What conflicts does Pip feel in Great Expectations?
In Great Expectations, Pip experiences conflict with himself. One phase of it is when he meets Estella, he feels a sense of hate about his position in society - his home, family, and all things that are inherent about him. Later in the book, his sense of conflict takes a mature form. After he became a Gentleman in the society, he regrets his choices earlier in life, for example his treatment of Joe and his simplicity and goodness and feels his new life as artificial and immoral. Explain in detail the causes of this conflict in each of these situations. How do they connect to the theme of innocence, experience, and regret?
The theme of innocence, experience and regret comes from Pip’s coming of age, as he grows from a selfish youth to a caring man.
When Pip meets Estella, he is very young. His sister and brother in law have arranged for him to go to Miss Havisham because they hope that it will advance his social position (and theirs). Although he is just a boy, he is immediately interested in her. When she insults him, it hurts him deeply. Although he never felt ashamed of his station in life before, now he is ashamed of his home.
I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it. (Ch. 8)
Estella is being very carefully trained by Miss Havisham to toy with Pip. He has no idea. Miss Havisham is using Estella to get her revenge on the male sex, and Pip is merely her trial run. Yet he falls for her, hard, and after her no other woman can match up. He also can no longer go back to being just a blacksmith’s son. He wants to be a gentleman, not plain and coarse. When he is elevated, through Magwitch’s intervention, to the rank of gentleman, he assumes that he is being made into a gentleman to become worthy of Estella.
When Pip is given the chance to have great expectations, he does not think twice, despite the strange circumstances and the odd conditions.
My dream was out; my wild fancy was surpassed by sober reality; Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale. (Ch. 18)
He does not have any experience as a gentleman. He does not use money wisely. He does not act well. He is basically spoiled and foolish, causing trouble for himself and Herbert Pocket too. He does not realize how far he has gone wrong until he realizes who the money belongs to. It is only then that the reality of his situation comes crashing down on him. He begins to feel ashamed of how he has acted, including how he has treated Joe and Herbert. He begins to right the wrongs he has piled up. He sets Herbert up in business, confronts Miss Havisham, and returns to Joe. He also begins to take care of Magwitch and in doing so actually comes to care for him.
By the end of the book, we see that Pip has truly grown up. He has experienced real loss and regret. He loses Estella, because he realizes that she is not what he thought she was and he could never have really have had her. He also loses Biddy, because she marries Joe. Finally, he loses Magwitch. Magwitch was the second father that he allowed himself to have once he relinquished his egotistical ideals of class and status and focused on what really mattered in life. Pip did right by Magwitch. He tried to get him out of the country, he told him he his daughter was alive and well-off, and he formed a bond with him in his last days.
“She lived and found powerful friends. She is living now. She is a lady and very beautiful. And I love her!” (Ch. 61)
What Pip learned was the difference between the image we have of ourselves, and other people, and the reality. He thought he should be one sort of gentleman, an image based on class, but found out that he should be another sort, one based on doing the right thing. He judged Estella based on her beauty, and not her personality. He then learned, once he got to know her, that she was actually very strong. He made a judgment that Magwitch was a bad person because he was uncouth and simple. He was not what Pip expected. Yet, when he got to know Magwitch he came to love him, because he realized he was a caring person who only wanted what was best for Pip. Magwitch, however, had almost made a snap judgment. He assumed that a young, immature Pip would grow to become a good person. He almost didn’t—because of Miss Havisham’s influence. Later, with Magwitch’s intervention, Pip emerges a changed man, and kind and caring.