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The Prodigal Son In Great Expectations

2712 words - 11 pages

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is an elaborate retelling of the Biblical parable of the prodigal son (Ryken 157). It follows the life of Pip as he rises through and falls from society. He begins his life as an orphaned boy in a blacksmith’s home to become a young gentleman of “great expectations”. Pip forsakes the love and care of his guardian, Joe Gargery, for advancement in society. Misfortunes befall him; he loses all his wealth and he is forced to return to his home. Pip is the prodigal son who ungratefully leaves his home and squanders all his wealth. Joe Gargery is the loving father who patiently forbears and lovingly welcomes his boy back. Pip’s redemption is revealed in the novel. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman; it is a novel which shows the education of Pip. Pip learns about the corruptness of society and the shallowness of social class. In true Victorian fashion, Dickens’ novel is a form of social criticism; it attacks the conceited notions of society.
The allusion to the parable prodigal son is hinted at early in the novel. Mr. Pumblechook and Mr. Wopsle constantly admonish Pip to be “‘grateful…to them which brought [him] up by hand’” (Dickens 54). Mr. Wopsle declares that “‘swine were the companions of the prodigal’” and an ungrateful child is worse than swine (Dickens 26). Mrs. Joe often reproaches Pip for being ungrateful. She resents having to raise Pip up since his infancy. However, Mrs. Joe abuses Pip (Ryken 156). She whips him for unnecessary reasons and is annoyed by any question he asks. The person to whom Pip owes his gratitude to is Joe. Joe had “sanctified” his home, making it a “pleasant place” (Dickens 112).
Like the father in the parable, Joe loves Pip wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Joe often tries to protect Pip from Mrs. Joe. In chapter 2, Joe attempts to hide Pip “‘behind the door’” so that he will not encounter Mrs. Joe armed with wrath and “Tickler” (Dickens 7). Joe wishes that Pip would not have to bear the brunt of “Tickler”; he wishes that he could “‘take it all’” himself (Dickens 51). Joe takes a kindly, brotherly interest in Pip; he and Pip share a “good-natured companionship” (Dickens 9). When Pip refrains from eating his bread and butter, which he intends to save for the convict, Joe believes that Pip has lost his appetite. Joe becomes “uncomfortable” and does not “enjoy” his food (Dickens 9). Joe often encourages and motivates Pip. When Pip presents Joe with his first specimen of writing, Joe declares that Pip is a “‘scholar’” (Dickens 73). When Pip complains about his commonness, Joe says that Pip is “‘oncommon’”. He wisely observes that “‘you must be a common scholar afore you can be a oncommon one’” (Dickens 73). Joe’s kindness and generosity also extends beyond his family. When the convict confesses that he stole some food from the blacksmith, Joe says that he is “‘welcome to it’”; he would not want even a convict to be “‘starved to death’” (Dickens 40).
However, when Pip pays his...

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