How is the theme of Acceptance vs. Rejection revealed in Great Expectations?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Great Expectations, the theme of Rejection vs. Acceptance is best revealed through the medium of social standing.

  • The treatment of orphans 

Both Pip and Biddy are orphans taken in begrudgingly by relatives. Pip's sister, Mrs. Joe, complains about him and beats poor little Pip with what is called "Tickler." She and Uncle Pumblechook constantly accuse him of being ungrateful. Biddy, who lives with her grandmother, is made to work in her "little general shop." Like Pip, she is also "brought up by hand" and is neglected:

Her hair always wanted brushing, her hands always wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending and pulling up at heel.

Even Pip rejects her after he goes to London and assumes the airs of a gentleman. When he does visit the forge, he is patronizing and critical of Biddy, who still retains her sweet disposition.

"Biddy," said I, when we were walking homeward, "I wish you could put me right."
"I wish I could!" said Biddy.
"If I could only get myself to fall in love with you - you don't mind my speaking so openly to such an old acquaintance?"
"Oh dear, not at all!" said Biddy. "Don't mind me."

In an early chapter, Trabb's boy is alluded to as "an intolerable urchin," and in Chapter 29, the lower classes are alluded to as "Tag, Rag, and Bobtail.

  • Class distinctions

Pip's first experience of social rejection occurs during his first visit to Satis House, where Estella cruelly derogates him in his presence, refusing to play with him because he is "coarse" and a "common laboring boy." Miss Havisham whispers to her as consolation, "You can break his heart." When she serves Pip, she humiliates him,

... she gave me the bread and meat without looking at me, as insolently as if I were a dog in disgrace.

Outside, the "pale young gentleman" tries to beat him down physically. 
Likewise, the relatives of Miss Havisham regard Pip with disdain whenever he is at Satis House. Then, when Mr. Jaggers first encounters Pip, he refers to him as a "boy of the neighborhood."

I have a pretty large experience of boys, and you're a bad set of fellows. Now mind!....Behave yourself!"

After Pip becomes a gentleman, he repels poor Joe, who loves him dearly, as he becomes ashamed of Joe when he visits London. Afterwards, Pip rarely visits the forge, staying at the inn in town, the Boor's Nest, whenever he leaves London. Similarly, he is repulsed when he learns that it is Magwitch, rather than Miss Havisham, who is his benefactor--"I recoiled from him."

The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have exceeded if he had been some terrible beast.

Further in the narrative, after Pip burns his arms as he tries to save Miss Havisham from the fire, after she begs his forgiveness and accepts him as a worthy man, Pip realizes his folly in rejecting the true friends of Joe and Biddy. He begs forgiveness of them and the kind Joe tells him that there is nothing to forgive. 

Pip also tries to get Magwitch out of London to safety from the law, but Compeyson identifies him and Magwitch is apprehended although he is mortally injured. As Magwitch lies dying, Pip is solicitous of him and cares for him to the end, having realized that Magwitch has truly loved him and the old convict has been a victim of social injustice for most of his life.

That "great impostor," Uncle Pumblechook represents those of the rising merchant class of the Victorian age who would aspire to the upper-class, a group who flattered and fawned a decadent aristocracy in hopes of acceptance. Pumblechook hopes to be invited in to Satis House, but Estella informs him that the aristocratic Miss Havisham has no interest in seeing him and shuts the gate against him, rejecting him.

ericjohnlarge | Student

Acceptance versus rejection in Great Expectations is revealed in the main situations and relationships Pip is involved in such in his home life as a child. Pip's sister is cold to him while Joe Gargery is kind and friendly. The prisoner at the marshes though he seems ominous to Pip at first, begins to transform in Pip's mind into a man who is basically good and Pip accepts that. Pip seems to feel accepted by Miss Havisham though her actions are strange. Whereas Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, Estella, is haughty and reject's Pip's puppy love. He forgets Biddy, his childhood friend.  Pip finds acceptance with Mr. Jaggers and with Herbert Pocket. However, with his upgraded schooling and inheritance of undisclosed source, Pip himself now despises (rejects) his childhood home, his sister and Joe Gargery. Overall, Pip continues to find acceptance and rejection in his various adventures and relationships with others, Magwitch (the prisoner at the home marshes), the law, debtor's, revisits with his first family and with Biddy and Estella.   

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Great Expectations

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