Compare and contrast the relationships adults have with children in Great Expectations.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novels of Charles Dickens, there are frequently reflections of the author's personal experiences. For, as a child Charles was forced to work in a blackinghouse since his father was placed in a debtor's prison, Marshalsea Prison.  While living and working on his own, young Dickens was subjected to cruelty by adults.  Mr. Jaggers, for instance, is modeled after a notoriously unscrupulous lawyer for whom Charles worked that was also very rude and abrupt.Having been hurt emotionally and psychologically by his father's imprisonment, young Pip reflects this experience of Dickens as he subjected to the cruelty of his sister and exploitation of Miss Havisham who sees him merely as a model of maleness on which Estella can practice her cold-heartedness. 

On the other hand, Charles Dickens was treated by others with kindness.  And, it is Joe Gargery and Matthew Pocket and Herbert who portray these persons of his past in the novel Great Expectations.  Certainly, Pip's rescue from the effects of his having been burnt when he rescued Miss Havisham can be interpreted as reflective of his having been rescued from Warren's Blacking Warehouse.  Interestingly, John Dickens received an inheritance from his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, who bequeathed him the sum of 450 pounds.  On the expectation of this legacy (great expectations?), John Dickens, against the wishes of his wife who thought Charles should continue working, had Charles put into a school in London.

Thus, just as in his own personal life in which there were adults who were cruel and those who treated him with kindness and love, similarly Pip's relationships with adults are varied in Dickens's Great Expectations.

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The best viewpoint of this comes through Pip's relationships with his family members and associates at the beginning of the novel.  Pip is a young man, and is constantly in contact with his relations and adults.  Most of the time, the adults are shown as condescending and teasing; Pip is tormented by their critical comments and constant nagging.  He is manipulated into situations that he isn't happy about, told he is worth nothing and a low-down scounderel, and picked on as the brunt of many jokes.  Pip hates it; the only adult that treats him kindly and tries to cut him a break is Joe.  He recognizes that Pip is being treated unkindly, and often tries to soften the blows and distract the adults from their critical assessments.

Then, we have Miss Havisham, who uses Pip as a sort of pawn in her twisted game to befriend and fall in love with Estella.  Once again, this is not a positive view of adults; they are seen as unfeeling creatures that use children for their own means.  Pip is a definite tool to show that adults don't really relate to, understand, or care about children.  However, through Joe's kindness and sympathy, Dickens shows that you can never generalize--not ALL adults are that way, so don't jump to too many conclusions about them before giving them a chance. He often does this with many types of characters and groups of people, giving everyone a second chance to redeem themselves and their representative group.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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Great Expectations

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