Gentelman Pip

The societal class of a gentleman is a controversial topic at the time Dickens writes Great Expectations. So, how does the filtered voice of Pip show the conundrum people made of the matter? A major study beyond the scope of this post might explore how we are to see the stakes presented in Great Expectations. Alternatively, on a minute scale, the text gives plenty of context and contrast to make this argument of what beholds a gentleman come to life. Through the bias of the author’s desire to be called a gentleman, Pip is a true captain of the vessel.

The craft of writing a gentlemanly character probably came second nature to Dickens due to his own chronological placement in history. Attributes that Pip displays, his personal knowledge of his societal placement by birth, the environmental conditions and social inadequacies are put on full display for the reader to understand the intentional starkness of separation.

An example, [“Whom have we here?” (Jaggers) … “A boy,” said Estella. “Boy of the neighborhood? Hey” said he. … “Well! Behave yourself.” (p. 117)] The answer given by Estella is a degradation of personage given on the heels of another social slight by the adults in attendance, “…they all looked at me with the utmost contempt,” (p. 116). The address given by Jaggers is equally degrading as he infers that ‘boys of the neighborhood’ do not know how to behave properly in the society of the higher classes.

In the third volume, Dickens presents the wonderment of Pip as an unobserved reaction when Magwitch presents himself as Pip’s benefactor. In the historical context of the novel, Magwitch being unobserving of Pip’s trembling at his presence may well be intentional by Dickens. The purpose of the omission shows how a gentleman is known to show true sensitivities, hence Magwitch’s lack of reaction. In the Broadview appendix C, a gentleman of pure breeding is arguably superior in sensitivity to those of mixed heritage. “…fineness of structure in the body, which renders it capable of the most delicate, sympathies” (p. 565).

Dickens shows the contrast between the higher class and common folk as given great weight by one’s actions rather than breeding. The images of Mrs. Havisham’s actions are far from a sensitive nature. Dickens gives Pip equality to the higher class in this, and many other, ways. An example of Mrs. Havisham’s character, “But perhaps you can never believe, now, that there is anything human in my heart?” (p. 419)

Therefore, the image of Pip is elevated as one of a gentleman in the end of the novel when Dickens has Pip and Estella meet in the dilapidated garden of the old house. Estella is an heiress of familial fortune, though, it is known now that she is not of a higher society’s definition of pure bred. Pip is not wealthy, a working man, a noble endeavor to not be an idle person of wealth, as is the ‘code’ of a true gentleman. In this way, I believe, Dickens intends to show that the Estella and Pip can be elevated with her wealth and there gentile manners to that of higher society as defined by those outside of a pure bred culture.

Gentleman, Pip.

Details Witheld

The purposeful concealing of information proves unusually significant and recurring throughout the narrative of Great Expectations. Whether the characters withhold information for the good of their peers or in hopes of their demise, the intentions vary. Yet almost all of the characters ascribe to this action at one time or another. It proves a central theme and behavior for the cast. The story commences with Pip aiding a convict, an event of which he does not tell his sister or Joe, continually fearful that his actions might be discovered. His secretiveness at this moment commences the successive series of secrets throughout the novel.

Other significant untold intelligence includes the mysterious identity of Pip’s benefactor, as well as the fact that Miss Havisham knew she herself was not the benefactor. She withheld this information and instead led him on to believe it was her. In London, Wemmick hides his pleasant home life and gentle, devoted disposition from Mr. Jaggers, desiring to keep the two spheres entirely detached. Other crucial secrets include Pip’s refusal to tell Magwitch that his inheritance will be taken from him, his desire to make Pip a gentleman razed, upon his execution and death. These are merely a handful of the multitude of secrets threaded throughout Pip’s account.

