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From the time that Pip stands forlornly gazing at the tombstones in the graveyard on the marshes in Chapter I of Great Expectations, he searches for a father. Joe Gargery, his step-father does not fill the role because he is too subservient to his shrewish wife, Mrs. Joe who dominates the household. At the meal in Chapter II, for instance, Pip and Joe seem more like brothers than anything else. For, Joe tries to warn Pip about bolting his food lest Mrs. Joe notice, but when she does Joe, like a child, "looks at her in a helpless way; then took a helpless bite and looked at me again." However, Joe, who calls Pip "Old Chap," is very loving with Pip who "looks up to Joe in [his] heart."
In Chapter XXVII of Stage Two, Joe has Biddy write to Pip that he is coming to London in order to visit. But Pip is dismayed,
Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money....I had little objection to his being seen by Herbert or his father, for both of whom I had a respect; but I had the sharpest sensitiveness as to his being seen by Drummle, whom I held in contempt. So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.
Once he arrives, Joe is awkward and speaks to Pip formally, addressing him as "sir" since he perceives Pip now as his social better. Before he leaves, he tells Pip that he will not come to London again as he does not belong out of the forge:
"Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there's been any fault at all today, it's mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in alone; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends.
After he departs, Pip is ashamed of himself and realizes that "there was a simple dignity in him." Pip tries to run after Joe, but the man is gone.
In the Third Stage of Dicken's great novel, Pip has sunken into debt and after having saved Miss Havisham from the fire and essayed to help Magwitch escape, Pip falls gravely ill. Finally, as he regains more consciousness, he realizes that Joe has come to care for him:
At last, one day, I took courage, and said, “Is it Joe?”
And the dear old home-voice answered, “Which it air, old chap.”
“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!”
For, Joe had actually laid his head down on the pillow at my side, and put his arm round my neck, in his joy that I knew him.
Remorseful for all the times that he has not visited the forge and his snobbishness regarding Joe since he has become a gentleman, Pip utters a prayer, "O God, bless this gentle Christian man!" as he understands what a dear, loving friend Joe has always been to him. Now that Mrs. Joe is dead, Joe is his own man, and Pip can know a father in him. Like the prodigal son, Pip returns to the forge when he is well and together he and Joe have "what larks!"
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