This avenging phantom

Category: Mind | Type: Discussion | Title: Great Expectations (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens | Ch: Chapter XXVII

Brilliant comedy but even more brilliant psychology. Dickens's insights in his late great novels are so piercing as to approach the uncanny.  Pip has said above that "I had made the monster." He did so artfully. He knows at some level that he is himself merely a mannequin of a gentleman. At his psychological core he remains the boy Estella mocked for his hands, boots, and diction, and the boy whom Orlick hated for his privileged status and whom Trabb's Boy ridiculed for his pretensions. On the one hand Pip means to conceal his early life and on the other he must find ways to punish himself for that life and now for his inauthenticity.  

The Avenger is a hired projection of his unworth, self-loathing, and need for punishment. Jaggers thoroughly understands Pip and the many like him, Jaggers's large index finger elicits the free-floating guilt that is practically universal. Magwitch only confirmed Pip's crime, that of surviving, with its attendant guilt. This traumatic event for the psyche may occur earlier or later than seven years of age; it can happen in one's late teens, as with Miss Havisham. She inhabits the ruined garden, but many of Dickens's characters live in its figurative equivalent, the landscape of the damaged psyche.

Dickens appears to anticipate Freud's hypothesis of a "narcissistic wound," resulting in a profound sense of unworth. Such an injury does not readily heal, because the person finds ingenious ways to keep it alive and to repeat it, as do Pip and Miss Havisham. Freud describes this as the repetition compulsion and discusses it and our will to hurt ourselves in his last major work, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. He argues that repeating is a means to remembering, which is to say punishing ourselves for the condition that allowed us to be wounded in the first place. In hiring the Avenger, Pip recreates in everyday life the punishment he believes he deserves. Nietzsche has a fine phrase to describe this sort of memory, "the mnemonics of pain."

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