What is Pip's attitude toward Provis when he first enters Pip's apartment in chapter 39 of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Pip reads, he "starts" with a nervous folly and goes to the staircase with his reading lamp.  Pip calls to whoever is below and finds a man dressed substantially, but like a voyager by sea; he asks the man his business.  Asking the man into his room, Pip inquires as to what is his intention:

He looked about him with the strangest air--an air of wondering pleasure as if he had some part in the things admired...

As this man with long grey hair growing only on the sides of his head comes toward him with hands outstretched, Pip "recoils a little from him." Then, when the man asks if anyone is around, Pip asks him why he asks that question.  To this, the man replies,

"You're a game one....I'm glad you've grow'd up a game one!  But don't catch hold of me.  You'd be sorry afterwards to have done it."

Pip narrates that he relinquishes the intention because he realizes he knows the man. The man holds out his hands to Pip, and Pip reluctantly gives him his hands, which the man kisses.  When the man seems as though he will embrace Pip, Pip draws back, places a hand upon his chest, and "put him away."  However, the man asks him how he has done so well since leaving the marshes, continuing his questioning until Pip understands the connection.  He places a hand upon his chest, feels as though he is suffocating, and shudders:

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 been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast.

Clearly, Pip, who has always entertained the idea that Mrs. Havisham will be pleased about his fortune and that he is the recipient of "great expectations" because of her, now realizes that it has been Magwitch all along who has been his benefactor.  And, he is repulsed, as well as feeling as though he has been exposed again to the lower class, whom he finds repugant.

This chapter XXXIX of Great Expectations illustrates the hypocrisy of Pip who calls his uncle Pumblechook a "swindler," and ridicules him for his admiration for money and what Dickens considered a frivolous aristocracy.  Yet, Pip freely accepts money from his benefactor, assuming this person is Miss Havisham, in abject admiration for a demented member of the aristocracy.  However, when he learns that the grey convict of the marshes is his benefactor, he is repulsed and shrinks from him. Here, also, the reader perceives the importance of Mr. Jaggers's admonition to Pip, "Take nothing on appearances."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

ajmchugh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 39 is undoubtedly one of the most powerful chapters in Dickens's Great Expectations.  As the chapter opens, Pip, alone in his apartment, is reading; outside, a terrible storm is raging that has ripped roofs off of buildings, caused shipwrecks, and uprooted trees. 

In the middle of the storm, Pip hears footsteps and goes to his door.  Here, Dickens creates suspense, as the visitor, dressed as a "voyager by sea," enters and wishes to speak to Pip. Pip does not attempt to make the stranger feel welcome; instead, he asks if the man wishes to come in "inhospitably," and notes that he resented the manner in which the man had a "bright and gratified recognition" of Pip.  When the convict reaches out for Pip's hands, Pip recoils.

In time, the convict reveals his identity, and Pip's response is one of utter disgust.  He instructs the convict to "keep off!" and remains standing "not to disguise that I wished him gone." 

Then, when the convict tells Pip that he is Pip's benefactor, Pip literally almost faints:

I could not have spoken one word, though it had been to save my life.  I stood, with a hand on the chair-back and a hand on my breast, where I seemed to be suffocating--I stood so, looking wildly at him, until I grasped at the chair, when the room began to surge and turn.

The convict, who is both proud and elated to announce himself as Pip's benefactor, assumes Pip's reaction is just one of shock, and says, "Don't you mind talking, Pip...you ain't looked slowly forward to this as I have."  And finally, when Pip is able to respond, his question is, "Was there no one else?"

Obviously, Pip is asking whether or not Miss Havisham had any role at all in funding Pip's education.  When the convict says no, all Pip can think of is Estella.  In one evening, Pip's entire life, as he had understood it, is changed:

Miss Havisham's intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not desined for me; I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience, a sting for the greedy relations, a model with a mechanical heart to practise on when no other practice was at hand.

Finally, Pip reflects on his behavior, and understands the hurt he has caused Joe and Biddy.  The chapter ends with Pip referring to the convict as a "dreadful burden."

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Provis (who is really Magwitch, the convict) first enters Pip's apartment in Chapter 39, Pip is very suspicious of him.  I would say that suspicion and resentment are the two main aspects of Pip's attitude.

Pip is suspicious and resentful because the man seems to recognize him.  I think that Pip feels that this man is not good enough to be treating him in such a familiar way (he talks about how the man looks like a sailor, all rough looking -- not a gentleman).  I imagine that Pip thinks Provis is in some way trying to con him into believing he knows Provis.

So there are a couple things going on.  First, you have a guy who's acting like he knows Pip when Pip doesn't recgonize him.  Second, the guy is clearly from a lower class than Pip.  These two things make Pip suspicious of him and they make Pip resent the way Provis is behaving.

Read the study guide:
Great Expectations

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question