Can anyone compare and contrast change between Pip from Great Expectations and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Certainly, it is a challenge to compare and contrast characters from two different genres such as drama which rarely covers much time, and a novel, which has an extensive narrative.  Young Juliet, only alive for three days, can hardly be expected to mature as does Pip whose narrative covers decades.  However, as both are young victims of paralyzing love and youthful idealists, they do share some commonalities and differences. 

While the "star-struck" lovers of Juliet and Romeo feel a mutual passion for one another, Pip, infatuated with the "star" of Estella, experiences only unrequited love. Yet, he struggles to win the heart of the beautiful ward of Miss Havisham's, subjecting himself to her cruelty and exploitation.  Similarly, Juliet experiences struggle in her love for her family's enemy, although it is more one against the fates as Romeo is taken from her after slaying her cousin Tybalt.  In fact, she herself becomes a victim of fate as finding her beloved Romeo dead, she slays herself.

Pip, however, never succumbs to fate.  He finds a filial love for the old convict, an orphan himself who has felt vindicated from a life of misery in his devotion for Pip; further, Pip assesses his failures and returns to the home of Joe Gargery, the prodigal son, begging forgiveness and receiving it.  Repaying his friend Herbert for his kindness, Pip secures for him a position at Clarikker's bank to make amends for his having brought Herbert into debt with himself.  Tragically, however, Juliet's life is "a story of more woe" as she never makes amends with her family, and she has run from them only to find herself entombed, abandoned by Friar Laurence, alone with her dead husband. 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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These two characters are great to compare and contrast in terms of their development. Let me give you a few pointers about how we may analyse them. Firstly, let us remember that Juliet at the beginning of this classic tragedy seems to be deliberately presented as occupying the transient stage between girlhood and womanhood. Note the way that she is presented in Act I scene 3: she is clearly shown to be an obedient and very innocent young girl. Even though it is common for girls of thirteen to marry, Juliet claims that she has never thought about marrying, saying "It is an honour that I dream not of." When Lady Capulet suggests Paris as a potential husband, Juliet seems to have no feelings of her own, merely saying that she will do her best to love:

I'll look to like, if looking liking move;

But no more deep will I endart mine eye

Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.

She has clearly never experienced true love yet, and her eagerness to please her mother with her feelings likewise presents her as an innocent. However, it is when she meets Romeo that Juliet's character develops and changes as she experiences overpowering love but also demonstrates considerable maturity as she criticises Romeo's romanticism and rather abrupt and hurried actions. Juliet, after Tybalt's death, has to make a very grown-up and mature decision to remain loyal to her love for Romeo, and her final act of committing suicide shows her complete transformation from a young girl to a mature woman.

In the same way, Pip is shown to develop and mature, though this is in a different way from Juliet. The narration of this novel, and the way that the first person retrospective narrator both tells the action and allows the character of an older, wiser Pip to emerge who criticises his younger self reminds us of this development constantly. In particular, the novel charts the growth of Pip from a young, goodhearted individual to a rich snob who hurts those around him, and then finally to a wiser, older and maturer individual who has lost his wealth but has become a better person for it. Just as Juliet's character develops and emerges under great suffering, so the character of Pip matures thanks to the discovery of who his benefactor is and the way that he is burned by the fire that consumes Miss Havisham, and the fire that rages as a fever within him. Note what he says to Joe in Chapter 57 when he recovers from this fever:

Oh 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!

Pip is forced to recognise his own former actions and how they have so deeply hurt his friends and those who love him. The ending of the novel, with Pip having to earn his living and occupying the middle class, shows that he has developed and matured greatly compared to his former self.


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