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The Shaping Of Pip’s Psychology In Great Expectations By Charles Dickens

1388 words - 6 pages

Texts deemed to be ‘classic’ works of literature have been the subject of debate and criticism in recent decades. The very definition of literature is continually being challenged, and the way in which works of literature are analysed constantly fluctuates (Moon, 1999). Classic works are held in high esteem, as they are said to be of the highest class of literature and become a part of a traditionally valued literary canon (Harris, 1992). The term ‘canon’ is used to signify an authoritative list of authors and their works (Harris, 1992). Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is a canonical work that is worthy of study. It has a complexity that makes possible the application of a variety of ...view middle of the document...

Great Expectations is the second of Dickens’ novels to use a first person, subjective narrative point-of-view (the first being David Copperfield) (Allingham, 2004). Although Great Expectations was Dickens’ thirteenth novel, the marshes upon which Pip’s life is shaped are near the naval dockyards in Kent, where Dickens and his family moved in 1817 (Mee, 2010). It is argued that the protagonist, Pip, is a reflection of the young Dickens himself, as he too found success and wealth from humble beginnings and realised the effect this had on his psychology (Cody, 2010).
The title of Great Expectations suggests a progression towards the future (Tyler, 2011). The novel focuses on Pip’s aspirations for his future and his future-orientated psychology (Tyler, 2011). The central plot of the novel eventuates to “the catastrophe of finding that the future [Pip] was living in hope of was an illusion” (Tyler, 2011, p.1). Dickens uses an end-directed narrative form to focus on the challenge of imagining an unpredictable future and the way this generates a deep psychological complexity in Pip (Tyler, 2011). Narrative refers to the selection and presentation of elements in a text (Moon, 1999). It also “articulates feelings about the future in both senses of that word: it gives them verbal specificity and it orders and arranges them” (Tyler, 2011, p.5). The narrative of Great Expectations contains ‘proleptic’ devices that hint at what the outcome will be and that generate the basic narrative momentum (Barry, 1995). In chapter one, Pip meets Abel Magwitch upon the marshes and the events that follow seem to bear an obscure relevance to this encounter until it is revealed that the criminal convict Magwitch is Pip’s benefactor. This supports the belief that the “character’s anticipation of the unknown future is likely to be qualitatively different from his or her recollection of the past” (Tyler, 2011, p. 3). Pip is psychologically affected by the uncertainty of his future, and voices his concerns to Herbert in Chapter Thirty; “I cannot tell you how dependent and uncertain I feel, and how exposed to hundreds of chances” (p. 235).
Great Expectations draws heavily upon the enduring presence of the past and Pip’s personal history (Tyler, 2011). Pip develops a “growing awareness of the inescapability of his past, which for a long time haunts him and eventually intrudes upon him catastrophically” (Tyler, 2011, p. 8). Repression, “the forgetting or ignoring of unresolved conflicts…or traumatic past events” (Barry, 1995, p. 70), is a key concern of psychoanalytic criticism. The psychoanalytic theory, developed by Sigmund Freud in the 1890’s, suggests that the “stages of development in early life can produce conflicts and traumas that have consequences in adulthood” (Moon, 1999, p.115). This is certainly true for the character of Pip. He fears the file he had delivered to Magwitch in Chapter One: “I was haunted by the file too. A dread possessed me that when I least expected...

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