This abundance of withheld information, in addition to a small passage towards the end of the novel made me question Pip’s reliability as a storyteller. The narrator of the novel, Pip’s method of delaying answers to plot questions proves instrumental for the story’s trajectory and suspense, but it causes reservation regarding Pip’s absolute dependability as the relator of events. While Magwitch lays in the infirmary, awaiting his fate, Herbert asks Pip to join him as a business partner. Pip defers the offer for the time being, informing the reader of his reasoning for doing so: “Firstly, my mind was too preoccupied to be able to take in the subject clearly. Secondly—Yes! Secondly, there was a vague something lingering in my thoughts that will come out very near the end of this slight narrative” (471). Thus, he delays clarity for the sake of suspense, yet, in the end, Pip never reveals exactly what that “vague something lingering in [his] thoughts” was. This vague notion could have been anything. It could have been a an acknowledgment that he needed to redeem his relationship with Joe, or a plan to marry Biddy, or a still strong desire that he might one day have Estella. Whatever that vague lingering was, Pip never explicitly tells his audience. This proves not the sole instance in which Pip leaves readers in the dark without ultimately enlightening them of his meaning or personal revelation.

This specific occurrence is rather harmless and unintentional, however, it attributes to Pip an inconsistency that affects his relationship with the reader. It causes one to question if Pip left out other details, whether intentionally or not, that would change one’s interpretation of the story. Pip’s past of withholding information for the good of those around them bolsters this suspicion of his reliability. Perhaps he left out some details for “our good” as well. By no means does this reservation spoil my view of Pip or thwart my joy in his reconciliation and redemption towards the end of the novel. Rather, it simply causes me to question what other details and stories may be floating out there that Pip did not see fit or profitable to tell us in his account.



Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations has the main character, Pip, fall into a source of fortune, live his life with that fortune, and attempt to find out who gave him the fortune. Until Pip learns the identity of his benefactor, he has an unhealthy obsession with the idea of fate which manifests in his relationship with Estella. He believes that Miss Havisham is his benefactor from the very beginning, and for years he operates as if this is the case. Because of that, he seeks to marry Estella, even though he finds himself in bad company with her. For instance, this passage shows how Pip is beginning to think about how she treats him:

“In Mrs. Brandley’s house and out of Mrs. Brandley’s house, I suffered every kind and degree of torture that Estella could cause me…I know too certainly that it almost maddened me.”

We know Pip is not inept; he is a rational thinking young man. But his willingness to follow Estella and to “honor” Miss Havisham brings to light the idea of why he gives in to fate. Several 19th-century novels cover the idea of fate in a less nuanced way; fate is usually described as the “happy-ever-after” part where the two characters are not meant to be. However, Dickens does not go that route in Great Expectations. He leaves the fate of Pip up to Pip himself. Clearly, Estella does not want to be with Pip and is trying to warn him that she is not right for him. In Chapter 29, here is what she says directly:

“’Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt,’ said Estella, ‘and, of course, if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no – sympathy – sentiment – nonsense.’”

With her bad company and her direct deliberate warnings to Pip, we have to wonder what is going through the young man’s mind. What is Dickens trying to say to us as modern day readers?

I think that these passages are trying to break the mold of the 19th-century love story. Throughout many of those novels, characters are often thrust together by circumstance and fall in love through fate not by choice. In Jane Eyre, Rochester and Jane fall for each other after only a few months in their shared house because she got a job there. In Wuthering Heights, we see the budding relationship between the different characters based on their close proximity in their shared house. And yet in Great Expectations, Pip and Estella spend quite a bit of time together, years even, and Pip learns that the romantic idea of how “love” plays out will not go the way he thinks it will. Estella does not reciprocate his feelings and directly tells him that she won’t. Estella is breaking up her fate of becoming Miss Havisham and is trying to tell Pip to not do the same.

However, Pip is determined and headstrong to do this because he truly believes that his life is determined by fate. As we saw in the beginning chapters, he has chance meetings with virtually every important figure in the novel and becomes attached to them because of his status. It’s understandable why Pip would believe in fate, but we know the truth: that fate does not define one’s life. Dickens wisely uses Pip to create a more nuanced life and to show us that you cannot force anything to happen if it was not meant to happen, including love.          

