In Great Expectations, what is Herbert's father's chief fault and why is he so suitable to educate Pip?
Matthew Pocket's chief fault is that he made the common mistake of marrying while he was too young and before he had decided on a career. He didn't know whether to go into the law or the church, and consequently did neither. Dickens describes them both as having married "in the first bloom of youth." Mrs. Pocket is described as having grown up
. . . highly ornamental, but perfeftly helpless and useless.
She is very good at having babies, but no good whatsoever in taking care of them. The household is chaotic. Mr. Pocket has his hands full trying to make a living without having any specialized training for a profession. He is constantly frustrated by the disorganized state of his household, which the servants run to please themselves. He is in the habit of grasping his hair with both hands and seemingly trying to pull himself up.
He laid down the carving knife and fork--being engaged in carving at the moment--put his two hands into his disturbed hair, and appeared to make an extraordinary effort to lift himself up by it.
Matthew Pocket is an intelligent and likeable man, but thoroughly disorganized himself anf married to a giddy young woman who is even more so. He makes his living in whatever way he can with the education he has received at Harrow and Cambridge before getting married too soon and finding himself saddled witth a childish and incompeent wife and growing family. Part of his living comes from tutoring young gentlemen. He also, paradoxically, writes books and gives lectures on such subjects as domestic management and the care and raising of children.
Why is Matthew Pocket especially suitable to educate Pip? Precisely because Pip's secret benefactor does not want him educated for any profession or trade, and Pocket himself was not educated for any profession or trade. He will teach Pip how to have the appearance of a gentleman and to be able to talk the chit-chat that characterizes genteel society. Pip thinks his real purpose in life is just to be a husband to the beautiful Estella, and he believes that is what Miss Havisham, whom he has always taken to be his benefactress, expects of him. The unknown benefactor (Magwitch) plans to leave him plenty of money and only wants him to turn into his idea of a "gentleman," which is what Pip actually becomes. Poor Magwitch, like members of the ignorant lower classes in general, admires gentlemen and ladies, with their fine clothes and manners, without understanding that most of them are parasites living off the labor of people like Magwitch himself.
After two or three days, when I had established myself in my room and had gone backwards and forwards to London several times, and had ordered all I wanted of my tradesmen, Mr. Pocket and I had a long talk together. He knew more of my intended career than I knew myself, for he referred to his having been told by Mr. Jaggers that I was not designed for any profession, and that I should be well enough educated for my destiny if I could "hold my own" with the average of young men in prosperous circumstances. I acquiesced, of course, knowing nothing to the contrary.
When Magwitch returns illegally to England and meets Pip in his rooms, he is delighted with the gentleman he has made with his hard toil and spartan existence in Australia. Pip is actually quite spoiled and useless, not capable of earning his own living, and contemptuous of the working classes. He lives a life of leisure and dissipation. He has become a fop.
Hired to be the tutor of Pip in his "great expectations," Mr. Matthew Pocket is an erudite gentlemen with only one fault: he cannot handle his domestic affairs. Ironically, in theory, Mr. Pocket is very competent in this area, but in reality, he is incapable of maintaining any order in his home.
Mr. Pocket was out lecturing; for he was a most delightful lecturer on domestic economy, and his treatises on the management of children and servants were considered the very best text-books on those themes.
In Chapter XXII, for instance, Mrs. Pocket, who is quite helpless, spends her time reading about titles; as she buries herself in her book, her children fall about her, tumbling over Mrs. Pocket's footstool. The maid Flopson finds herself retrieving the children from under her feet or rescuing them from choking on nutcrackers.
“Good God!” cried Mr. Pocket, in an outbreak of desolate desperation. “Are infants to be nutcrackered into their tombs, and is nobody to save them?”
This contrast in Mr. Pocket's persona as a man of letters and his frustrated and inept persona as a husband provides comic relief in this tale of the trials and tribulations of maturing. In addition, there is a suggestion that Pip may not become any more productive than the Pockets.