In Great Expectations, how is money a corrupting influence on Pip's character from Stage I through Stage II?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Pip's first visit to Satis House--where ironically no one is satisfied or content--the young boy, whose world has been the marshes and the forge where the gentle Joe Gargery protects and loves him, now perceives himself as inferior to the wealthy Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. Superceding his love and friendship with Joe is this new awareness that his hands are coarse and, like his boots, his life is common and inferior.

So, when Mr. Jaggers arrives at the Blue Boar one night and informs Pip that he is to have "great expectations," Pip is elated that his desire to become a gentleman may actually be realized.  He, then, becomes consumed with this idea, and, as he departs for the stage coach that will carry him to London in Chapter XIX, Pip refuses Joe's and Biddy's offer to accompany him to the stage lest he be seen with a blacksmith.

Once he arrives in London in Stage II of the novel, Pip reunites with the pale gentleman now as a roommate; Pip asks Herbert Pocket to teach him the proper way to eat and conduct himself.  It is not long before Pip becomes pretentious and, having furnished his apartment, feels his should have a manservant.  However, this manservant becomes more of a financial burden than anything else as Pip alludes to him as "the Avenger."

In Chapters XXVI and XXVII, the contrast between the dinners of Pip at the house of Mr. Jaggers where the conversation centers around position and money and the visit and dinner with Joe who arrives in London points to the corruptive power of the desire for money and position.  For, fearing that "the Spider" as Jaggers names him, may become a rival for the affections of the beautiful Estella, Pip worries about appearances and associations.  Anxious that Joe prove an embarrassment to him, Pip is so ill at ease that Joe, with his "simple dignity" writes Pip a note and departs for the forge.  After Joe leaves, Pip comes to his senses and seeks his father-figure and friend, but it is too late.  As the adult narrator, Pip reflects,

So throughout life our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.

Nevertheless, in Chapter XXVIII Pip returns to the marshes, but pretentiously rationalizes that he should stay at the Blue Boar rather than the forge lest Estella think less of him. His new position of wealth and illusionary power has outgrown his love for Joe; with some guilt, however, he sends codfish and oysters to the forge as a gift. As he approaches Satis House, Pip feels a purpose now as a young gentleman is to be the hero who is

to restore the desolate house, admit the sunshine into the dark rooms, set the clocks a-going … do all the shining deeds of the young knight of romance, and marry the princess.

Of course, his ideas have been delusionary, signified by Orlick's working there and Estella's informing him that she has no heart. After he returns to London, Pip begins to realize the corrupting effects of money and the desire for material possessions over true values:

We spent as much money as we could, and got little for it. We were always more or less miserable....

Pip also sees that he has corrupted Herbert's life, as well, as he influences Herbert into purchasing things he could not afford having

corrupted the simplicity of his life, and disturbed his peace with anxieties and regrets.

Clearly, Pip's life in Stage II becomes one of self-gratification that leads ultimately to dissatisfaction.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Money is something that Pip feels he needs and wants in order to make himself worthy of Estella in Part I of this novel. Ever since his first visit to Satis House and the way that he suddenly becomes aware of a different world from which he is excluded because of his clothes and manner of speaking, Pip kindles and nurtures an intense ambition for more out of life, that is demonstrated through his dissatisfaction with training to be a blacksmith and his humble life in the marshes. The moment that he receives his "great expectations," however, he feels that the answer to his prayers has finally arrived and that he is able to attain the kind of lifestyle that wil enable him to win Estella. However, as the second section of this novel makes clear, the wealth that he gains only serves to bring him unhappiness and sorrow, especially in the way that it divides him from those who love him. Consider the following quote and the kind of social comment it makes about wealth:

We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did. To the best of my belief, our case was in the last aspect a rather common one.

Slowly but surely, Pip only shows that his "expectations" do nothing to improve his character, as the financial and moral dissolution that he falls into clearly displays. As well as making him constantly "miserable," they also have the effect of turning him into a snob and hurting the one man who, as he realises at the end of the novel, has loved him constantly and sacrificially.

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Great Expectations

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