Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Theme of Victimization in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations

Dickens’s novel “Great Expectations” deals with several themes and the theme of victimization is one of them. In Dickens’s world, one character becomes the victim of other character. Sometimes they are victim of society, circumstances and of law. In that sense, the novel is a socially conscious one who stands very close to reality dealing with the problems and harshness of the real world. The three major characters in the novel: Pip, Magwitch and Joe can be described in context of the theme of victimization.

Magwitch: A victim of Compeyson

Let us discuss first the character of Abel Magwitch, one of the most interesting figures. The characterization of Magwitch, of course, reveals the theme of victimization more powerfully than any other character in the novel. Really, this was Dickens’s central concern to convey the brutality and harshness of the law and society in the Victorian England by creating a dominant character who is victimized by the outer world- state, law, etc led him to early crime and punishment by an indifferent ad hostile society. However he was not a born criminal or rogue out and out. His primary criminalities involved stealing food, and other commodities, begging and such like. But Magwitch’s real criminal career commenced on with his introduction to an original criminal, comparison who at that time was engaged in dangerous felonies like forgery, passing stolen bank notes etc. Thus Magwitch has been victimized by a greater and terrible crimial, Compeyson. Compeyson exploited Magwitch for accomplishing all the enemies stated above –heinous, abominable and dangerous. He became increasingly ensnared in Compeyson’s criminal activities. Compeyson was a cruel and sophisticated villain with good social connections and Magwitch became his partner. This is how, Magwitch became a victim to the criminal world of Compeyson and Arthur, the half brother of Miss Havisham.

Magwitch: A victim of social and political systems

Moreover, the significant aspect of his victimization by society and state is the one that strikes him later on, when both Compeyson and Magwitch were captured and brought into custody. Dickens’ severe blow on social and political systems seems harder when he depicts that in times of passing verdict, Magwitch fell a victim to injustice and ruthlessness of law enforcing agency. They passed a harsher punishment (14 years imprisonment) for Magwitch than the original villain Compeyson (7 years’ imprisonment) simply because Magwitch had previous records of criminal activities while Compeyson seemed a gentleman with good and upper social lineage.

The key or major cause for Magwitch’s desire to make a “gentleman” in his being a victim to social and political injustice and viciousness. His victimization by hostile society and law affirms/ enkindles his desire for revenge on Compeyson who later became his life-long mortal foe. This motif later acts as an inspiration for which he helps recapture Compeyson even at the cost of his own recapture at the Marshes.

Magwitch: A victim of the legal system

Next, Magwitch became the victim of rigid penal and law codes of the Victoria England. It was a severe law active in that time giving death sentence to a convict who fled from the prison’s “huck.” Thus, Magwitch had to risk his life when fled from “huck” to meet his own London “gentleman”, Pip. Later Magwitch was recaptured and brought to trail and accordingly sentenced to death, but he tired, exhausted, weak and wrecked mentally and physically before the enactments of the death sentence.

Thus, through the portrayal of a convict who is no born as a criminal but a very creation of a rigid, flawed and vicious society- a society which is divided between gentlemen and convict, poor and rich, the oppressed and the oppressor, and the victimized and the persecutor.

Next the theme of victimization can be best traced in relation to Pip, the major character in the novel. Besides, Magwitch, Pip reveals the theme of victimization in his relation to other character in the novel.

Pip as the victim of his sister Miss Joe Gargery

First, Pip is the direct victim to his sister Miss Joe Gargery’s maltreatment, oppression and ruthlessness. Being victimized at the hands of his sister, Pip the orphan suffers a good deal from abuse, physical torments, rebuke and continual scorn not only from Miss Joe but also from other relations of the household: Pumblechook, Wopsle. His sister always mentions that he has been brought up “by hand’ a clever use that connotates that his upbringing included physical torture. Young Pip’s victimization at the hand of the close relatives of Mrs Gargery is evident at the dinner party given on the occasion of a Christmas Eve. At the party, every guest especially Uncle Pumblechook and Mr. Wopsle rebuked Pip and abused him without any interruption. Meantime, his sister reminds him of all the troubles and pains she has suffered to bring him up. Besides she narrates all viciousness and wicked tasks Pip has committed. Thus, from an early life Pip has been victim to abuse of other characters.

Pip as a victim of Magwitch and high ambition

Later, Pip falls a victim to Magwitch and his high ambition to make a “London Gentleman”. Magwitch is a victim to Compenson and broadly speaking to the social and political systems and in turn, Pip has been victimized by Magwitch.
The very opening of the novel shows how the grim-looking convict forces Pip to steal food and file from his forge home. Pip does what Magwitch makes him do. This is the beginning of Pip’s victimization at the hand of another victim. Afterwards Magwitch funds Pip’s upbringing and education to make him a genuine and real “London Gentleman” through Mr. Jaggars, the renowned London lawyer. According to the plan of Magwitch, Pip was taken to London to be lodged for the required instruction and education while the name of the possible benefactor remains concealed. But at one stage, Magwitch makes a tour to London to see his own made up “gentleman” Pip. Gradually all the knots of mystery are untied and it became crystal clear that the convict whom Pip met at his childhood is the rural benefactor of Pip’s fortune, not Miss Havisham as Pip had anticipated to be. All his hopes were shattered. He refused to receive no more money from Magwitch. To save the convict from being caught by the Law, Pip with the help of Herbert tried to transport Magwitch to Europe but at a failed attempt he had been caught. By the times Pip has been starting his moral regeneration from snobbery to morality.

