Written by Kelsey Teglash and co-written by Rachel Campbell
Group members: Kelsey Teglash, Rachel Campbell, Peter Cala, John Panus, and Nikkel Gohel
David Parossiens essay “’If You Knew all My Story’… The Rhetoric of Pip’s Tale” discusses how Dickens cleverly uses Pip’s first person narration to tell his story with a perspective that is “detached and generally distanced from the matter he tells”. As both the novel’s protagonist and narrator Pip takes on the dual responsibility of moving the plot forward through his actions as well as shaping the perception of the reader through his narration. With this in mind, Pip can be seen as two separate entities; character Pip who the reader can see react to the events surrounding him, and narrator Pip who reflects upon these events with perspective and a greater sense of maturity. Parossiens argues that the skill of Dickens in Great Expectations is in his ability to easily move from one perspective to another and bring the periods of the characters together in order to provide the reader with a more comprehensive outlook. The shadow of the narrating Pip can easily be seen throughout the entire book, but is seen for the first time in Chapter 4 on Christmas day when Pip and Joe are on their way to church. Language like ‘vicariously’, ‘Sunday penitentials’’, and ‘reformatory’, are terms and concepts far beyond that of a six year old, particularly one that cannot properly pronounce his full name. The older, narrating Pip uses this language to infuse the passage with a sense of greater insight.
In her essay “Early Stream-of-Consciousness Writing: Great Expectations” Ann B. Dobie adds support to Parossiens argument by noting the difference between surrealist writing and stream-of-consciousness writing. She asserts that Great Expectations should be viewed as a stream-of-consciousness novel rather than a surrealistic novel. Going on to explain that as a memoir the older Pip is doing all at once, it accurately fits the template of the stream-of-consciousness writer. This is one who attempts to re-create the subconscious mental state of the character whereas the surrealists use automatic writing to obtain the suggestions of the subconscious mental states (Dobie 407). The shadowing narrator reflects on his past with a different viewpoint than his younger self because he was awakened to the reality of the world. Dobie argues that “For a child there is no clean-cut separation between his imagination and his surroundings. Instead, there is a fusion of the two which is comparable to the fusion by the artist of the individual and the world around him, the internal and the external. Thus there is an inevitable blending of the two in an individual consciousness” (Dobie 408). This easily explains the largest contrast between character and narrator Pip in the beginning of the novel. Six year old Pip is a developing character who is constantly being “molded and remolded” by the events and people in his life (Dobie 409). Reading the events of younger Pips life and his “molding” while the older Pip provides insight into the lasting effect of these events invites the reader into his world completely. However, as a narrator we are only seeing Pip’s world from his perspective. Unlike in Bleak House, the narration is only provided by the elderly Pip who is recalling decades of information in one retelling.
A different perspective is taken when our group came across Rupert Christiansen’s article “What are we Meant to Think of Pip?” While not completely negating Parossiens and Dobie’s argument he mentions that while Pip seems to be a reliable narrator he leaves a lot out. Christiansen notes that the critical information about why he is telling his story his circumstances after with Estella in his mid-30s is absent. In Chapter 14 he refers to his present as ‘occasions in my later life” leaving the reader to constantly question the true effect of the conclusion of his days as young Pip the character.
Christiansen then goes on to examine Pip the narrator from an outside perspective in an attempt to do away with the bias of the first person point-of-view. He argues that Pip the narrator is being unnecessarily harsh and critical of his former self without any real reason. When Pip receives his “great expectations” and desires to leave the forge and become part of a higher class of society, this, the critic argues, is the natural reaction “…anyone in his position would have done when offered a golden opportunity to escape the humdrum, and his subsequent embarrassment and discomfort at Joe’s awkward manners is entirely natural”. Even Pip’s discovery that Magwitch is (Don’t look Peter) the benefactor and his initial disgust and dread of this new discovery that he later beats himself up for is what would be expected of anyone else in the same situation. Magwitch is a convict–possibly a very dangerous one–who scared the crap out of Pip when he was a little boy in the graveyard. It is only logical, the critic contends, for Pip to have had the reaction he did. Thus, the older Pip’s commentary on his younger self is overly self-deprecating, and Christiansen leaves us with a question to contemplate: “Pip seems to think everything is his fault, but what does he actually have to be ashamed about?”
Potential Ideas for an Interpretive Question:
- What does the adult Pip believe he has reason to be ashamed of and how does that compare to what the young Pip was ashamed of as a child?
- Is older Pip being too hard on himself as the last critic argues?
- Is there validity to young Pip’s shame in older Pip’s eyes?
Christiansen, Rupert. “Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.” ‘Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations’ N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Dobie, Ann B. “Early Stream-of-Consciousness Writing: Great Expectations.”Nineteenth-Century Fiction 25.4 (1971): 405-16. Web.
Paroissien, David. “‘if You Knew all My Story…’: The Rhetoric of Pip’s Tale.” The Dickensian 106.482 (2010): 227,234,196.ProQuest. Web.