Great Expectations Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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Why is Pip ashamed of himself when he recognizes Joe at his bedside?

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Pip is ashamed of himself when he discovers Joe at his bedside because he had resented Joe’s visit to London. Pip was raised by his older sister and her husband, Joe. His older sister was a domineering and intolerant individual whose manner was suffered daily and jointly by the two men. Joe is a blacksmith and a simple person. He is also the kindest individual to ever grace Pip’s path. By chapter 27 of Charles DickensGreat Expectations, Pip has become educated and cultured, two things that Joe is most definitely not. Pip has become a member of upper-class society and interacts regularly with other refined upper-class people. When Joe announces his intent to travel to London to visit Pip, Pip is embarrassed. As he relates early in chapter 27,

Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.

Joe’s unsophisticated rural background and overly kind demeanor do not, Pip believes, conform to the world in which the younger man now lives. Note in the following description Pip’s ambivalence at best and hostility at worst toward Joe’s presence in London:

As the time approached I should have liked to run away, but the Avenger pursuant to orders was in the hall, and presently I heard Joe on the staircase. I knew it was Joe, by his clumsy manner of coming up-stairs—his state boots being always too big for him—and by the time it took him to read the names on the other floors in the course of his ascent.

So it is that news of Pip’s long illness and confinement to bed has reached his family and prompted another visit from Joe. In chapter 57, Pip describes his illness and hallucinations, many of which revolve around Joe’s image. Pip regrets his attitude toward Joe during his visit to the city and feels extremely guilty to now discover that the kindly figure at his bedside throughout the long illness was no other than Joe himself. Pip knows he was wrong and wants to be punished by Joe for this transgression, rooted in a level of class consciousness alien to his origins in the English countryside. His guilt manifests itself in his plea for his old friend and brother-in-law to hate him, Pip, for his pretentiousness: “Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe. Tell me of my ingratitude. Don’t be so good to me!”

Pip had taken seriously ill and was confined to bed. He had literally, he believes, worked himself sick. He has been immersed in a world very different than the one in which he was born and raised. He has changed, and not wholly for the better. His accession to the upper-class parlors of London took hold of his subconscious and transformed him into something he regretted. Joe was the symbol of his humble beginnings, but also a figure of love and, within the extremely humble confines of the world they had inhabited, a figure of some munificence. That Pip had been ashamed of Joe has become a source of shame for Pip.

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