Pip as a victim of Miss Havisham

He is also the victim of Miss Havisham’s crude and selfish desire for revenge on the whole male sex. As she has been deceived in love by her lover Compenson, is villain and original rogue. She pledged to avenge her frustration in love on the whole male sex, and Pip has become the victim of Miss Havisham’s brutal revenge. As a part of revenge scheme, she invited Pip to come down to Sati’s house to play with little Estella for her amusement. Estella acts as her weapon to take revenge on Pip. Estella continually reminds Pip of his inferior social standing, his dress, manners while Miss Havisham silently enjoys Pip’s embarrassment and predicament. Estella is lovely ad beautiful enough to charm a young boy like Pip, coming from an inferior social class. Pip is weak to her showing beauty, charm and luxury but at once he is continually reminded by Estella that he comes from a lower class. Thus Pip is tormented in the heart by Estella’s beauty, charm, scorn and rebuke and he suffers a traumatic grief emanating from his new consciousness of class distinction and from his inferiority complex. While he is receiving blow after blow from Estella, Miss Havisham’s standing at a little distance silently enjoys Estella’s crude and rough harassment of Pip. Estella’s treatment of Pip is predictable as she was made by Miss Havisham to wreck vengeance on male. The older lady turns her least into stone devoid of soft and tender human feelings. This is why; Pip is refused by Estella when he offered her. His emotive appeal and moving dialogue tongued with deep love for her can not share her stone heart a lot. Estella simply confesses that this is beyond her capability to know what it is to love and to be loved. She has no such feelings for him. She can not help herself. Thus through his life Pip suffers a great deal being victimized at the hands of Miss Havisham and Estella.

Pip as a victim of Estella and Drummle

Estella is a victim to Miss Havisham’s desire for revenge. He is also a victim of his rival suitor to Estella. Mr. Drummle, who later enables to marry her on many occasions, he acts as a weapon to unfold Pip’s soul that always craves for Estella. Drummle knew Pip’s weakness and thus he more powerfully and skillfully inflict Pip. He was a cruel, rude and pompous and savage villain in the novel. Pip suffers no less at his hand. So, Pip is also a victim to Drummle’s viciousness, cruelty and rivalry in love.

Pip as a victim of Orlick

Pip is also victimized by the apprenticed boy to Joe, Orlick who becomes a mortal enemy for his whole life. After his sister’s death caused by Orlick’s stroke on her, Pip is also attacked by him but rescued.

Pip as a victim of his own ambition

Finally Pip himself is the victim of his own ambition to become a gentleman. A desire to become a rich and sophisticated man has latent in him. Estella’s scorn and beauty and luxury have just rekindled his latent desire to become a sophisticated gentleman for winning the lovely young lady.

Joe as a victim of his wife

Now, it is the turn of Joe’s victimization at the hands of his wife, a cruel and treacherous woman. In fact, Joe’s marriage with Pip’s sister proved to be a complete mismatch. The husband and wife was quite opposite in nature and temperament. Joe Gargery was a good natured, mold and easy-going man. In contrast, his wife was a woman of hot tempered, cruel and treacherous woman who is described by Joe as a “Mogol” governing, the household and the two people- Joe and Pip with iron hand. For Joe she is a “buster” and “mastermind” who could dominate the household with her arbitrary power. When the woman is furious with anything, Joe describes her as being “on the rampage.” On many occasions, she scolded Joe as well as Pip. But Joe did not mind very much at his being scolded but he got, hurt at Pip’s abuse at her hands. He somehow could come to terms with his rude and treacherous wife as he had no other alternative to cope with this stone- hearted woman. In the true sense Joe is the real and genuine gentleman with his dignity of labor and his feelings for others. If Dickens is criticizing the show and pomposity of the Victorian gentleman, he must have emphasized on the value of real gentlemanliness in Joe not Pip or Estella. And this real gentleman also gets victimized by his wife.

Joe as a victim of his father

He is also victimized by his father in his early childhood. As he later on tells the story of his childhood, Pip, we are informed that his father was a drunk who loved in wine. And Joe and his mother became a victim to his father’s ill-treatment and abuse. In a tone mixed both pathos and humor, Joe tells Pip in spite of his father’s savage behavior, he was good at heart.

Joe as a victim of Orlick

Next he becomes a victim to Orlick’s villainy and evil design. This boy was apprenticed to be a black smith. At one occasion, he made a dangerous quarrel with Mrs. Joe and abused and insulted her. Now Joe, though embittered with her wife’s rude manners, could not tolerate the boy’s abuse of his wife. Joe made an attack on the boy and beat him. Later on, Orlick took revenge on Mrs. Joe by stroking her head leading to her sudden and instantaneous death.

Joe as a victim to Pip’s vanity and snobbery

Finally, Joe becomes a victim to Pip’s vanity and snobbery after he has gone to London on his mission to become a gentleman. This is Dicken’s sharp criticism that a fake Victorian gentleman Pip becomes ashamed of his old childhood friend Joe’s presence at his lodging in London. Joe becomes upset finding that he is not the man to stand shoulder to shoulder with Pip. He gets embarrassed at his consciousness of class distinction and decides not to be lodged in Pip’s room.

In fine, it has been proved that the theme of victimization is one of the powerful ones running on the vein of the novel’s plot structure. A character is victim to other character who, in turn is victim to another ones. This theme of victimization is line a vicious circle running in the vein of social and political structure. Victimization occurs in the novel in two ways: on the personal level between (Joe and his wife) and on the social level (Joe and society)