Great Expectations Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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How does Pip's upbringing contribute to the person he is?

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Pip is brought up in humble circumstances. He is orphaned and so is raised in the household of his much older sister, called Mrs. Joe, and her husband, the kind-hearted Joe, a simple blacksmith. Because Mrs. Joe is very resentful of Pip, she often treats him harshly and unfairly. Since he has a compassionate role model in Joe and yet been subject to cruelty from his sister, Pip grows into a modest and kind boy who understands what it is like to suffer. He also has a healthy fear of punishment. This upbringing makes him the perfect person to help the convict Magwitch. Pip is compassionate enough to see how the convict is suffering and to do what he can to help him, but he also has a fear of what Magwitch might do to him—and a fear of what his sister might do to him—that causes him to keep his help of the convict secret. All of this will have a great impact on his future.

Yet at the same time, his awareness of his own humble roots causes him to be ashamed of Joe when he becomes a gentleman. Pip becomes snobbish and doesn't want to be reminded of where he came from, so for a time, he avoids Joe and treats him, when they meet, in a high handed way.

Pip's basic kindness and humility do reemerge, however, at the end of the novel. He can't be immune to suffering, for he is fundamentally an empathic person sensitive to the needs of others. This springs from his experience, as a child, of what it was like to be oppressed.

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