The Struggles Of Redemption In Charles Dickens’ "Great Expectations"

In the novel Great Expectations written by Charles Dickens, the struggles of redemption people face are well demonstrated through the characters Pip, Magwitch, and Ms. Havisham. Eventually Pip comes to understand the error of his ways and realizes that happiness does not come through wealth or high social class, but rather by doing good to and for others. His eventual reconciliation with Joe demonstrates his newfound ability to embrace morality regardless of social class. Magwitch earns his redemption in his attempt to make up for his life of crime by becoming Pip’s benefactor, although eventually captured and sentenced to death, his end is in peace. Miss. Havisham’s redemption is particularly interesting in that she is old and probably the most unlikely of all to change her ways, and yet she manages to do just that. She realizes the pain she has caused Pip and in spite of her pride, and asks for his forgiveness. Her repentance is true, signified by her desire to aid Pip in assisting Herbert. Overall, this is how the struggles of redemption are evidently portrayed through the characters Pip, Miss. Havisham, and Magwitch in Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations.

Once Pip loses his childhood innocence and starts to become a gentleman he loses sight of what is truly important. Pip’s long journey of redemption begins with his attack. Pip receives an anonymous note that says to go to the marshes and is ambushed upon arrival and is almost killed. Before this ambush and attack from Orlick, Pip is caught up in being an upper class gentleman and becomes too worried about appearances. The attack however, made Pip think deeply about what was important to him. He realized that he needed to stay alive and redeem himself. He did not need to do this for himself, but to fulfill the obligations he now realized he had to Magwitch and Joe. Pip says 'Joe and Biddy would never know how sorry I had been that night'. Pip has now become fully aware of how poorly he treated those who he loves and that love him. Pip now knows he must seek forgiveness and redeem himself to make up for his unacceptable behavior. According to Dr. Russ Kosits redemption, implies two things.

First, redemption implies that that the person who is redeemed is worth rescuing. Secondly, redemption implies that the person who is rescued or redeemed needs rescuing. Following Dr. Kosits implications Pip not only needed to be redeemed, but was also worthy of being redeemed. A second way Pip redeems himself is in the way he views Magwitch. Pip and Magwitch’s plot lines intersect from the very beginning of the book, and the way they see each other changes drastically throughout the novel. Pip starts out terrified of Magwitch. Pip flinches in repulsion from Magwitch’s appearance, social status and manners. However as the novel continues they both come to the realization of how important they are to each other. He moves from disgust at Magwitch's appearance, manners, and social status to perceiving his humanity and to finally loving him compassionately and selflessly. “For now my repugnance to him had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe”. He no longer cares about his status as a gentleman and accepts a condemned criminal as his second father. This becomes ironic as Magwitch is the source of all Pip's dreams, as the father of Estella and the provider of his great expectations. When Magwitch dies, Pip prays, 'O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner!'.

This prayer is a misquotation of the New Testament verse, 'O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!'. Pip was redeemed from his ways of excessive worry of appearances and worldly goods. Pip learned to be happy and not judge those for their outside appearances. He saw that by doing kind and generous acts people could be infinitely happier than if they had all the money in the world. Pip learned to care for others. By the end of the story, Pip learns to be respectful, hardworking and a true gentleman. Pip said to Joe and Biddy, 'And now, though I know you have already done it in your own kind hearts, prey tell me both, that you forgive me'. Overall, Pip sees the errors of his ways and all he wants is to be forgiven.

To begin, Magwitch comes back to England, seeking redemption by trying to get back at Compeyson, and comes to Pip for shelter and care. Pip at first is appalled that this has been the person that is been facilitating his journey to become a gentlemen. However Pip soon realizes how important Magwitch has been in his life. Magwitch tries to redeem himself through Pip. It’s too late for Magwitch to become a gentleman, but it’s not too late for Pip. Magwitch feels he can become a better man by fulfilling Pip’s dreams. Magwitch worked hard and suffered to make Pip a gentleman. “Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman on you! It’s me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should go to you. I swore arterwards, sure as ever I spec’lated and got rich, you should get rich. I lived rough, that you should live smooth; I worked hard, that you should be above work. What odds, dear boy? Do I tell it, fur you to feel a obligation? Not a bit. I tell it, fur you to know as that there hunted dunghill dog wot you kep life in, got his head so high that he could make a gentleman — and, Pip, you’re him!”. In this quote Magwitch’s desire for redemption is evidently seen as he says to Pip I am not telling you this to make you feel obligated to pay me back, so the reader can clearly understand he is seeking redemption and redemption only, nothing else. We must also pause here and reflect upon this major development in Magwitch’s character. He was a man born into complete poverty, with stealing food to eat as his earliest memory.

