'Great Expectations' as a Bildungsroman Novel: Pip’s Moral Regeneration

Great Expectations can be said as a study of human psychological development and a Bildungsroman novel. This is Dickens’s distinctive style plot that while developing plot structure he, at the same times, externalizes the inner workings in Pip’s psyche. To serve the purpose, his adoption of first person narration, of course, plays a good part both in developing plot and facilitating the readers to have a close glimpse of the central figure in the novel, Pip. In one sense, this grand and huge novel, voluminous can be called a work dealing with the moral regeneration of Pip.

The outliving may be like this- Pip gets a chance from an unknown benefactor (Magwitch) to be a gentleman, his original moral strength and values are dimmed/ blurred/ clouded coming in contact with a London higher class embedded in money, show, pride and revenge and false gentility. However, Pip being a snob at this time can not detect the dark side of this luxurious social class and keeps himself aloof from his real well-wishers and childhood friends like Joe, Biddy, and pays respect and homage to people like Miss Havisham, Jagger. Gradually through the novelist’s dramatic techniques of suspense, humor, dialogue and denouement, the knots of the incidents are opened and Pip recognizes his real benefactor ( Magwitch – a criminal and convict) and thus is cursed of his snobbish behavior. His moral regeneration starts. The clouds which covered his original goodness pass away and once again he enables to see man as man recognizing the proper worth of basic humanity. At last he retains his original power of morality and returns to his real friends (Joe, Biddy, and his real home, the forge).

From his early boyhood Pip was good, gentle, and morally strong. He does not show any sign of villainy and notoriety at his boyhood. His conscience always keeps awake under the proper guidance of Joe and Biddy. He develops a strong moral sense and good values. However whenever he is forced to commit an evil deed or to tell a lie; he suffers a mental disturbance. In the marsh scene, he is terrified at Magwitch’s ill treatment and he is forced to commit crimes: to steal a file and some food from his sister’s house. Under Magwitch’s threat he promises that he must do so. But after stealing food and a file, he becomes restless and uneasy. He can not get rid of his guilt feelings. He thinks that he has betrayed Joe and his sister. However, he retains his basic humanity and shows pity for an outcast by giving the file and some food and drink to him. Though Pip provided the demanded things to the convict under Magwitch’s force, Pip shows deep compassion for him. This is quite obvious when in the course of their conversation while Magwitch takes the food to the marsh, Pip confesses:

“Pitying his desolation, and watching him as he gradually settled down upon the pie, I made bold to say, `I am glad you enjoy it.'
`Did you speak?'
`I said I was glad you enjoyed it.”

Such a humble life Pip leads in the village with his great friend Joe. He is apprenticed to Joe, the blacksmith. Though he is unhappy to live with his cruel sister, he certainly had consolation as he got love and affection from Joe Gargery.

In fact, Pip’s confrontation with Miss Havisham and Estella and their circle is the turning point in the development of his personality. So, far he had been unconscious about class distinction – he was indifferent that he belonged to a “commoner’s class“. Going to the Satis House he feels for the first time in his life his inferiority complex which was absent in his simple innocent life style. The occasional visits to the Satis House, playing cards with Stella, her scorn of his coarse hands and unpolished manners made him utterly uneasy and disturbed. He lost mental peace and calm. In one hand, he becomes fascinated with Estella’s physical charm and beauty; on the other hand, he is hurt by her scorn and continual torture concerning his belonging lower social class. One seems to be at his horns of dilemma. After a long period of mental torture and frustration, he comes to the point that he must be a gentleman to win his scornful beloved.

In fact, Estella enkindled a fire in his heart to ascend to the social ladder to become a gentleman. Afterwards, Pip’s meeting with Magwitch on the marshes and his help to the latter with food and file is the turning point in Pip’s rising as a gentleman. Magwitch later on works on his project of making a gentleman of Pip through his lawyer Mr. Jaggers.

Thus, Pip has been taken to London to be brought up as a perfect London gentleman according to the wish of the convict Magwitch, his benefactor. But, Pip is kept to be in the dark concerning the supposed identity of his benefactor. However, the young man is, to some extent, feels relaxed and ease thinking that Miss Havisham is his real benefactor and Estella is supposed to be married to him. Gradually, he starts his lessons and other necessary instruction with Mr. Herbert Pocket at London. Very soon he acquires the outward appearance of a “gentleman” along with his growing snobbery. He has undergone a lot of change in his outlook. Previously, he was a commoner who became the butt of extreme scorn and criticism by Estella. Now, he thinks that he has developed a gentlemanly attitude and etiquette. He begins to feel a kind of uneasiness and incongruity for his past life with Joe and his sister at the smithy. His snobbery is made to be exposed on the occasion of Joe’s London tour.

When Biddy, by writing a letter, informs Pip that Joe is coming at London, Pip cannot be happy: rather a growing discomfort seizes him. Inwardly, he does not hope Joe’s coming to meet him at London where Pip lives with a sophisticated society. Pip’s snobbishness rises to such an extent that he once thinks that if it would be possible, he could bid Joe away offering him some money. When Joe meets him, Pip shows a cold and disinterested attitude to him. He feels a sense embarrassment for Joe’s clumsy behavior, loose coat, and old hat. However, Joe clearly recognizes Pip’s treatment of him, and decides not to settle down in his room for the night. Similarly, Pip’s snobbery is obvious when he, on visiting his home town, does not settle down on the smithy with Joe, rather takes a room at an inn. He always feels that if he took shelter at the forge, his newly developed gentlemanliness would be hurt. Thus, Pip betrays his childhood friend Joe and Biddy and his original morality is dammed for the time being. He terms Joe as stupid and common. He has grown into a false man with coming in contact with money and fortune.

Pip holds on to the dream of having Estella until he finds out that she is marrying Drummle. At this moment all of his hopes for Estella are rushed. His self-deception about gentleman and his hope of getting Estella lead to another Pip. He now begins to realize what a horrible man he has become, and that he has shunned all who really care for him. His utterance: “I wish I had never left the forge” shows his moral regeneration.

Pip also begins to spend too much money and goes into debt even with his secret benefactor giving him money. Through the novelist’s dramatic techniques of suspense, humor, dialogue and denouement the knots of the incidents are opened and Pip recognizes his real benefactor- Magwitch a criminal and convict and all his dreams are shattered. He cannot believe a criminal had been supplying him with money all this time.

His moral regeneration starts in this stage. The clouds which covered his original goodness pass away and once again he enables to see man as man recognizing the proper worth of basic humanity. Pip tries to repair all his relationships with people he mistreated and loved. Pip finds Herbert a good job even if it means Pip using some of his own money. Pip also tries to help Magwitch escape. Although Magwitch does not escape, Pip makes Magwitch happy before he dies telling him that he has a daughter and that he is in love with her. Pip also helps Miss Havisham discover the error of her ways. She is happy Pip has shown her this and would like to give Pip some money to help him with his debts. Pip does not take the offer and knows that he himself must work hard to pay off his debts. Pip then goes to his home in the marshes. Joe pays off all his debts and their relationship is now repaired. Pip also meets Little Pip, the symbol of rebirth. Pip fixed all his problems and was never again faced with them because he decided to live with the people he loved, Joe and Biddy, his family.

Pip’s behavior as a gentleman has caused him to hurt the people who care about him most. Once he has learned these lessons and matures into the man.