Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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According to structuralism and psychoanalytic theory, how would you explain Pip's character in Great Expectations?

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1. Structuralism focuses on the interrelated parts of a specific field. 2. In his writings, Dickens shows that human behavior is determined by various structures. 3. Pip's character matures from narrowly defined expectations to a broader understanding of humanity and its place in society.

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Structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that attempts to analyze a specific field as a complex system of interrelated parts.  Thus, meaning is produced and reproduced within a culture through various practices, phenomena, and activities. Especially after World War II, structuralism rejected the concept of human freedom and choice; instead...

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it focuses on the way that human behavior is determined by various structures.

While Charles Dickens lived much before World War II, his writings evidence this belief in the determination of human behaior by such various structures.  His character, Mr. Jaggers, often gives voice to this belief.  For instance, when Pip goes to the lawyer to ask about Estella's true history, Mr. Jaggers explains why she was given to Miss Havisham to raise; the act was an attempt to counter the determining control of Victorian society upon the destiny of the poor:

Put the case that he often saw children solemnly tried at the criminal bar, where they were held up to be seen; put the case that he habitually knew of their being imprisoned, whipped, transported, neglected, cast out, qualified in all ways for the hangman, and growing up to be hanged. ...Put the case that here was one pretty little child out of the heap, who could be saved....Put the case that this was done....

Likewise, the history of Abel Magwitch witnesses this determination of behavior for one who is born into what Dickens termed the "prison of poverty."  He tells Pip that to survive, he had to be involved in

Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could...[he was] a bit of a poacher, ...a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most things that don't pay and lead to trouble....

When arrested for his involvement with Compeyson, Magwitch received the harsher sentence although Compeyson was the more culpable, because Compeyson looked "the gentleman."

Similarly, Pip is confined to his class in Great Expectations.  As a boy, he is told that he is "common."  His story is one of an individual's growth within a strict social order. Pip's craving for social advancement outside his own culture is cause for his mistaken values on social prestige and money.  His narrow view of the world, brought on by his initial low social status, is, however, much improved by his association with the gentleman Herbert Pocket and Mr. Jaggers clerk, Mr. Wemmick, who both demonstrate kindness and love.  Through his experiences, then, Pip's "great expectations" of becoming a gentleman socially mature into the realization that a true gentleman is one who possesses not merely social status, but also humanity.

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Pip always wants more than he has in the way of material items and success. What's interesting to me about the story of Great Expectations is that he misses out on a great purpose of mankind, human relationship. I think he believes that should he gain fame, fortune, or Estella, all will be well in his world... and good human relationship might come after that.

Perhaps his missing the point had to do with the lack of opportunity with his sister and family that died. But Joe provided great opportunity as a friend from day 1. Throughout the storyline, Pip pushes Joe further and further away. Mrs. Joe's dying words were that Joe would forgive Pip. This man was the one who likely cared the most about Pip throughout the novel. By the end there is forgiveness and some reparation between the two, but all Pip pursued that we as readers wanted to see him succeed with was for naught, he didn't achieve. He had not love, not fame, not fortune.

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It's often said by psychoanalysts that the greatest influence on a person's character is the earliest years of babyhood and early childhood.Well, Pip's mom and dad actually died so he suffers the lifelong bereavement. He's raised by an older sister but she has no tolerance for childish ways and anxieties, She treats Pip with contempt,mistreating him physically and verbally. The only love he knows is his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery. They bond together against Mrs Joe. Pip becomes a sensitive and easily humiliated boy, who reacts against the injustice.He goes  to Miss Havisham’s to “play” with her adopted daughter Estella, but is again treated like an inferior. He feels bad about himself when Estella turns her nose up at his speech and manners but her looks and quality manners and staus fascinate him. He develops a lifelong need to be equal.

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