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Guilt And Shame In Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations

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The aim of this essay is to look into the ways of how guilt and shame are depicted in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

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Pip, the main character, is an orphan, a lonely boy who is unhappy with his life and, most of all, with his social status.

The following pages are going to reveal Pip’s experiences and the events Pip is going through when he feels guilty and ashamed of what he really is and how he behaves.

This essay will start with the definitions of guilt and shame according to the Cambridge Dictionary and will present arguments and examples from the book of how these two themes are maintained in this great novel of Dickens.

Firstly, guilt is “a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something immoral or wrong, such as causing harm to another person.

Shame is “an uncomfortable feeling of guilt or of being ashamed because of your own or someone else’s bad behaviour”.

First event which makes Pip feel guilty is when the escaped convict (his name is unknown in the first chapter of the book) scares him and forces him to steal from his sister and Joe’s house. He does this, but he is scared the police will find him: “The guilty knowledge that I was going to rob Mrs. Joe – I never thought I was going to rob Joe, for I never thought of any of the housekeeping property as his…”.

Here comes the guilt, because he hides the truth from his relatives and feels bad for what he has done.

He also feels guilty about the bad behaviour regarding Joe and Biddy he had, after learning that he has a benefactor and that this benefactor wanted him to go in London to be taught how a gentleman should look, to know the society and the morals. Once arriving in London, Pip tries to forget his past and the life he had before. He never goes to visit Joe: “On a moderate computation, it was many months, that Sunday, since I had left Joe and Biddy” who has been the best friend for Pip and has always been kind to him, or Biddy, who taught him more than the school he was learning, after he met Estella, because he was ashamed of how little he knew. He thinks that his benefactor is Miss Havisham and she is the only one he visits when coming home.

Secondly, the feeling of shame appears for the first time when he meets Estella who made him feel inferior and like a no one. She humiliates him because she is heartless, she laughs at his clothes and his boots, his hands and makes him feel uncomfortable: “With this boy? Why, he is a common laboring-boy!” and “’He calls the knaves, Jacks, his boy!’ said Estella with disdain, before our first game was out. ‘And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!’”.

Estella was the adoptive girl of Miss Havisham, and because Miss Havisham had suffered from love, she taught Estella that girls should make men suffer. This is exactly what she did to Pip and Pip, being naïve, believed her and tried to change himself for her because he felt very ashamed, and he claimed:

“I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it. ”

Another event that makes Pip feel ashamed happens when he is about to go into debt because he wasted the money in becoming a gentleman in London. He is not happy with what he is becoming and being a waster would mean that he cannot reach his great expectations anymore.

Furthermore, most of his shame comes from how he feels because he has humble origins, he has low social status. After meeting Estella and after meeting his benefactor, his perspective changes completely. He claims that Joe is his best friend and a good man, but that Joe has to learn more in order he could fit in his new world, in London. Pip says: “I wanted to make Joe less ignorant and common, that he might be worthier of my society and less open to Estella’s reproach. ”

Pip also says that he felt ashamed of Joe’s manners at the table and his manner of speech, because Joe remains a peasant and he is not being taught how to be a gentleman as he does. He says that he was displeased with the fact that Joe came to visit him in London, that “If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money”.

He started being so cruel and mean because of the people he despised, like Bentley Drummle, that is why he claimed such a thing about Joe: “So, throughout life, our worst weakness and meanness are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise”.

He felt very much guilty when Pip was ill and Joe was the one who took care of him, falling back in his old tone, calling him “old chap” once again and not Sir, how Joe got used to call him after Pip left for London. Awake and conscious, Pip said to him: “O Joe, you break my heart! Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe. Tell me of my ingratitude. Don’t be so good to me!”.

And that was a moment when he realized how badly he had behaved, how selfish he had been and how much he regretted because Joe has always been good to him.

10 October 2020

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