip himself has experienced since entering the privileged world.
Group 2 Response
Marx’s theory of consciousness posits class distinctions as the main contributing factor to self-consciousness, claiming that class-consciousness requires each person to recognize their place in the hierarchical class system. In Great Expectations Dickens casts Pip into this Marxian construction of self-consciousness and depicts the result of this scenario through the interaction between Estella and Pip and his subsequent reflection in the Havisham garden. This is not to say that Pip’s consciousness is limited to only this Marxian interpretation, but that this is a sort of starting point for Pip’s perceptions of himself.
Pip’s journey through Great Expectations is one of constantly shifting self-perception. Pip’s views of himself and of others change as he is made aware of and journeys through the various social strata of Victorian England. The first place this becomes apparent in the novel is after his first meeting with Estella, a young woman quite distant from him both emotionally and fiscally. After being mercilessly mocked by the young heiress, Pip reflects, “I took the opportunity of being alone in the courtyard to look at my coarse hands and my common boots. My opinion of those accessories was not favorable. They had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages. I determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards Jacks, which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too.” Estella’s outside perspective on Pip’s social standing strips away his views of himself as anything more than just a member of an economic class. Before this point, Pip had never thought of Joe as lacking in any way, but had in fact looked up to him and found solace in his father-figure presence. Pip presumably never realized that there was anything wrong with his coarse hands or common boots until Estella pointed them out, insultingly. There is a sense of judgment felt coming from Estella toward Pip based on appearance and behavior (calling knaves Jacks; “Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.”)
As Pip rises through social classes, his perceptions of how he used to live and the people he used to think of as peers changes dramatically. Once he becomes genteel and lives in London, he looks at Joe Gargery as someone to be ashamed of and tries to associate with him as little as possible. Pip only acknowledges his positive feelings towards Joe when he is sick to the point of near-death and feverish enough to drop his upper crust facade. Pip forgets about the gulf in status between him and Joe and simply appreciates his old friend for who he is again: “For the tenderness of Joe was so beautifully proportioned to my need, that I was like a child in his hands. He would sit and talk to me in the old confidence, and with the old simplicity, and in the old unassertive protecting way, so that I would half believe that all my life since the days of the old kitchen was one of the mental troubles of the fever that was gone.” We can see in this perspective shift that Pip’s sense of self is not completely wrapped up in his social standing, but also by his physical location and well-being.
Group Members: Michael Adams, Hannah Glaser, Colin Peartree, Mike Stoianoff, Kevin O’Connor
Although we agree with Group Two’s application of Marx’s theory of social classes to Dickens’ character of Pip in Great Expectations, it is also important to expand on this interpretation. Marx did believe that one’s sense of self and self-consciousness was formed largely to the recognition of one’s social class standing in society; however, Marx was not primarily concerned with individuals but with society as a whole. He recognized the drastic division between the proletariats and the bourgeois, and the complications this divided social class strata caused. His solution to this problem, laid out in his Communist Manifesto, was to essentially eliminate social classes and private property in order to do away with the great divide between social classes and prevent the wealthier classes from taking advantage of the poorer, working classes.
If we apply this view of Marxist theory to Great Expectations, we can view Pip’s awareness of his sense of self in society on a broader scale. By using the prissy and snobbish Estella—a girl who presumably has not done a day of hard work in her life—who looks down on the “common laborers” such as Pip and Jo, Dickens shows how the bourgeois unfairly abuse and look down upon the lower, working classes. The great differences between Pip and Estella represent the tension and division that existed between the lower classes and upper classes in Victorian England. Viewing Great Expectations through a Marxist lens, we therefore can view Pip’s recognition of his status in the social classes and his awareness of his sense of self not as an individualistic occurrence, but as a revelation that reveals the larger problems that Marx and Dickens were addressing about society as a whole.
The insightful post put up by Group 5 speculates on what theory of the conscious used in the 19th Century was most prevalent in Great Expectations, specifically regarding the character of Pip. While it is certainly possible that Dickens had little knowledge of some or many of these competing theories, our view largely agrees with that of Group 5 in that we feel that the belief in a consciousness that is warped and shaped by external factors in one’s life is the most apparent one present in Pip’s development. The reason for this can be seen when examining how he might have come to think and act the way he did as a child, and how his personality changed once new circumstances arose in his life.
From the beginning, we see certain traits of Pip that could only have resulted from the way he was raised, in reaction to external forces: his feelings of indebtedness and guilt that stem from his domineering relatives. Pip is constantly reminded of how low and burdensome he is by his sister and uncle, giving him a low opinion of his own abilities and skills from the outset, while being inflicted with constant pangs and panics of fear: whenever he fears he is doing something wrong, Pip is always riddled with guilt and apprehension of being caught, imagining the cows he passes accusing him of theft or believing that the soldiers in his village came solely for him. This comes again from his family: his relatives constantly regard him as a dishonest liar constantly up to no good, and the constant thrashings he receives from his sister make him terrified of being suspected. Their belief in his duplicitous nature is so strong that he chooses to actually lie to his sister after returning from the Havisham home rather than tell her what really happened, simply because he knew he would not be believed anyways.
At the same time, though, he also feels no shame at his place in life – a poor boy in a poor house – because he has never been taught to expect anything greater from himself. Every person around him is as poor as he is, though some make pretenses otherwise, and he never contemplates his lot in life. It’s not until another outside stimulus – his visit to the Havisham home – happens that he starts to resent who he is and how he was raised – after Estella mocks his habit of calling knaves “jacks” and his rough hands, he begins to notice how “common” he is as well, noting that “Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.” Pip’s conscious identity is changed only when it is prompted by others – the external becomes internal. In this sense, we can see that Pip’s development is reliant on an understanding of the mind that assumes the supremacy of the outside on the inside, and the forces around us changing who we are within.
