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In Great Expectations, Pip goes through stages of moral maturity. Over the course of the novel, Pip learns lifelong lessons that result from pain, guilt, and shame. Pip evolves from a young boy filled with shame and guilt to a selfish, young man, and finally into a man who has true concern for others. Pip goes through three stages in the novel; shame and guilt, self-gratification, and his stage of redemption.
The first stage of Pip’s maturity is his shame and guilt. Shame is a feeling brought on by circumstances beyond the control of the person. For example, Pip feels ashamed over how common and coarse he and Joe are. Guilt, on the other hand, is a feeling brought on by one’s actions. An example of this is after Pip beats the pale young gentlemen.
Pip starts off the novel with feelings of guilt but when Pip encounters Estella and Miss Havisham he begins to feel shame as well. Pip feels ashamed about how he is so common. He regrets that Joe is a mere blacksmith and has no education. Pip’s shame is brought on by Estella. Estella points out all of Pip’s common mannerisms and treats Pip as an inferior, even though they are about the same age. She taunts Pip for calling knaves “Jacks”, for wearing thick boots, and for having coarse hands. This makes Pip feel ashamed of things he has never been ashamed of before. His self-esteem is demolished by Estella. Pip thinks to himself: “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very different pair,” From then on, Pip is ashamed of who he is and where he comes from. He doesn’t see himself in the same light as he used to.
Pip’s feelings of guilt are shown after the fight with the young pale gentlemen and the attack of Mrs. Joe. After beating up the boy at Ms. Havisham’s, Pip said he “felt but gloomy satisfaction in my victory. Indeed, I go so far as to hope that I regarded myself while dressing, as a species of savage young wolf, or other wild beasts.”1 Pip is not happy with his behavior. Though Pip feels guilt here, some feelings of pride come over Pip; he did beat up a gentlemen.
The attack upon Mrs. Joe also brings guilt to Pip. The weapon used against Mrs. Joe was an ironed leg-chain. Pip’s guilt comes from his believing that he supplied the weapon. Orlick puts blame on Pip, as well.
“I was at first disposed to believe that I must have had some hand in the attack upon my sister…I was a more legitimate object of suspicion than anyone else.”2
Although Pip was in no way responsible for his sister’s attack, he is filled with guilt.Pip was a young boy riddled with intense feelings of shame and guilt. As a result of this, he undergoes a change in character. Pip is encountered with an opportunity to leave behind his life of being a common labouring boy and on his way to become a gentlemen. Pip is quite pleased with these circumstances because he feels that he will then be accepted by the upper class and, therefor, be able to win Estella over. However, these circumstances bring about a negative change when Pip starts to see himself above others. He becomes a person with characteristics he used to detest. He always hated Mr. Pumblechook’s superficial ways, and now Pip has adopted them. Examples of Pip being superficial is when Joe comes to visit and Pip dreads his arrival only because he is embarrassed by him. When Pip encounters his grand opportunities, he immediately starts acting better than others, even Biddy and Joe. He even goes as far as to say, “I should have been good enough for you, shouldn’t I, Biddy?”3 Pip’s bad attitude of being above everyone continues throughout all of volume 2; his stage of self-gratification. This stage of self-gratification and self-interest eventually leaves Pip with no money and broken-hearted.Pip’s guilt and shame that was mostly brought on by his visits to Miss Havisham’s encouraged his next stage of self-gratification. Pip’s insecurities, guilt, and shame about himself that was caused by Estella made him want to be more like her and the upper class. These insecurities led him to be superficial and self-absorbed.
As Pip is living his new life and enjoying his new fortune, he becomes wrapped up in his own life and concern of what others think of him. He becomes superficial and phony. He loses touch with what truly mattered to him in the beginning of the novel and what should matter to him; his loved ones, the ones who respect for the person he truly was raised to be. Pip’s negative change in attitude can be seen when he receives a letter from Biddy explaining that Joe is coming to visit him in London. Instead of being happy and gracious, Pip does not look forward to seeing Joe. He, in fact, did not want Joe to come at all:
“Not with pleasure…no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid Money.” 4This mean and disrespectful behavior towards Joe, his best friend, the man who raised him, shows a perfect example of where Pip is in this stage of his life. Pip is only concerned with his appearance and what people think of him. He doesn’t want anyone to see Joe and his common ways, especially Drummle. Pip is ashamed of Joe and his past.
