The Picture of Philip Pirrip

So, like usual, I’m going to be an improper student and connect Great Expectations to an outside-of-the-class text. This time it’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I’m reading for my Europe in the Age of Revolutions class (which offers me a lot of historic/political context to the texts we’re reading). When Pip feels shame over the origin of his fortune stemming from Magwitch, a criminal, I could not help but think of Dorian Gray and his own upswing in “fortune” brought about by the introduction of portrait in his life. The portrait gives Dorian eternal youth, and merely at the cost of his humanity – and the deaths of several men and women who crossed his path. Pip feels the guilt, though none of the transpired events were his fault; Dorian has no such inhibitions, and in fact relishes in the new vitality that his mirror image has given him. In effect, both characters were given a new chance at life, a chance to rebirth themselves and experience life anew. Dorian, however, was tainted from the outset, as he was unable to empathize with anyone other than himself. Coincidentally, he also started as an aristocrat. Pip, on the other hand, began life as part of the disenfranchised working class. Dorian and Pip spend their days performing much of the same activities: absolutely nothing. Pip though commits only benign acts for the most part, simply happy to be flush with so much wealth and just buys material things. Dorian lives as a hedonist, following the advice of his friend Lord Henry. He drinks, whores, and drugs his way through the London underground even as he continues to hold the visage of a perfectly upright gentleman. Fundamentally, I think the reason for their difference in outlook is not because Pip started humble, or because Pip just naturally had a more developed sense of morality; humility and kindness can be taught. Rather, it is Dorian’s inability to accept the natural way of things: he will get older, he may get poorer, and he will be unable to accomplish everything life has to offer before he dies. Pip just seems to be happy to be along for the ride, and has not yet terribly exploited those around him (though his treatment of Joe I find frequently heartbreaking). I could see Pip becoming much like Dorian if he is unable to control his urges, and finds his new status on top of the hill somehow too sweet to lose. Perhaps his metaphorical portrait is his desire for Estella, something that can push him into forgoing his humanity in the pursuit of something unattainable.

Let’s just hope he won’t become a aristocratic vampire-lich; that role belongs to Miss Havisham.

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