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In Great Expectations, how is Pip ambivalent about his sister's death?

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coolmonster245 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 30, 2010 at 1:33 AM via web

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In Great Expectations, how is Pip ambivalent about his sister's death?

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

Posted December 30, 2010 at 2:15 AM (Answer #1)

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The news of Mrs. Joe's death comes at the end of Chapter 34, but it is only in Chapter 35 that we are shown Pip's feelings about this news. Clearly, Pip's harsh upbringing "by hand" and the way that he was treated by his sister in his childhood would not necessarily endear her to him, but at the same time the death of anyone would create some form of sadness in our lives, and this ambiguous response to the news of his sister's death is clear in Pip's feelings about this event:

Whatever my fortunes might have been, I could scarcely have recalled my sister with much tenderness. But I supposed there is a shock of regret which may exist without much tenderness. Under its influence (and perhaps to make up for the want of the softer feeling) I was seized with a violent indignation against the assailant from whom she had suffered so much; and I felt that on sufficient proof I could have revengefully pursued Orlick, or any one else, to the last extremity.

Note the mixed feelings here: on the one hand, Pip expresses honestly his lack of "tenderness" when thinking about his sister, but, on the other hand, this very lack of tenderness makes him feel guilty, and it is a "shock of regret" that makes him display grief and a desire to punish those who had attacked her.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 30, 2010 at 2:23 AM (Answer #2)

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In Chapter XXXIV of Great Expectations, Pip begins to realize that his "great expectations" have been delusionary.  In moments of increasing maturity, Pip reflects that he may have had a happier life if he had never met Miss Havisham, for then he would have been content with being apprenticed to Joe and living on the forge. As he sits in the evening gazing into his fire, Pip feels that there was "no fire like the forge fire and the kitchen fire at home."

With this realization of the illusionary properties of his new life in London, Pip learns in the following chapter, Chapter XXXV, that Mrs. Joe has "departed this world."  Pip's reaction to this sad news is a "shock of regret without tenderness." That is, he feels rue that he has lost his sister and wishes that he could have pursued Orlick, whom he suspects of having murdered her.  At the same time, his memories of Mrs. Joe are touched with the recall of Tickler, and the harsh treatment that she dealt him as a child.  However, these memories are softened some by his assessment of his own shortcomings; so, he hopes that when he, too, dies, others will soften their memories of him.  These reflections also indicate the new maturity of Pip.

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