Pip’s Evolution as a Muscular Character
Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectation is recognized as one of the most important examples of bildungsroman, that is, a “novel of personal development or education” of its main character (Rau). In this novel, using a first-person narrative, Dickens tells the story of Pip and how he evolves from being an almost illiterate child who lives a life of struggles to a gentleman who is well-educated and economically comfortable. The scholar Nicholas Shrimpton, however, suggests that Pip’s self-discovery is also a fundamental characteristic of the Muscular Novel (140). Although Great expectation is commonly defined as a bildungsroman, due to Pip’s transformation, it can also be considered as a “muscular novel” (Shrimpton 125).
A muscular novel, according to Shrimpton, is a text in which the protagonist is not only a man who is well-educated and physically strong, but also extremely polite (125). Shrimpton claims that the protagonist of a muscular novel needs to be “manly,” “gentle,” and “genteel” (135). To fully understand this concept, it is important to analyze the three terms to determine the specific features that the character needs to have. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a manly man has or denote “those good qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage, strength, and spirit;” a gentle man has or show “a mild, kind, or tender temperament or character,” while a genteel man is “characterized by exaggerated or affected politeness, refinement, or respectability.” As maintained by Shrimpton, Pip should be at the same time a man with a good heart, who is also brave and well mannered.
In the first part of Great Expectations, Pip is often presented as a boy with a tender heart. At the very beginning of the story, for instance, Pip feels sympathy for Joe’s condition of being illiterate, and even if he knows that he could get in trouble with his sister, he wants to help him improve his condition. Throughout the whole book, Pip tends to sacrifice himself or get into trouble just to help the people he loves; he does not care about what could happen to him, he just wants the people who surround him to improve themselves. Moreover, Pip does not feel embarrassed of being a sensitive boy who cries and he even admits, “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlaying our hearts. I was better after I cried, than before – more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle” (Dickens 191). Stereotypically, men are not allowed to cry because otherwise they will lose their masculinity; however, Dickens refuses this cliché and gives the characters a significant psychological complexity. Even before proving Pip’s masculinity, Dickens gives to Pip’s character gentle features. The fact that Pip himself admits being “more gentle” is fundamental for the evolution of the character. Another proof of Pip’s gentleness is given when he meets Trabb’s boy in London and, for instance, he restrains his mainly instinct and does not yield to the Trabb’s boy’s provocation. Instead, he says “To have struggled with him in the street, or to have exacted any lower recompense from him than his heart’s best blood, would have been futile and degrading” (Dickens 275). Avoiding a physical confrontation with the Trabb’s boy, Pip shows again that he does not have a harsh temperament.
At the same time, this scene introduces Pip as a “genteel” character. In fact, the use of the world “degrading” is not coincidental. Once in London, Pip acts as a gentleman should, so to physically fight against a person whose social condition is inferior would be humiliating. Instead, Pip writes a letter to Mr. Trabb in which he advises him that they would not do business together if he still hires people who act so brutally, and that he is showing an inadequate interest in his one company by hiring the wrong person (Dickens 275). Writing the letter to Mr. Trabb, Pip has the opportunity to show his superior condition of being a literate man. Pip’s way of solving the situation is, in fact, appropriate for a man who is training to be polite, refined and genteel. Similarly, the fact that Pip joins The Fiches of the Grove, a club whose members are all respected gentlemen, is a further attempt by Pip to elevates is status and become a genteel man. However, while being a genteel man, Pip’s still shows some gentle characteristic too. He admits that that he would pay Herbert’s expenses if only Herbert lets him, and he is worried that Herbert financial situation will worsen due to the high costs of the club (Dickens 301). Another scene in which Pip’s gentleness is evident is when he asks Miss Havisham to help Herbert found a company (Dickens 419). Pip is more concerned about his friend’s economic problem than about his own. He has just experienced bankruptcy because he spent too much money to live as a gentleman, but he does not seem worried about that. His goodness is so pure that it comes out again in different situations. It may be argued, in fact, that Pip’s main characteristic is gentleness. He tries to act as a genteel man, but he does not have the innate quality that can make him be a genteel person; on the contrary, it is evident that his kindness is a characteristic that truly belongs to him. Dickens, however, tries to give to Pip also some features typical of a manly character making him have a physical confrontation with other men. For instance, one morning, while Pip is having breakfast, he is taken by an angry attack as that “[he] went so far as the seize of the Avenger by his blue collar and shake him off his feet – so that he was actually in the air, like a booted Cupid” (Dickens 303). There is not an understandable reason for which Pip should have reacted in a so harsh way; he explains that the only fault the Avenger had was “to suppose that [Herbert and Pip] wanted a roll” (Dickens 303). It is evident that Pip does his best to act in a manly way to consolidate his status of gentleman. He could not be defined as a gentleman, in fact, if he did not show some characteristics that are peculiarity of men. His desire to be a gentleman seems to be his primary impulse that makes him act in a bizarre way that contradict his unquestionable nature of gentle man. Another significant time in which Pip is represented as a manly character is when he sells everything he has and goes to the Middle East. Pip undertakes an unpredictable and long voyage to Egypt without really knowing if he could arrive to destination safe and sound. He reveals that within a month, [he] had quitted England, and within two months [he] was clerk to Clarriker and Co., and within four months [he] assumed [his] first undivided responsibility. For, the beam across the parlour ceiling and Mill Pond Bank, had then ceased to tremble under old Bill’s Barley’s grows and was at peace, and Herbert had gone away to marry Clara, and [he] was left in sole charge of the Eastern Branch until he brought her back. (Dickens 499) This is the scene in which Pip is mostly represents as a manly character. He is presented as a courageous man who is not afraid of leaving behind him everything he knew and discover a new and unknown world. Pip’s voyage is particularly relevant because it introduces a slightly different sense to the terms manly.
