What is the significance of the character of Wemmick in Great Expectations?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Wemmick invites Pip to his home and Pip meets Wemmick's aged parent and fiancee, this establishes a friendly personal relationship between Jaggers' clerk and Pip. The friendship is useful to Pip because Wemmick warns him when the returned convict is in danger, and Pip has at least a chance to save his benefactor from recapture. Wemmick has been handling most, if not all, of the correspondence with Abel Magwitch over the years. Wemmick is indispensable to Jaggers, who, as an official of the court, cannot know a lot of things that it is possible for Wemmick to know, since Wemmick is only a clerk. For instance, Wemmick can know that Magwitch has returned to England, but Jaggers can at least pretend that he doesn't know a thing about it. Apparently Magwitch has been dealing through Wemmick during most of the time he has been in Australia. Wemmick seems to handle most of the money that comes into the office, including some dirty money. Jaggers' habit of washing his hands frequently may be at least partly symbolic of his desire to have "clean hands," i.e., to be ignorant of any kind of unethical professional practices. His compulsive hand-washing may be an indication of fear that some of his malpractice may come back to haunt him. Jaggers is by no means unique in the legal profession.

When Pip comes to Jaggers office in Chapter 40, with the intention of verifying what he has learned during his harrowing meeting with Abel Magwitch in Chapter 39, Jaggers is instantly on the defensive.

“Now, Pip,...be careful....Don't commit yourself,” said Mr. Jaggers, “and don't commit any one. You understand—any one. Don't tell me anything: I don't want to know anything: I am not curious.”

Jaggers obviously doesn't want to be told things he already knows. Pip has a slight advantage over the lawyer. That is why Jaggers doesn't want Pip to "commit" himself, or any one. Pip knows he knows lot of things. This may explain why Jaggers confides further in Pip and tells him, among other things, how and why he arranged to have Estella adopted by Miss Havisham.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wemmick leads a double life, as Jaggers’s clerk at work and a loveable, doting father (and eventually husband) at home.  He demonstrates the idyllic home life Dickens imagined everyone should have.  He is one of the few characters who is actually reasonably happy.

Wemmick is Pip’s window to London.  He serves as his advisor since he is the one to “keep the cash” (ch 21, p. 119).  He advises Pip on the importance of “portable property” early on.

Wemmick is a “dry man, rather short in stature, with a square wooden face, whose expression seemed to have been imperfectly chipped out with a dull-edged chisel” (ch 21, p. 118).  At work, he is harsh and firm, but Pip notes that he might have dimples if he ever smiled.  This foreshadows the two sides to Wemmick’s character, for he can be cheerful!  He has keen, glittering eyes.

When Wemmick takes Pip home, he sees a completely different side of him.  For one thing, Wemmick decorated his house elaborately himself, and asks Pip if it looks “pretty.” 

Wemmick's house was a little wooden cottage in the midst of plots of garden, and the top of it was cut out and painted like a battery mounted with guns. (ch 25, p. 141).

Somehow, the house is both whimsical and gothic.  It is entirely original, just as Wemmick is entirely original.  When Wemmick is in his home, he’s in his castle.  He does on his father, the “Aged P” and enjoys a peaceful life of domestic tranquility.

Wemmick is also one of the few characters to actually have a successful romantic relationship—but it is as original as Wemmick himself.

“Halloa!” said Wemmick. “Here's Miss Skiffins! Let's have a wedding.” (ch 60, p. 304)

In the end, we are presented with few happy people in this book.  Wemmick is happy because he makes himself happy.  He lives life on his own terms.  By creating strict barriers between his work and home life, he gives himself peace—and tranquility.

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Great Expectations

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