Pip’s hiring of the avenger is another example of Pip’s self-gratification. He only hires the Avenger so he can impress Joe and the other people in town. The servant is not even needed in Pip’s small apartment and he doesn’t even like having the Avenger around: “he haunted my existence,”5
Joining the club Finches of the Grove is yet another example of Pip’s self-gratification. The social club had no real function or purpose to Pip except to dine “dine expensively…to quarrel among themselves”6 Pip doesn’t belong in such a club. He even says that “The Finches spent their money foolishly,”7. Despite the negative aspects of the club, he and Herbert join without any hesitation, just so they can be members of high class. The Finches of the Grove does not bring Pip happiness though. Pip says of the club: “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable.”8 This quote shows that Pip would do anything to fit in and to be accepted by upper class, even if it means being miserable. Pip’s priorities were topped off with his concerns of his appearance and reputation.Pip’s stage of self-gratification comes to a downfall when he falls into debt and finally, when he learns Magwitch is his secret benefactor. Before this though, we see some evidence of change. He shows genuine concern for Herbert when he “helps” Herbert obtain his new, successful job. Pip feels genuinely happy for the first time in a while when Herbert tells him how great his job is. Pip is ecstatic by the fact that he helped someone he cared about. “I did really cry in good earnest when I went to bed, to think that my expectations had done some good to somebody.”9 Pip’s final stage of redemption, in which he achieves true selflessness, becomes clear when he starts to take care of Magwitch. Pip realizes he should not judge others based on their appearance, but rather on who they are inside. This point of redemption is made after realizing how grateful he is to Magwitch. At first, Pip is disgusted with Magwitch and wishes he wasn’t his benefactor. Pip goes through a stage of redemption and he has the utmost concern for his loved ones. He realizes how much Magwitch actually loved him and Pip stays by his side until the end. Pip says, “I will never stir from your side…when I am suffered to be near you. Please god, I will be as true to you as you have been to me.”10
This quote shows that people can change. Pip changed after encountering true love. His love for Magwitch was real because he had nothing to gain from him. Pip’s love for Magwitch is true because when Magwitch dies, it puts Pip into a tailspin. Pip becomes physically ill and depressed. Pip now realizes how much he missed Biddy and Joe. He realizes Joe was a true blessing. He is the only thing that has remained constant in Pip’s life; through all the good times and all the bad times. Joe even pays off Pip’s debt and helps Pip get better when he had become ill. Pip says of Joe, “Exactly what he had been in my eyes then, he was in my eyes still; just as simply faithful, and as simply right.”11Pip goes through a big evolution throughout his lifetime. Pip began as an innocent child. When he became unhappy with his life, he left home in search of a better life. He became wrapped up in appearances and being accepted by the upper class society becomes most important to him; self-gratification became the driving force of his actions. This stage starts to disappear when his true benefactor is revealed. He is at first repulsed by Abel Magwitch, but he slowly learns to look beyond a persons’ surface. He finally sees Magwitch as the person he truly is: the person who cared for Pip and changed his life. Pip’s evolution changed him immensely. He learned how to be happy and to not judge a book by its’ cover. By doing generous and kind acts, people can be much happier then if they had all the money in the world. Pip’s evolution was long and painful, but in the end made him a better person then what he was. He learned how to care for others and saw what he had all along- a man who loved him like a son, a man who was there through thick and thin. Joe Gargery was the only constant in Pip’s life. Joe was the same man at the end of the novel that he was in the beginning. Shame and guilt never took control of him; that is why he was able to save Pip. In the end, Pip manages to become a respectful, true gentlemen.
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