Wealth and Obsession

In Great Expectations, the main character Pip goes through a series of events that take him from a place of ignorance in regards to social class and very quickly reveals to him how social structures work in his world, and how low he stands in relation to others. His first encounter is with the eccentric Miss Havisham, from whom he originally learns to view himself as being inadequate and of a lower caliber. After meeting with her he views himself and those around him with a more pointed eye, being particularly critical of his brother-in-law and mentor, Joe. The knowledge of class, social structure, and wealth never seems to make Pip happy. His interactions with Miss Havisham and Estelle leave him feeling inadequate and, in Estelle’s case, with a deep sense of longing. His interactions thereafter do nothing to push him towards happiness, instead they seem to pull him away from it. In the last scene of the first volume, Pip feels himself wishing to return home, if only for one more night. Likewise, we the reader feel that he is being pulled away from something intrinsically tied to his personhood — his sense of home. Pip himself laments that he “should be afraid of where he comes from”. This future self seems to understand that wealth and character are not one and the same, a lesson younger Pip has yet to learn.
Even when he gets to London, a city he perceives as being the center of class and high society, his hopes are dashed after seeing the condition of his living situation. He learns very quickly thus that the place that he has come to is just as bad as the place he left. His only companion is that of a layman turned gentleman and his son, Mr. Pocket and Herbert Pocket. From an objective third person perspective his mentor may not be that far above him in rank due to his lack of fortune, however his character immediately renders him as being superior to those of the higher caliber that we meet before and afterwards through their incessant kindness towards Pip. Pip, however, sees them through the eyes of wealth and power, remarking to himself even that “Herbert Pocket would never be very successful or rich”. His harsh criticism emphasizes Pip’s obsession with wealth and status. This is his journey— to learn about wealth and then grow to understand how money and the obsession with obtaining it can lead to ruin.

From Coals to Ashes

There is a waning of conditions for Pip in London. Whatever could be imagined as high society, London is made out to be quite the opposite. With great labor the reader is enticed to believe all the hubbub of wealth and living arrangements are laid out before Pip in a straight fashion; the money flashed at Joe as a gift and given to Pip for new clothes, the great house of Miss Havisham, and promise of a tutor in the manners to be displayed by a gentleman.

The interesting descriptions of the Havisham estate are puzzling at first. The purpose is unclear as to why the Lady of the estate has such a fancy to bring Pip to ‘play’ there. When Miss Havisham says things to Estella like, “You will break his heart,” one can gain a perspective of evil contrivance. Then, she takes a liking to Pip. Though the circumstance might seem to have changed, as if Pip had fallen into favor with Miss Havisham, the grimness of her awful smile as he kissed her hand lies tales of another sort.

The bumbling awkwardness of giving a shake to Pip for his good fortune and new position was beyond any over indulgence than I could ever imagine. Giving Pip the ‘boot,’ as he left, Joe and Biddy surely gave him the cheerful remembrance of a true nature, though he showed disdain at the time, thankful that the display did not happen at the coach house.

All in all, the deathly state of affairs is portrayed when Pip arrived at his new abode. The author describes the place in terms of graveyard, and other unlikeable things in any way that does not persuade one to believe that good should come of it. The banishment of hope for the truth in the endeavor to becoming a gentleman is what I discerned from it. Pip thought he wanted to be greater than a blacksmith among coals, but comes into the rubbish heap of London and the ashes of dreams.

Moral Failings

In Chapters 14 and 15 Pip’s changes upon returning to his sister and Joe reveal why Great Expectations is considered a bildungsroman. Pip’s education in London is on hold and he has become Joe’s apprentice once again. Pip was once satisfied with this apprenticeship, but his time in London and with Miss Havisham and Estella changed him. Pip knows this change is for the worse, telling us, “It is the most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, I can testify. Home had never been a very pleasant place to me… But, Joe had sanctified it, and I had believe in it… Now, it was all coarse and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account” (107). Poe’s time away from home might have improved his intellect, but his morals have fared very poorly at Satis House and in London. He has never had a healthy relationship with his sister, Mrs. Joe. She was cruel to him throughout his childhood and is prone to fits of rage. Having said that, the fact remains that she took in an orphaned Pip, setting him up with clothes and food and a place to live. Joe has been nothing but kind to him, and he is lucky to have a bed and an apprenticeship to return to when he wears out his welcome in London, but Pip recoils at the perceived shabbiness of his home. His reaction to his sister’s death is also equal parts ad and cruel. He walks in to find her, “lying without sense or movement on the bare boards where she had been knocked down by a tremendous blow on the back of the head” and instead of reeling sadness or pity he is simply glad she is, “destined never to be on the Rampage again, while she was wife of Joe” (119). Pip’s reaction is disappointing because he has already lost so many members of his family, and he has had plenty of time away from his childhood home to mature and distance himself from his sister’s cruelty. He says he wants to become a gentleman, but he means it only in the sense that he wants to increase in intellect and money while doing nothing to improve himself morally. Under these “gentlemanly” ambitions of his, the family that raised him and his childhood home have been belittled in his mind and left derelict.