All those years he had no caregiver, beyond the State and its judicial system that frequently put him in jail and claimed he was Evil. After decades of surviving like this, a child gives him a scrap of food, and he is so overwhelmed by this act that he has spent the rest of his life up until now striving to essentially pay back this deed. Dickens’s could be not shouting any louder, “Redemption!” If Magwitch’s background story was not enough to draw sympathy from the audience, the examination of Magwitch’s heart and intentions regarding Pip have to be met with some type of approval and admiration. Writer, retired marriage and family therapist, psychologist and minister, David B. Seaburn says “redemption at its heart is the notion that anything is possible, that any of us can grow, any of us can change, any of us can head off in a new and hopefully better direction, not because we are any less sinful or any more protected from evil, but because we are a little less lost and a little more found”. Proving that even a previously convicted criminal such as Magwitch can even be redeemed with enough effort.

Magwitch’s life has not been an easy one, and he has made mistakes. When he finally has the opportunity to make himself a better man, through work and earning money, Magwitch forgoes all that he has earned and places it into the hands of Pip. His selfless act, though not attributed to any type of religious reasoning, does appear to have a religious connection. The Bible says “it is better to give than to receive”. Once again, Magwitch is performing in a manner that is least expected of him, as he is conforming to Christian morals and giving away all he has in order to better someone else’s life. '’And what's the best of all,’ he said, ‘you've been more comfortable alonger me, since I was under a dark cloud, than when the sun shone. That's best of all’'. When Magwitch speaks here to Pip he is saying that even though he had to face pain and suffering it was worth it to earn Pip’s love and devotion, this shows a man who is truly seeking forgiveness. To conclude, even though all the struggles he faced, Magwitch was still capable of redemption.

Finally, an example of redemption in Great Expectations is when Ms. Havisham tries to make amends for her actions. Ms. Havisham is confronted with Estella’s inability to love her and seeing how she torments Pip in his hopeless love for Estella. Ms. Havisham sees the enormity of her actions. She offers Pip money; not only for Herbert but also for compensation for the way she tormented Pip:

'My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name, ‘I forgive her,’ though ever so long after my broken heart is dust - pray do it!' 'O Miss Havisham,' said I, 'I can do it now. There have been sore mistakes; and my life has been a blind and thankless one; and I want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with you. She turned her face to me for the first time since she had averted it, and, to my amazement, I may even add to my terror, dropped on her knees at my feet; with her folded hands raised to me in the manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole, they must often have been raised to heaven from her mother's side. To see her with her white hair and her worn face kneeling at my feet, gave me a shock through all my frame. I entreated her to rise, and got my arms about her to help her up; but she only pressed that hand of mine which was nearest to her grasp, and hung her head over it and wept. I had never seen her shed a tear before, and, in the hope that the relief might do her good, I bent over her without speaking. She was not kneeling now, but was down upon the ground. 'O!' she cried, despairingly. 'What have I done! What have I done!' 'If you mean, Miss Havisham, what have you done to injure me, let me answer. Very little. I should have loved her under any circumstances.

When Miss. Havisham falls to her knees and cries out “what have I done?” She repeats this to save herself from her misery. We can evidently see from this quote how upset and truly sorry she is, it becomes clear to the reader at this point all Miss. Havisham wants is to redeem herself. Miss. Havisham’s guilt gets the best of her and she ends up lighting herself and her wedding dress on fire. When she sets her dress alight it symbolizes her true devastation at what she has done and her thirst to be redeemed. The wedding dress has been in her life as a symbol of not letting go, her un-relentless hope that things will return to the way they were and she can continue her life from there. According to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic “as we grow older, our experiences become more constrained and predictable. This is partly adaptive; order and structure enable us to navigate the world in autopilot, whereas change requires proactive adaptation, effort, and improvisation.

In fact, at any point in life change is disruptive and taxing, but it is especially stressful when we are old” (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Why Are Older People More Conservative, Psychology Today). So, the redemption Miss. Havisham made is actually quite remarkable considering her age, because as stated above change is hard for anyone, but it becomes even more difficult with older age. Although Miss. Havisham did receive forgiveness from Pip she still lets her guilt overwhelm her and in these last scenes of her life she only thinks of the pain she has caused and what she has done because she could not let go. In her final moments, all Ms. Havisham desired was forgiveness and redemption.

Overall, in the end all the characters achieved their redemption in one way or another. Pip got his by returning to the way he once was. Magwitch received his by working hard to give Pip a better life by becoming his benefactor. Lastly, Ms. Havisham tried to get hers by asking for Pip’s forgiveness and later attempting suicide. All of the character’s goals were redemption in one way or another. A theme of redemption is present and emphasized in Great Expectations by, what happens when Pip gets an anonymous letter telling him to go to the marshes, Pip and Magiwitch’s ongoing relationship, Pip’s realization of his love for Joe, Magwitch selfless suffering to give Pip a better life and Ms. Havisham’s eventual realization of the error of her ways. Furthermore, this is how redemption can be evidently seen in Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations through the characters Pip, Magwitch, and Miss Havisham.

10 October 2020
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