Group 3 makes a compelling argument, but we in Group 1 disagree that Pip’s internal processing is determined entirely by the external pressures in his life. While they do play a large role in his development, they are not the only things affecting it. From the passages that we selected, this becomes more clear. True, Pip does spend a lot of time commenting on the changes in his life, but this would be impossible without some source for comparison. When Pip makes reflective statements, he often hints that he has knowledge that his behavior is not always correct. For example, he says, outright: “Their influence on my own character I disguised from my recognition as much as possible, but I knew very well that it was not all good” (207). Furthermore, we can see that Pip, although brought up in a less than ideal situation, still managed to extract some kind of morality from his upbringing. This is evidenced in the same paragraph when Pip admits, “I lived in a state of chronic uneasiness respecting my behavior to Joe”(207). Throughout the novel, we see similar examples of external pressures shaping Pip’s consciousness, but to ignore the internal pressures that contribute to Pip’s growth would be irresponsible.
Group 1: Lizzie, Audrey, Jenna, and Alexis
Great Expectations is Pip’s bildungsroman from a 7-year old abused orphan to the present narrator of the story and as such, tracks his psychological development that accompanies physical growth. As a group, we focused on the changes in class consciousness and personal identity that Pip undergoes throughout the novel which becomes his main drive for self-improvement. We observe that as Pip encounters places and people of different social statuses, he becomes increasingly aware of the social hierarchy and increasingly obsessed with climbing it. The initial switch happens when he meets Mrs. Havisham and Estella. Before visiting them, he hardly seems aware of the class structures that exist around him, let alone the class category he falls into.
But after being exposed to Miss Havisham and Estella, he sees everything they have that he doesn’t and soon longs to become a member of their social class as opposed to his own, that he now is aware is considered the “lower” class. After his first visit, Pip reflects on the experience stating, “I set off on the four-mile walk to our forge; pondering, as I went along, on all I had seen, and deeply revolving that I was a common labouring-boy; that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks; that I was much more ignorant than I had considered myself last night, and generally that I was in a low-lived bad way” (Dickens, 55). Exemplified here is the start of Pip’s self-reflection which leads to the development of self-consciousness about where he is and who he is in relation to others and the world around him. Aspects of himself like his coarse hands, his propensity to call knaves Jacks, or the thick boots he wears are the kinds of things that beforehand went unrealized but what he now conceives as what makes him a “common labouring-boy” unlike members of the upper-class, which Miss Havisham and Estella exemplify. Enthralled with Estella, Pip then endeavors to become a member of her social class as opposed to a blacksmith’s apprentice; he aspires to be an educated gentleman and gets tutored by Biddy in his effort to transform the life his is “disgusted” with.
However, Pip’s self awareness runs deeper than merely understanding differences in class structure. He also recognizes how his own realization of class and the subsequent drive to transcend the hierarchy has affected his personality:
As I had grown accustomed to my expectations, I had insensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and those around me. Their influence on my own character I disguised from my recognition as much as possible, but I knew very well that it was not all good. I lived in a state of chronic uneasiness respecting my behavior to Joe. My conscience was not by any means comfortable about Biddy. When I woke up in the night,—like Camilla,—I used to think, with a weariness on my spirits, that I should have been happier and better if I had never seen Miss Havisham’s face, and had risen to manhood content to be partners with Joe in the honest old forge. Many a time of an evening, when I sat alone looking at the fire, I thought, after all there was no fire like the forge fire and the kitchen fire at home. Yet Estella was so inseparable from all my restlessness and disquiet of mind, that I really fell into confusion as to the limits of my own part in its production. (207)
Here, Pip is echoing the statement he made in the beginning of the novel, “Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses man or boy but when, in the case of a boy… it is (as I can testify) a great punishment.” (Gutenberg, 22) Pip’s development of class consciousness led him to pursue a life in which he condemned and ignored those closest to him in his efforts to be someone else. However, the development of his conscience had positive effects on Pip’s development as well, as it facilitated self-analysis, which speaks to Dickens endeavor to unite England’s socioeconomic atmosphere in an effort to encourage reform.
We certainly agree with Group 1’s reading of Pip’s shift in consciousness as being a direct result of his encounter with Estella whose disdain for his social standing, appearance and overall manner pushes Pip to grow more self-aware of his place in society. This point does echo our acknowledgement of the Marxist interpretation that external circumstances, social hierarchy in particular, do have a noticeable impact on an individual’s consciousness.
Group 1’s point about Pip’s awareness of his own self-awareness, as depicted at the beginning of chapter 34, is a good example of Pip having developed a clearer viewpoint on the events of his change in consciousness as he looks at it in hindsight. Pip’s awareness of his own thoughts and opinions, as they changed when he was a child, showcases to an extent the complexity of his understanding of the differences between right and wrong. An example of this interpretation is when Joe visits Pip in London; Pip’s careful observation of Joe’s shabby appearance compared to his own polished one gives way to Pip’s slightly judgmental tone and Joe’s unease with the more grown-up Pip, as evidenced in the way he calls him “sir”. The scene of discomfort on the part of both men is best described by Pip as an adult when he says, “I had neither the good sense nor the good feeling to know that this was all my fault, and that if I had been easier with Joe, Joe would have been easier with me” (Norton 172).
Pip as an adult is fully aware of the mistake that he made in treating Joe like a stranger, but it is only in hindsight that Pip gains an awareness of his past words and actions. This double consciousness of Pip as an adult and Pip as a child shows the clear transition into manhood and self-awareness that Pip started when he met Estella and finished after his move to the more upscale life in London.