Eeneagram Aid

By and large, one predominate tension within Great Expectations proves Pip’s attachment to Estella, despite the irrationality of his affection. Subdued by her beauty, Pip dismisses Estella’s cruelty, contempt, and conceit. He sets aside her “air of inaccessibility” and her statement that she possesses no softness, no sympathy, and no sentiment. He knows that she has given him no hint of a reciprocated fondness. He perceives Mrs. Havisham’s encouragement to love Estella resembles a curse more than a blessing. However, for Pip, Estella’s beauty eclipses every omen.

After seeing Estella for the first time in years, Pip publicizes his passion for her to an already knowing Herbert. Their conversation that evening illustrates the absurdity of Pip’s attachment, for Herbert points out that Pip has no reason to believe that his expectations include Estella, nor would she necessarily prove a pleasant prize. Herbert challenges him to “think of what she is herself” and thus take caution, warning Pip that his obsession with a girl of her disposition “may lead to miserable things” (279). Though in agreement, Pip admits himself unable to upbraid his devotion, declaring the idea of detaching himself from her as” impossible” (279). Thus, Pip exemplifies the irrational hope and “wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest men fall every day” (161).

To reference the enneagram— a tool that collectively describes the way in which certain personality types react to themselves, others, and the world— I would submit that Pip’s disposition as a Type 4, namely an “individualist” or “romantic”, adequately explains his behavior here. Though sensitive and self-aware, as Pip’s childhood has proven him to be, Type 4s typically operate out of a basic fear that they have no identity of personal significance. In response to these worries, Type 4’s envision a perfect self, whom they aspire to become. Several statements from Pip in previous chapters bolster this designation of him as a 4. Pip attributes his reason for wanting to become a gentleman as self-dissatisfaction, a discontent elicited by Estella calling him a commoner. His self-indignation derives from being looked down upon my Estella, and his self-aspirations spring out of a desire to win her approval. Type 4s also often seek to attract “a rescuer”, someone who they believe can redeem them. Pip, thus, envisions his redemption in life as Estella herself, whom he expects to attain through self-improvement. If personal significance and worth had not been so elusive for Pip, perhaps his affection for Estella would not have proved as strong. On the night of his departure for London, it seems a lack of self-approval proves the root of Pip’s sorrow, for he notes, “dissatisfied with my fortune, of course I could not be; but it is possible that I may have been, without quite knowing it, dissatisfied with myself” (176).

Just as Pip’s gloom often has to do with self-frustration, his aspirations typically revolve around his ideal self. For Pip, that ideal self and Estella’s approval are inseparable entities. He becomes so attached to this fantasy self that he accedes it impossible for him “to separate her, in the past or in the present, from the innermost life of my life” (265). His ideal self has become so entrenched in winning Estella that not only does he find all personal significance in her, but “all of [his] expectations [and happiness] depend” on her as well (277). Thus, we thank the enneagram for helping us understand the seeming absurdity of Pip’s devotion.



The idea of a “home” is a place of comfort, stability, and prosperity. In our current world, we enjoy the luxuries of having a home. In literature, home is both physical and metaphorical. In a written work, we can find a home in a person, place, or an ideal. In the case of Pip’s life, it’s the latter.

Throughout the initial few chapters of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the central character is presented with some options as far as what home means. Initially, it was the physical space, where Pip grew up with Joe, Mrs. Joe, and Biddy in the house. But as Pip ages, he becomes much more aware of the home that he wants rather than the home that he has. In other words, he becomes aware that this is not his home.

In Chapter 14, Dickens has Pip rationalize his stay with Joe in this phrase:

“Home was never a pleasant place for me…but Joe had sanctified it.”