Throughout the whole story, the characters that Dickens presents as manly are all physically strong, and their valor and masculinity strictly depend on how much they are able to react and fight when in need. On the contrary, now Dickens represents Pip manliness as the sum of his feelings such as his courage and his adventurous spirit. Being a masculine character, therefore, does not only have a negative meaning. The features that Dickens conveys to Pip makes him a model character, a character that Dickens’ readers would even like to imitate. Dickens challenges the gender stereotypes typical of his age, and redefines the concept of masculinity. Pip is presented both as a brave man who does not fear the unknown, and as a man who accepts his feelings and does not feel ashamed of expressing them. Once Pip stops caring about his masculinity, he is free to take full advantage of his potential. Pip is, in fact, able to combine all his qualities to be at the same time gentle, genteel, and manly. During his sojourn in Egypt, Pip shows his gentleness by keeping constantly in touch with Joe and Biddy; he demonstrates his gentility in the way he acts towards Herbert; and he expresses his masculinity simply by living in the East. As Shrimpton claims in his article “Great Expectation: Dickens’s Muscular Novel,” “[Pip] is ultimately the moral hero the book because he is able to correspond to a tripartite definition of the gentlemen” (140). In fact, when Pip’s comes back to England, he is a new man. He has understood the mistake he has made while he was trying to be a gentleman, and he is finally a man who has accomplished his great expectation.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectation. Edited by Graham Law and Adrian J. Pinnington, Broadview Literary Texts, 1998.
Shrimpton, Nicholas. “Great Expectations: Dickens’s Muscular Novel.” Dickens Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 2, June 2012, pp. 125-141. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=77415173&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 October 2017.
Rau, Petra. “Bildungsroman”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 13 November 2002 https://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=119. Accessed 10 October 2017.
In Matilda’s Voice: Narrative and Character in Mister Pip
‘The art of the storyteller is to hold the attention of the reader.’
One of the ways in which author Lloyd Jones holds our attention in the novel Mister Pip is through the use of Matilda’s innocent narrative voice. Matilda’s traumatising experiences in the beauty of her remote village on the island of Bougainville, shape her character and decisions as she grows. Her telling of her story captures and holds the attention of the reader throughout the novel. Matilda is a narrator who is inside the text. She is a character in the novel and speaks to the reader directly. Matilda’s honesty displayed throughout her narration creates trust and reliability in her character, drawing further attention to her plight. Despite Matilda’s naivety we believe her assessment of the situations around her. Matilda’s tone emphasises the effect of war on both herself and her community which maintains the attention of the reader.
Matilda is a young girl who narrates her experiences which speak and connect directly with the reader. The first person narrative is the sincere voice of Matilda, who is an eyewitness to horrific events. Events that she witnesses are captured in the simplicity of her sentences and descriptions. This use of syntax is influenced by Matilda’s age of thirteen years. In her description of Pop Eye, she uses short, simple sentences to accurately capture what she sees. “Some days he wore a clown’s nose. His nose was already big.” (p. 1) “His large eyes in his large head stuck out further than anyone else’s… “ (p. 1). Matilda’s character is central to the text and therefore every detail that she is witnessing, we witness also. This sense of being with Matilda constantly maintains the attention of the reader. Lloyd Jones employs this technique of writing from Matilda’s direct view point to captivate us.
