Thick Boots, Dirty Hands, and Mind-Forg’d Manacles

“Proud, pretty, and insulting,” these are the traits that Pip assigns to his tormentor, Estella. Upon this first interaction, Pip is astutely aware of her condescension and describes feeling: “humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry,—I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart—God knows what its name was,—that tears started to my eyes” (Chapter VIII), simply because she has pointed out the coarse texture of his hands and the thickness of his boots. Estella’s acknowledgment of the traits that make him “common” and beneath the rank of herself and Miss Havisham aloud makes Pip suddenly regards these qualities as “vulgar appendages.” As a result, he hosts a rage of animosity on this part, and cries himself into a fit of self-pity. This sudden awareness of class hierarchies and high brow mannerisms reminds me of William Blakes’s poem, “London,” particularly the lines: “Marks of weakness, marks of woe. /In every cry of every Man/The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.” Blakes’ observations seems a fitting description for Pips despair after being degraded by Estella. Like the men Blake observe, Pip is bound by the mind-forg’d manacles that distinguish him as a “commoner” and is ashamed of the coarse texture of his hands and thickness of his boots because it insinuates he does not indeed, spend his time playing cards by the fire but rather, engages in manual labour that makes him “ignorant and backward.” 

Interestingly enough, Pip’s  reaction to Estella’s remark by wishing to return home in an attempt to escape from her mean criticisms resembles Heathcliff’s reaction to Catherine when she returns to Wuthering Heights after her confinement in the Grange and proceeds to laugh at him about his appearance: “What are you sulky for?  It was only that you looked odd. If you wash your face and brush your hair, it will be all right: but you are so dirty!” (Chapter VII). Unlike Pip, who remains calm until out of sight of his bully, Heathcliff declares to Catherine: “‘You needn’t have touched me! I shall be as dirty as I please: and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty” and then rudely dashes out of the room to nurse his wounds. What I find interesting about Pip and Heathcliff’s shared circumstance is the methods in which Blakes’ “mind-forg’d manacles” begin to represent the shame both Pip and Heathcliff feel after being criticised by young girls of the upper class and the ways in which the shame that restricts them to the lower class guides their desire for self-improvement.  

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