When we read this line, we see Pip’s intuition and determination to get out of that house and into something new. It’s a character trait that is consistent with Pip’s personality and actions in this part of the novel (such as his snobbery towards Joe and Biddy). Here, Pip displays his first sense of the ideal home – a physical and pleasant place that doesn’t have Mrs. Joe in it and where he doesn’t have to solely survive on someone else.

However, another passage comes to mind when we read this too. After Pip learns that he is going to inherit a great fortune and will finally move up in society, Pip narrates this part of his mindset:

“Dissatisfied with my fortune, of course I could not be; but it is possible that I may have been, without quite knowing it, dissatisfied with myself.”

 This is the psychological space that Pip would inhabit in his ideal home. Now, with the earlier context, it is not only a space where he can be alone but also a space in which he can be satisfied with himself.

Coming from the streets and having virtually nothing to your name gives you an “idea” of what home or prosperity can be. For Pip, home is a sense of achievement. Having fortune, having a stable place, and becoming a gentleman are all different ways of achieving that dream. This does not mean that he doesn’t value Joe and Biddy; it means that while he appreciates their virtue and love, he wants to be able to take care of himself and be stable on his own. This concept creates a complex literary character that makes Pip that much more relatable, albeit somewhat dislikeable. When we have a vision in our minds of a certain thing, we tend to chase it until it is no longer there. Home is something that our modern selves takes for granted, but Pip is after the physical and the mental peace that comes with the home.


The Peril of Pride

Comparison is often identified as a chief thief of joy and contentment. This truth resounds throughout the first volume of Great Expectations as Pip’s experiences at Mrs. Havisham’s leave him dissatisfied with his life at the forge. Despite seasons of contentment in his current position, seasons which offer “sufficient means of self-respect and happiness” (165), a mere “remembrance of the Havisham days would fall upon [him] like a destructive missile, and scatter [his] wits” (165). The memory of Satis, more attractive and alluring than his modest home life, spoils satisfaction for life with Biddy and Joe. Only at times when he juxtaposes his life with that of the inhabitants of Satis does Pip express unrest. Comparison proves the poison, as Pip himself acknowledges, noting “what would it signify me, being course and common, if nobody had told me so” (161). If he had not known the glory of Satis, his home life would not seem so dull, for he would have nothing to compare it with.

However, Pip’s discontent may have as much to do with pride as it does comparison. Biddy notes that pride takes many different forms. She attributes to Joe a pride that keep him from ever leaving the forge, an occupation and place for which he feels well suited. Though Biddy does not directly identity pride in Pip, her words cause the reader to consider what form it takes in him. C.S. Lewis offers a helpful analysis, noting that pride, by nature, is competitive. No one takes pride or shame in their circumstances apart from comparing them with the circumstances of another. Pride, a fault of which no man is innocent, derives from having more of something than others do. If everyone were dealt the same hand, there would be nothing to pride oneself or shame oneself in. As the tides turns and Pip hears of his good fortune, the pride once mingled with shame manifests itself in new ways, primarily in his relationships at home. Joe, tender and kind and often identified by Pip as his savior and best friend, becomes an embarrassment. Looking back, Pip bemoans the way in which he and Joe parted. He asked to walk alone because the contrast between his new self and Joe would be too irregular.

This analysis by no means chastises Pip for his tussle with pride, for no human being proves exempt from this struggle of comparison. At the same time, the detection of pride is helpful in understanding Pip’s transition and his actions, both before and after his elevation.


Class in Great Expectations

In the first volume of Great Expectations, the narrator Pip wants desperately to become a member of the English elite. He, however, is an orphan boy born to commoner parents. His older sister and brother in law take him in, raising him as their own. He makes marks on their lower status, wishing “Joe had been more genteelly brought up”. Frankly this wish sounds selfish, as he only wishes this so that his own status may be elevated. What is interesting, however, is this desire to leave behind his commoner roots emerges first whenever Pip first goes to visit Miss Havisham at her estate. He marks himself as being dirty to meet with upper-class individuals, with his “course hands and [his] common boots”. In the chapters leading up to this engagement we never see Pip question his mode of dressing or his level of education, but being exposed to a higher lifestyle seems to awaken within him a desire for higher achievement.
    What is interesting is that this idea of upper and lower classes does not directly correlate with traditional lines between bad and good. In fact, both camps seem to house their own personal style of terrible, with his abusive sister at one end and the absolutely bonkers Miss Havisham at the other. Where Pip feels most comfortable is with his brother-in-law, Joe. Joe is illiterate and is about the lowest character in terms of social class. His kindness and salt-of-the-earth practical intelligence steers Pip towards moral rightness and yet does so without the malice of Pip’s sister or the judgmental airs of the Havishams.

