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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Compare and contrast the appearance and behavior of Joe and Mrs. Joe Gargery.

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Joe Gargery is a man of simple tastes and desires. He loves Joe, his wife, his trade, and the land. The only thing he wants more than these is to be free of his wife’s constant belittling and abuse. In contrast, Mrs. Joe wants all that Pip has—money, power, and social status—and will do anything to get it.

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Joe Gargery and his wife, Georgiana, generally referred to as Mrs. Joe, are presented as very different in almost every way. Joe is a paragon of virtue. A hard-working blacksmith, he is devoted to his craft, his wife, and Pip. Dickens describes him as fair in coloring, with flaxen curls...

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that surround a “smooth face” (chapter 2). While Joe knows that his wife is unkind, he feels that it is his responsibility to care for her, both through his affection—which he understands that she needs—and via supporting her and their household financially. Joe, who serves as a father figure to Pip, remains his steadfast friend even when the youth turns into a thoughtless snob, as he trusts that his true nature will resurface. After his first wife dies, Joe marries Biddy, who is much more like him in temperament.

Georgiana Maria Gargery, Pip’s sister, is twenty years older than him. Mrs. Joe's appearance offers a contrasts to Joe’s, as she is “not a good-looking woman.” Her hair is black, and her skin tends to be red. She is a volatile person who easily loses her temper. In general, she finds fault with her husband about everything. At one point, she physically assaults Pip. Her personality and behavior clash with Orlick, Joe’s assistant, who finally kills her with a hammer.

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Joe has curly "flaxen" hair (which means it is pale blond), a smooth face, and blue eyes. He is the kindest of men. Pip describes him as mild-mannered, easy-going, flexible, "foolish," and a "dear."

Mrs. Joe is the opposite of Joe in both looks and behavior. She has black hair and coarse red skin. Pip sometimes wonders if she doesn't wash herself with a nutmeg grater rather than soap. She is tall and lean. She wears an apron with a square bib that is always stuck with pins. Pip records that she hits both Joe and himself. As Pip puts, Mrs. Joe has

a hard and heavy hand, and . . . [is] much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me . . .

Mrs. Joe is a harsh, bad-tempered woman who makes it clear that Pip is a burden to her even though he is her own brother. Joe, in contrast, though he is only related to Pip through marriage, genuinely cares for the boy and treats him with gentleness and compassion.

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