American literature question
Does Pip have any agency in Great Expectations? Is he a predominantly passive character?
In Great Expectations, Dickens uses different characters in conveying his message. The novel is categorized as bildungsroman as it focuses on the moral and psychological growth of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. Pip has agency and is an active character exhibited from the many roles he play.
Pip plays a central role in the entire novel as one of the most active characters. Actually, he is the narrator that the author uses to convey his message as well as the character or rather the voice of the story playing the part of an actor. His character as a child is well captured and his growth to maturity is also presented helping us to see and to feel the story through his actions. Pip is used to develop different themes in the story. He begins and closes the story. We get to know about other characters through their interactions with Pip. Pip character is portrayed as romantic idealism, immature, and innately having good conscience (Roger 34). On the other hand, he is a person that wants to improve himself and advance his education, morals and his social life. Pip romantic idealisms is manifest when he falls in love with Estella and longs to marry her (Rosenberg 46). He is a character that wishes to achieve many things such as joining the upper class and aspiring not to become poor. Pip idealism also makes him to have a narrow perception about the world and this makes him to behave badly. For instance, when he becomes a gentleman, he thinks, acts as a gentleman, and even treats Biddy and Joe coldly and snobbishly(Dickens 89). The character of Pip is therefore, exemplified in different scenes and contexts through the novel. His growth and development from his childhood to adulthood, has a number of challenges that he goes through. However, these challenges enable him to grow and mature intellectually as well as psychologically. He shows his maturity when he meets Magwitch and informs of his daughter Estella portraying him as a person that has developed to understand the things that maters sin life. He says, “Dear Magwitch, I must tell you, now. You understand what I say?… you had a child once, whom you loved and lost” (Dickens 132). For instance, when his benefactor dies, he remains miserable and does not know what to do. He is still the one that encounters challenges especially, when he realizes that his love for Estella has already married and she was not intending to marry her. When he approaches Biddy for marriage, he finds out that she had already married to Joe, ‘But you never will, you see’ said Biddy (Worth 23). Therefore, it is as if nothing to him goes on his way. However, at the end he embraces Estella after her husband had died and holds hands as a sign of revived relationship (Dickens 45). Therefore, Pip is not predominantly a passive character but the main character that the author uses to develop the story as well as convey the message.
Pip is also a charitable, at heart and a very generous and sympathetic person and this is part of his agency. This is a fact experienced from his numerous acts of kindness in the novel. Even with his immature idealism, Pip shows love and kindness to others. He is a person that loves those people that extend love to him. For instance, he loves Estella from heart despite the hoax being played on him by her mother. Pip’s kindness is also exhibited when he secretly buy Herbert’s way into business (Cohen 1993). He is also kind and generous when he helps Magwitch a convict to escape by boat when a warrant of arrest in England is issued. This action is planned quickly and is a manifestation of how charitable, generous and mindful Pip is towards his colleagues. His kindness moves Magwitch who feels loved when Pip reunites with Magwitch after he is captured by the police” (Dickens 124). It was not all expressed to me that he even comprehended my intention, for he gave me a look that I did not understand, and it passed for a moment” In another scene, whereby Miss Havisham the maternal mother of Estella accidentally sets her dress on fire after being abused on her plan to derail Pip and Estella relationship, he still comes to her rescue by saving her from fire (Elliot, 1993). Even though, she finally dies, Pip shows her love, and sympathetic nature to save her from the fire.
Pip is kind, loving and sympathetic. He reunites with Estella after her husband who abused her dies. Despite Estella living her for another man, he still loves and appreciates hers and this is a clear sign of his kindness and a show of his agency. Pip also loving as experienced with his encounter with Magwitch. He tells him how his daughter is beautiful and how he loves her, “..She is a lady and very beautiful. And I love her” (Dickens 130). This statement is a justification of how Pip loved Estella. The love Pip shows to others is linked to the love Joe showed her when she grew up, “But I loved Joe-Perhaps for no better reason than because the dear fellow let me love him” (Dickens 86).
Therefore, in conclusion, Pip is a major character in the novel. He plays a key role in the development of various themes in the novel. He plays various roles and he develops and grows into maturity as his characters changes. Even though, he encounters challenges, he is resilient about life. Likewise, the concept or aspect of agency is manifest through Pip in the novel. Pip character, associations, and interactions, clearly exemplify what his outfit is; one of it being his charitable, generosity, sympathetic and kindness. Pip has actually helped the author to develop and explains and enhance the understanding, of the journey of growing up and developing into adulthood in terms of physical, psychological and even morally.
Cohen, W. (1993). “Manual Conduct in Great Expectations”, ELH (English Literary History), 60, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, pp. 217–259
Dickens, C. (1993). Great Expectations, Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 978-0-19-818591-8, introduction and notes by Margaret Cardwell
Dickens, C. (1996). Great Expectations, London: Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-141-43956-4, introduction by David Trotter, notes by Charlotte Mitchell
Elliot, L. (1993). “In Primal Sympaphy : Great Expectations and the Secret Life”, Critical Essays, pp. 146–167
Roger. D. ed. (1994), Great Expectations: Charles Dickens, London: Macmillan, texts from Brooks, Connor, Frost, Gilmour, Sadrin et al.
Rosenberg, E. (1972). “A Preface to Great Expectations: The Pale Usher Dusts His Lexicon”, Dickens Studies Annual, 2
Rosenberg, E. (1981). “Last Words on Great Expectations: A Textual Brief ln the Six Endings”, Dickens Studies Annual, 9
Worth, G. (1986). Great Expectations: An Annotated Bibliography, New York: Garland