Growing Older but not Wiser


During chapters 14 – 19 the reader begins to see Pip grow older and transition from a child into an adolescent. As he grows older the way Dickens describes him changes as well. Before Pip always looked at things with a child’s perspective. Pip was small and confused, but now he is older and begins to notice the emotional and moral implications of his decisions. One example is his guilt over the convict resurfacing. “I became aware of my sister – lying without sense or movement on the bare boards where she had been knocked down by a tremendous blow on the back of her head, dealt by some unknown hand when her face was turned towards the fire”. This is the scene where Pip finds out his sister has been attacked and he later find out they think the convict he previously helped is the attacker and he feels guilty. “With my head full of George Barnwell, I was at first disposed to believe that I must have had some hand in the attack on my sister, or at all the events near relation, popularly known to be under obligations to her, I was a more legitimate object of suspicion than any one else.” Pip immediately begins to overanalyze, and blame himself. He honestly does not really have any reason to assume that this attack is in anyway his fault or connected to him whatsoever and yet he immediately assumes he has a hand in the attack. He obviously had no hand in the attack since he didn’t attack her and he knows he didn’t and he knows logically this is in no way connected to him but he is showing some true narcissistic characteristics here. Pip continues to grow older but it is obvious he is not growing out of his childish behaviors and emotions yet.

Don’t you know, Pip?

The wonder of a boy at an early age is a wonderful thing. Charles Dickens captures a magical and dangerous tale in a Walt Disney fashion; actually, the fashion of Disney was influenced by writers such as Dickens. The best parts of any story are the ones that catch the reader by surprise, though it was no surprise to the reader when Joe posed the question titling this post.

When the boy, Pip, goes along his way, the world comes alive and animated in his imagination with talking cows, personified noises, and vivid characters. While I read, it was a marvelous adventure to see what would happen next. The writing style is masterful with multi-syllable words that require a dictionary for the average modern reading level of sixth grade. But even so, they seem to fit well enough for anyone to imagine the meaning.

The consciousness of Pip’s tale generates a comical read and one that inspires me to think of careful ways to engage the reader as a wordsmith.

An orphan seeking love

Great Expectations begins with a somber scene of our orphan Pip reading the inscriptions on his parent’s tombstones. Pip tells the reader that, “The shape of the letters on my father’s grave, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair” (3). Dickensl has managed to lace the child’s words with an odd undercurrent of humor. It also is indicative of Pip’s familiarity with death. As an orphan in the mid 18th century Pip has certainly been exposed to many harsh realities in his struggles to survive. He has also witnessed the passing of all five of his younger siblings as they struggled to survive on the streets without parents. In the same paragraph Pip reveals, “five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat little row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine- who gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in that universal struggle” (3). This is the beginning of a narrative of isolation that will follow Pip throughout the novel. He is an orphan in the truest sense of the word with not even a sibling to keep him company. Pip once again inserts a thread of humor into his commentary when he expounds that his brothers, “had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence” (3). This is Pip’s way of calling them lazy. This seems a little harsh until you take into account how Pip must have fought to remain afloat on the streets. Pip’s understanding of what it is like to be hungry, alone, and afraid is what drives him to help the convict. He makes it clear that he is terrified of the man yet he returns not once but twice to feed him. As calloused as Pip seems in his reflections about his family he still risks his own hide to save a complete stranger, and he still takes the time to go a sit beside his family and imagine what his parents looked like. His words hold a kind of depersonalization, which is at odds with his actions and most likely a coping system to keep him from following the same path as his little brothers. However, Pip reveals his true nature in the way he overcomes his fear to help a man in need. He might seem callous and uncaring but underneath that he is nothing but a lonely orphan seeking acceptance and love.

