"Well, Pip,"

Category: Writing & Reading | Type: Discussion | Title: Great Expectations (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens | Ch: Chapter VII

Dickens explains Joe's psychological forging here. The section begins with "Well" and continues for some two pages, ending with the paragraph, "But I did mind you, Pip...." (I'll discuss this further in the note attached to the note to "'there's room for him at the forge.'"

This is Joe's compressed autobiography, masterfully presented so as to indicate he is ignorant of its meaning while yet the reader can understand the implication. The passage addresses the puzzling question: why did such a gentle man as Joe marry such a woman, the incarnation of Ram-page? The explanation lies in Joe's childhood. To some degree Joe became gentle because his mother and he had been beaten, impoverished, and figuratively deserted.

Though the title Great Expectations points to the future, it becomes clear that our expectations conceal within them the shape and shadow of the past. No one knew this better than Dickens, whose hungry expectations for female love, for adulation from his family as well as from his audience, for home, and for financial security reflected what he lacked as a child. 

Dickens will show that we often construct our expectations to conceal or in some other way contend with a terrible wound to the psyche that shaped and sometimes deformed a person. Each of the novel's major characters has sustained such a wound. Indeed, so has Dickens. He has understood from at least David Copperfield that what was most traumatically painful for him in childhood pursued him into adulthood and in various ways shaped and indeed directed his artistic genius.   

Dickens writes in the Autobiographical Fragment (see the introductory annotation attached to the title) that he gave to John Forster, his future biographer. There Dickens dwells on his life when his family was in the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison. He was a boy of twelve living in a room elsewhere and working at the blacking warehouse, "I do not write resentfully or angrily: for I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am..." (italics added). Part of the "what I am" is to have acquired a penetrating insight into the relations between past, present, and future. This helps to account for why Freud kept a copy of David Copperfield on his desk in the consulting room in his Vienna apartment where he conducted his psychoanalytic sessions and wrote.

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