In the book Great Expectations, explain Pip's feelings about his sister's death when he returns to the forge and sees Biddy and Joe.Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pip learns of the death of his sister in Chapter XXXV of Great Expectations; her end comes some time after she has been attacked by an unknown assailant.  Pip narrates,

It was the first time that a grave had opened in my road of life, and the figure of my sister in her chair by the kitchen fire haunted me night and day....But I suppose there is a shock of regret which may exist without much tenderness.

While Pip has not had a close relationship with his sister, who has brought him "up by hand," Mrs. Joe, nevertheless, is his only family.  Thus, with her death, Pip senses a "grave open" before him which takes from him his only relative and, with her, part of his identity.  Unknowingly, perhaps, Pip feels himself again an orphan--an image which pervades throughout Great Expectations as well as other works of Dickens.

The image of shadows also pervades this chapter as Pip senses the end of his halcyon life with Joe as a child.  He describes his sister being laid quietly to rest,

while the larks sang high above it and the light wind strewed it with beautiful shadows of clouds and trees.

When they return from the funeral, Pip talks with Biddy as the "shadows of evening" close in upon them.  Proudly, Pip berates Biddy for not having written him (he learned of Mrs. Joe's death from Mr. Trabb).  And, he asks Biddy what she will do after the day; she tells him that she will work at a school.  Then, Biddy cries as she relates the last words of Mrs. Joe:  She said "Joe" and once "Pardon"; then she said "Pip."  After this, Biddy looks towards a dark tree, for she has seen Orlick walking near it of an evening.  At this revealation, Pip is angered that Orlick stalks her; he promises to visit Joe, but Biddy wisely questions him "with an honest eye."  For, Biddy knows that Pip has becomes too affected, but he feels injured that she does not believe him.

On the next day Pip departs after shaking the blackened hand of Joe, promising to visit because he knows that Joe will be lonely.  Significantly, Pip notices the

glow of health and strength upon his face that made it show as if the bright sun of the life in store for him were shining on it.

Here Dickens suggests that like the shadows of the previous evening, Pip's life will become overcast with gloom as will the lonely Joe's; however, when he returns to the forge, there will be the health and strength of Joe waiting and the "bright sun" of life and love will comfort Pip.  But, unwittingly, Pip leaves and returns to his shadowed life where he and Herbert will go "from bad to worse" as Pip essays to advance himself socially.  This desire for self-improvement impinges upon the honor of Joe and Biddy, but Pip does not consider them.  Only when he sees them does he feel guilty. 


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Great Expectations

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