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Change occurs constantly. This can happen unbeknownst to people; yet, at the same time, people can induce changes within themselves. This concept is obviously noticeable with Pip, the main character and narrator of the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. A major theme in Great Expectations is the definition of a true “gentleman.” The notion of what a gentleman is metamorphosizes and develops within Pip’s mind throughout the story. In time, Pip will eventually become one in the true sense that he displays an understanding of proper morals and attitudes, acting accordingly. Great Expectations traces the change in Pip’s moral development as he becomes a gentleman. This transformation is marked by three distinct stages: guilt/fear, self-interest, and altruism.
In tracing the development of Pip’s character, one discovers that Pip’s morals are in need of development when he is young, for he acts out of fear and experiences guilt. At the beginning of Great Expectations, Pip is seven years old. Pip is vulnerable at such an early age. Like clay that is not yet hardened, he is to be molded by “potters’ hands” – the people and other influences around him. Pip’s first profound initiation of fear, which dictates his thoughts and actions, stems from his first encounter with Magwitch. In reference to wanting a file and “wittles” (victuals), Magwitch says the following to Pip:”You bring them both to me, or I’ll have your heart and liver out!” (Ch. 1, p. 3 7)
The fear of authority and pain dominates Pip’s thoughts and influences his actions. The influence is so profound that Pip, reacting out of fear, robs Mrs. Joe. In response to this, Pip feels guilty, which begets more fear, as demonstrated through his vivid imagination:
“But I ran no further than the house door, for there I ran head foremost into a party of soldiers with their muskets: one of whom held out a pair of handcuffs to me, saying, ‘Here you are, look sharp, come on!”‘ (Ch. 4, p. 61)
The soldiers were not there to arrest him but guilt and fear altered Pip’s thoughts into believing so. Later, Pip’s fear of authority is further shown in his response to Mrs. Joe. The fear of being misunderstood and also of physical abuse leads Pip to lie about his encounter with Miss Havisham at Satis House.Pip feels guilty and confesses to Joe. To change into a true gentleman, Pip will first have to mature and develop a proper sense of morals rather than act out
of guilt and fear.
Pip is characterized by acting out of self-interest throughout Stage Two of Great Expectations. Ironically, Pip thinks he is a gentleman but truly is not one, for he primarily thinks about himself His great concern becomes appearance and style- possessions equal prestige. Pip squanders money by hiring the Avenger, overstocking on furniture, and becoming a member of the Finches of the Groves. These facades in this stage stem from his newfound expectations. However, these expectations and Pip’s self-interest are the sources of his unhappiness.
“We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton of truth that we never did.” (Ch. 34, p. 294)
Pip’s concern for himself has led him to become a phony, rather than a true gentleman whose concern is for others. Through another great expectation, the want of Estella’s love, Pip is now easily deceived when dealing with the truth, and his infatuation has led to irrational thinking. Estella is truly a disappointment; and though Pip knows better not to, he remains infatuated with her. Pip is so full of expectations rather than hope at this point that he does not recognize Miss Havisham’s vengefulness in urging him to love Estella. He consequently is so wrapped up in himself that he forgets about others, like Joe. To truly become a gentleman, Pip’s selfishness and expectations must cease to exist.
The final stage in Great Expectations is marked by Pip’s growth in altruism. Pip becomes softened and develops into a true gentleman with proper morals. One example which demonstrates Pip’s change is his attitude toward Magwitch, his benefactor. Pip has transformed in that he once felt disgust for him but now feels a genuine concern and compassion for him. His reverence for appearances is gone and he is able to give himself to a man who appears ignoble, as demonstrated during a scene in the courtroom:
“He went last of all, because of having to be helped from his chair and to go very slowly; and he held my hand while all the others
were removed, and while the audience got up and pointed down at this criminal or at that, and most of all at him and me.” (Ch. 56, pp. 467-468)
Pip furthermore shows a true, unselfish love for Magwitch by appealing for his life. Pip also gives of himself to help his friend Herbert. He sacrifices his own money as well as a chance to gain more money for himself, just to see that Herbert can have a better life. Finally, Pip, like a true gentleman, risks his own safety for others. Pip does this for Miss Havisham, demonstrating his maturation by showing compassion for someone who used him instead of enacting revenge. Pip has become a man for others and displays a sense of just morals by Great Expectations’ end.
The change in one’s moral character takes time, but nonetheless, it is not an impossible task to accomplish. Just as Pip has shown, the moral development of a person into someone who is truly just does not occur overnight. Often, it requires stages, and one must often go through tough times and learn from mistakes in order to develop. The concepts of change itself and the change in moral development are essential themes not to be overlooked in Great Expectations, A reader with an awareness of these things will realize that he or she too can, in time, change himself or herself. In conclusion, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations chronicles the change in Pip and his moral development into a gentleman from the time he was a boy to the time he was a man.
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