Charles Dickens Portrays Pips life as a harsh struggle to survive against his cruel sister and the intimidating events unfolding around him. Although this appears to be traumatic in the modern sense of the issue, society has changed since the Dickensian era and Pip’s early years would be far less scarring to a young boy when set in context to the common attitudes of the time. However, with the fearful encounter with Magwitch and the diminishing experience of Estella, is pip subjected to much worse suffering than the average Victorian lad?
We learn almost immediately that pip leads a sad life and was orphaned at an early age. Dickens cleverly uses the opening page of the novel to display Pips isolated situation, which he builds the rest of the story upon. We quickly learn about Pips great imagination, which is an important factor in his disturbing life ahead as it causes his problems to become exaggerated and far worse than they actually are in reality. Pips imagination is shown by his ability to picture his parents from the inscriptions on their tombstones. The opening chapter is a very important event in Pips life as it is the basis of his future and is certainly a traumatic one.
Magwitch’s appearance is described as being ‘coarse’ and ‘muddy’ with ‘leg irons’. To a young impressionable child this is a very disturbing image and would easily scare him. Also, Magwitchs horrific threats about the ‘young man’ that is capable of tearing Pip apart, even in the safety of his own bed, and removing his liver to eat. To Pip, this is terrifying as it means he is never safe from the evil animal-like beast that is after him. It also plays havoc with his imagination and causes him to become an even more brutal creature than he really is.
Pips home life is by no means a safe environment due to Mrs. Joe harsh upbringing ‘by hand’. This means Pip has been brought up by the stick more than the carrot and has subsequently been on the receiving end of many thrashings with ‘tickler’. Tickler represents more than a disciplinary tool but symbolises the brutality with which he has been raised. As well as the ‘tickler’ Mrs Joe also uses ‘tar water’ to punish Pip. Mrs Joe does not show any compassion towards Pip and regrets bringing him up:
“Its bad enough being a blacksmiths wife without being your mother”
In a BBC production of GREAT EXPECTATIONS I have watched, Mrs Joe is seen cleaning Pip very viscously by scrubbing him forcefully with a brush. This shows she has no care for his well-being and that she takes pleasure from harming him in a sadistic way. Mrs Joe emotional abuses Pip as well as physically by making him feel guilty for being born. Pip feels like he is “treated as if he had insisted on being born”. This feeling of guilt makes Pip a very lonely and isolated figure in a loveless environment. This is very hard for a growing child who naturally depends on love and support from other people.
However, Pip is not totally alone and finds companionship in Joe. Pip treats Joe as his ‘equal’ and confides in him:
” ‘You and me is friends forever’ “
Joe and Pip are brought together by one common factor: Mrs Joe. They are both fellow sufferers of her and often help each other to avoid her wrath. We see an example of Joe’s protectiveness of Pip when he returns home late from the marshes and Joe ‘fences’ him up the chimney “with his great leg”. Joe encourages Pips education and is easily impressed by Pip’s knowledge which helps Pip feel proud about himself.
Pips education is also a painful part of his life. In the Victorian times there was no state education and any type of learning was voluntary. Education was referred to as ‘the ladder of gold’ in those days as it usually led to high paid professions and wealth. Only the rich folk could afford proper tutors whom taught their scholars Latin and other prestigious subjects. The standard child’s education was at a dame school, which were commonly run by an old lady with little more knowledge than her students. These schools were very poorly run as shown in GREAT EXPECTATIONS by the dame often falling asleep. Pips education at the dame school is very poor and he finds himself being taught more by Biddy. Biddy is the only person his age that he is friendly with during his childhood. Pip finds it difficult to learn and claims he “struggled through the alphabet as if it were a bramble bush”. This is very important to him as it allows him to escape the torture of Mrs Joe and become a real child.
Mrs Joe does not encourage Pip’s education as she sees it as a source of inquisitiveness, which irritates her. Mrs Joe uses fear to manipulate Pip and stop him asking questions. She plays on his imagination by scaring him with tales of questions being the beginning of a life of crime concluding in a sentence in the hulks.
Joe also encourages Pips education by his desire make him his apprentice. Apprenticeships in this era were very different to the modern apprenticeship. The master of the apprentice had full control over his scholar and often imposed harsh rules upon him and punished him severely for any bad habits or behaviour. The apprenticeship was very much similar to a prison sentence and involved long hard hours of labour. A blacksmith would be a very skilled trade in a village in the Victorian era and would be a good craft to learn for Pip. Initially Pip is delighted by the idea and believes Joe and himself will have great ‘larx’ together. However, the Pip soon feels the apprenticeship is a punishment and desires nothing else but to become a gentleman.
Pips childhood is made even more distressing by his visits to Satis house. Pip is intimidated by Mrs Havisham and fears upsetting her. This is not because of her reputation but because of Mrs Joe’s expectations for him to succeed in impressing her and gaining wealth. Pip is a very vulnerable child and is even more open to troment from Estella as a result of his love for her. Estella makes Pip feel very dissatisfied with his upbringing and insults him about his background. She mocks his ‘coarse’ hands, which represent a life of hard work in the forge, and teases him for calling the ‘knaves’, ‘jacks’. This upsets Pip at the heart of his soul as it destroys the only thing important to him, which is his proudness of Joe. The experiences at Satis house affect Pip very deeply and cause him to be confused and resent his common childhood. This is made even more antagonizing by his affection for Estella and desire to impress her.
Pip’s brutal upbringing was not an uncommon event in the past and many people suffered during their early years. In GREAT EXPECTATIONS many of the characters were subjected to a painful childhood like Pip. Joe Gargery’s father was an alcoholic who regularly beat Joe and his mother. This is one of the reasons Joe is seen as a calm and mild mannered man as he does not want to be like his father and therefore would never hit Mrs Joe. Miss Havisham also suffered as a child, which is ironic as she too subjects Estella to a life of misery by, perverted her mind. Society has changed dramatically since Queen Victoria’s reign and the kind of treatment displayed in GREAT EXPECTATIONS is no longer accepted today. In the past child abuse was a common part of people lives. Without the correct governing bodies and rights, there was no way of preventing this cruel torture.
Pip may have suffered emotionally and physically from Mrs Joes abuse and the frightening events in his life but he has also been subjected to a reasonably comfortable life. Most children, especially the orphans like Pip, were forced to work in appalling conditions in the mines and factories were they toiled long arduous hours and suffered many illnesses. A lot of children grew up deformed due to the constant cramped conditions and repetitive work. Pip has been allowed to live an easy life without having to work for his existence. Mrs Joe’s complaints about Pips lack of respect for what she has done for him were quite justifiable in a society were children had to work for their food and lodge. Charles Dickens himself worked in a blacking factory in London whilst his father was in prison for debt. This was a very traumatic time for him and is reflected in many of his books.
In my opinion Pip has been subjected to a traumatic life due to the sorrowful deaths of his parents and the harsh punishments he has suffered from Mrs Joe. I believe a childhood is about learning about the world around you and enjoying yourself while you have very little responsibilities to worry about. However, I feel Pip has had a fairly standard life when placed in context with the society of the era and he has faced very little danger and suffering when compared to the pitiful lives of many other children in those days.