Coco and Antoinette: A Parallel

It is clear to me that Wide Sargasso Sea was written by Jean Rhys to make a clear statement about the unfair representation of the Caribbean and its peoples in Jane Eyre. This statement is decidedly anti imperialism and highlights the subtly racial stereotyping found in Jane Eyre. This is evident in the way she highlights the social struggles left over from competing British and French colonization and slave emancipations, and in the way Antoinette’s descent into madness and ultimate death is hastened by her removal from her home and intentional isolation from society by her husband. Antoinette’s death is sad but easily predictable by the trail of breadcrumbs Rhys leaves throughout the text to foreshadow it. We are a story about Coco’s change after Mason’s arrival, namely that, “After Mr Mason clipped his wings he grew very bad tempered, and though he would sit quietly on my mother’s shoulder, he darted at everyone who came near her and pecked their feet” (25). It is important to note that Coco’s wings were clipped by her mother’s husband and that Rhys notes it is bad luck to see a parrot die. This serves as forshadowing for Antoinettes fiery suicide at the end of the novel. Like Coco with his clipped wings pecking at feet, Antoinette’s loss of freedom as she is locked away in the third-storey room only further enraged her, pushing her to act out in violence “…once to secrete a knife with which she stabbed her brother, and twice to possess herself of the key to her cell, and issue therefrom in the night-time” (129). These violent outbursts do not gain her the freedom she seeks and continue to escalate to the point of Antoinette lighting her prison on fire and throwing herself from the roof. We are given an image of Antoinette straddling the roof “waving her arms, above the battlements, and shouting… She was a big woman, and had long black hair: I could see it streaming against the flames as she stood… she yelled, and gave a spring, and the next minute she layed smashed on the pavement” (131). This scene brought to mind her mother’s beloved pet parrot Coco’s final swan song off the deck of her family home in Dominica where Antoinette tells us, “I opened my eyes, everybody was looking up and pointing at Coco on the glacis railings with his feathers alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him and he fell screeching. He was all on fire… I heard someone say something about bad luck and remembered that it was very unlucky to kill a parrot, or even to see a parrot die” (25). Like Coco, Antoinette had he wings clipped by her husband, who’s racist tendencies colored him against her from the start and led to him locking her away from the world in his home. Anointte seeking death over spending another second imprisoned by the white man she was convinced to marry strengthens Rhy’s stand against imperialism. It makes a statement that, like Antoinette, the Creoles would rather see death then be forced under the thumb of the white men that enslaved them.

Rochester: Real or Fake?

Rochester: Real or Fake?

After finishing both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, I have decided that I like the latter more than the former. I feel like some will judge me as an English major that prefers Rhys to Bronte but I do. Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea is mentally and emotionally all over the place. At the close of section 2, he is thinking to himself and decides, “I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.”  Rochester is preparing to leave the island with his mad bride and to think back on this journey that led him to this is fascinating. Rochester in Jane Eyre is calm, assertive, and self-assured, but Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea is paranoid, insecure, and irrational. A complete stranger claiming to be his wife’s illegitimate brother send him a letter telling him she is mad. Rochester believes him. He has felt so insecure and on the outside of some conspiratorially secret since he arrived that when this man offers him an answer he jumps at the chance to believe it. Rochester has felt like an outsider since he married his wife and he doesn’t know why his marriage isn’t what he wants it to be, so he decides to believe a stranger who claims his wife is crazy. “How can one discover the truth, I thought, and that thought led me nowhere. No one would tell me the truth. Not my father nor Richard Mason, certainly not the girl I had married. I stood still, so sure I was being watched that I looked over my shoulder. Nothing but the trees and the green light under the trees.” This quotation further illustrates Rochester’s paranoia and his belief that everyone is hiding some truth from him. Which Rochester is his true self. Is Rochester truly the put together gentleman as he appears in Jane Eyre or is he simply better at disguising his deep-seeded insecurities and paranoia that are so apparent in Wide Sargasso Sea? This would help readers to understand his actions in Jane Eyre towards his ‘wife’ Bertha. Thinking that it is ok to lock her up and pretend she doesn’t exist. Perhaps he is really trying to lock up his past when he was paranoid, insecure, and naïve towards his life.