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Parenthood and Friendship in Great Expectations

Updated on January 8, 2014

Part 1: Introduction and Beginning Arguments

In the Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations, many of the parents are portrayed as incompetent or unloving, and, as a result, many of the male characters compensate for their unstable home environments by forming close friendships with other male characters. During times of crisis or illness, they often take their friendships one step further by taking on the role of “mother” to each other. However, it is important to note that several of the parents later apologized to their adult children for their previous behavior. This essay will examine several of the most crucial parent-child relationships and male friendships within the story.

The relationship between Mrs. Joe Gargery and Pip is important because his sister is the only blood relation that he has ever known. His parents died when he was very young, and he cannot remember them. However, Mrs. Joe is incapable of seeing Pip as anything more than a burden that she inherited upon the death of their parents. This is demonstrated during the first confrontation between their characters, which occurs after Pip arrives home late from playing in the churchyard. When he tells Mrs. Joe where he had been, she informs him that “if it warn’t for me you’d have been to the churchyard long ago, and stayed there” She went on to remind him that she had raised him before asking “why did I do it, I should like to know? ... I’d never do it again!” (41). This illustrates that their relationship is far from loving. In addition, Mrs. Joe often uses violence to discipline Pip, and there are times that she is violent to the point of being physically abusive. For example, prior to the confrontation, Joe Gargery, Pip’s brother-in-law, warns Pip that Mrs. Joe has gone out looking for him and has taken “Tickler” with her. As the narrator of the novel, Pip informs the reader that “Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame” (40). Mrs. Joe is also verbally abusive toward Pip. This is revealed during their Christmas dinner the following day. The conversation during the meal was centered on discussing all of Pip’s faults. With the encouragement of her dinner guests, Mrs. Joe exclaimed:

... ‘trouble?’ And then entered on a fearful catalogue of all of the illnesses I had been guilty of, and all of the acts of sleeplessness I had committed, and all of the high places I had tumbled from, and all of the low places I had tumbled into, and all of the injuries I had done myself, and all of the times she had wished me in my grave, and that I had contumaciously refused to go there.’ (59)

This quotation illuminates the extent of Mrs. Joe’s abuse, because she is belittling him for acting like a little boy, and she is making him feel ashamed of things that are completely natural and normal for children to go through.


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