When do readers see evidence in Great Expectations that Pip is affected by child abuse, and how does that follow him through his adolescence and adulthood? 

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the outset of Great Expectations, readers must suspect that Pip has a miserable existence in his sister's home. After all, Pip first appears as a small child choosing to spend time in a graveyard. Children who wish for any escape, even if it is to the graves of their parents and other siblings, are often the victims of abuse and/or neglect at home.

Next, Chapter II opens with Mrs. Joe's reputation in the village of bringing up Pip "by hand," and Pip acknowledges that his sister is

"much in the habit of laying [her hard and heavy hand] upon her husband as well as upon [him]" (Chapter II).

In her initial appearance in the novel, Mrs. Joe tells Pip that it would have been better if he were buried in the graveyard with the rest of his young siblings and then proceeds to threaten him with Tickler (a cane reserved for beatings); she follows up by pouring tar-water down his throat.

As young Pip endures physical and verbal abuse along with neglect at the hands of his sister, he also witnesses bizarre and dysfunctional familial relationships. Mrs. Joe constantly belittles and emasculates her husband, all while physically abusing him. Miss Havisham "models" a loveless relationship with her adopted daughter whom she emotionally abuses in order to train her to "abuse" others. These relationships compound Pip's distorted view of how humans should treat each other.

When Pip becomes a young man, he has no point of reference for what a romantic relationship or family relationship should look like. He fawns over Estella because he has been conditioned to do so. He seems to have no idea that a potential spouse should reciprocate affection, praise, and respect. He has seen only his sister's harsh, deplorable treatment of Joe and listened to Miss Havisham's embittered diatribes against men. He cannot realize, until it is too late, that Biddy's kindness toward him could have led to a meaningful relationship. Similarly, Pip treats Joe reprehensibly when he comes to visit and acts selfishly toward Herbert and many others because no one has modeled a brotherly or fatherly relationship for him. 

In the end, after Pip receives compassion and forgiveness from Joe, Biddy, Mr. Wemmick, and Abel Magwitch, he seems to realize that he doesn't have to live a life of accepting abuse and responding in kind.

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Great Expectations

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