Discuss Pip as both a narrator and a character. How are different aspects of his personality revealed by his telling of his story and by his participation in the story itself?
Pip’s story—the story of the novel—traces
his development through the events of his early life; his narration,
however, written years after the end of the story, is a product
of his character as it exists
What role does social class play in
One way to see Pip’s development, and the development of many of the other characters in
Throughout the novel, Pip is plagued by powerful feelings of guilt and shame, and everywhere he goes he tends to encounter symbols of justice—handcuffs, gallows, prisons, and courtrooms. What is the role of guilt in the novel? What does it mean to be “innocent”?
At the beginning of the novel, Pip’s feelings of conscience are determined largely by his fear of what others might think, a state of mind no doubt reinforced by Mrs. Joe’s “Tickler.” He has strong feelings of guilt but an inadequate system by which to judge right from wrong; unable to determine the value of his own actions, he feels guilty even when he does the right thing. He acts with compassion and sympathy when he helps the convict, but he nevertheless feels deeply guilty and imagines that the police are waiting to take him away. As the novel progresses, Pip comes closer to trusting his own feelings; when he helps Magwitch at the end of the novel, he feels no guilt, only love, and he remains with the convict even after the police arrive to take him away. Throughout the novel, symbols of justice, such as prisons and police, serve as reminders of the questions of conscience that plague Pip: just as social class provides an external standard of value irrespective of a person’s inner worth, the law provides an external standard of moral behavior irrespective of a person’s inner feelings. Pip’s wholehearted commitment to helping Magwitch escape the law in the last section of the novel contrasts powerfully with his childhood fear of police and shows that, though he continues to be very hard on his own shortcomings, Pip has moved closer to a reliance on his own inner conscience—which is the only way, as Joe and Biddy show, that a character can truly be “innocent.”
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