When Matilda speaks of the blockade caused by the war, her child like sentences express her optimism. “We had fish. We had our chickens. We had our fruits. We had what we always had…. We had our pride” (p. 8). Her emotions are what connects the reader and hold our attention. This simple style of short sentences also creates tension in the novel. When the soldiers enter the village by helicopter, short sentences are used to show that there is fear throughout the village. “No one spoke. We waited and waited. We sat still. Our faces dripped sweat.” (p.34). When Matilda stares at the dead dog, her style becomes more in depth and reflective. “To stare at that black dog was to see your sister or brother or mum and dad in that same state.” This change of direction in Matilda’s narrative voice keeps the audience engaged with the novel and encourages them to read on to see what happens next.
Lloyd Jones uses the element of syntax to gain empathy from the reader and prove that Matilda is a reliable narrator. Thus, making Matilda an honest storyteller. From this early point in the novel, we trust in her descriptions of other characters and assessment of the situations around her. Despite Matilda’s youth, she can see the damage done to the island by the mines and the subsequent war which are expressed through Matilda’s thoughts in the novel. “We knew about the river pollution, and the terrible effect of the copper tailings after heavy rain. “ (p.43) “The redskins’ visit affected us in different ways. Some of us were seen hiding food in the jungle. Others made escape plans.” (p.41).
The author intends Matilda’s innocent tone of voice to emphasise the effect of war has on her and the community of Bougainville. Throughout the novel, readers witness Matilda’s experience and her effort to make sense of what is happening around her. Matilda appears emotionless when she witnesses the body of Mr Watts being “chopped up” and fed to the pigs. “They chopped Mr Watts up and threw him in pieces to the pigs.” (p. 174). Matilda also appears this way when her mother is murdered, flat, blunt and emotionless. She uses the same description as she does with Mr Watts. “…there they chopped her up and threw her to the pigs.” (p. 180) Matilda’s emotionless tone is representing the effect of the war on her. This expresses to the reader the horrors that Matilda is facing and the fact that she has to disassociate herself from her thoughts. Matilda appears as though she has no feelings in regards to her situation, when in reality, she is unable to comprehend and process the violence taking place before her “I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories like these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on.” (p. 180).
Matilda’s narrates her experiences in the novel draws and retains the attention of the readers. Her sincerity and honest nature gains the trust of the reader and builds and the relationship between the book and us. Lloyd Jones uses Matilda’s tone to emphasise the effects of the war on Matilda. She is driven to cut out all of her emotions as a result of not knowing how to deal with the memories that she possesses.
Jones, Lloyd. Mister Pip. New York: Dial Press, 2007. Print.
Context and Compassion in Mister Pip
The conflict between Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army between 1988 and 1998 has been described as the largest conflict in Oceania since the end of World War II. The novel Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones examines the impacts of war on the island of Bougainville in the early 1990’s. Through the eyes of an innocent teenager, Matilda, Jones explores the subject of war and provides personal connections to both the destructive and heroic acts in the conflict. Through the use of language features such as juxtaposition, first person narrative and symbolism, Jones portrays the important idea that though war brings destruction and devastation, it also proves selfless acts of humanity during dire and desperate times.
Jones uses juxtaposition throughout the text to emphasize that war divides society. For example, when Matilda describes a white man in contrast to herself, she uses the words “and white as the whites of your eyes only sicker”. The word “sicker” emphasizes Matilda’s perspective on the white population as ill and diseased and paints a distinct picture that Matilda views the white population to be dissimilar to herself and the native population. She sees herself and the native population as ‘normal’ whereas she is particularly wary of the white population and does now know what to expect from them. Matilda’s description of the white population in comparison to herself highlights the division of society caused by the war at the time. Matilda is particularly wary of the white-based redskins who invade later and continue to convince Matilda to depict the white population to be evil, unkind and cruel. Jones uses juxtaposition earlier in the chapter again through Matilda who says “For the younger kids the sight consisted only of a white man towing a black woman” but the older kids “sensed a bigger story”. The use of the word ‘only’ suggests that the younger children are innocent and have no depiction of the white population, whereas t older kids have undergone a loss of innocence and have been faced with negative interaction with the redskins throughout the war and as a result are cautious and wary of white people. This further highlights the corrupt society that was brought as a result of the war. However, even in such harsh and corrupt circumstances, the Bougainville civilians proved acts of selflessness and sacrifice of white Jones explores further as the novel progresses. The audience understands the important message that even in the most dire circumstances, humanity can prove capable of healing.
First-person narrative is used throughout the novel to describe acts taken by island civilians to benefit others in the desperate war torn town of Bougainville. Matilda’s first person narrative in the novel commentates and personalizes the effects of the war on Bougainville island and civilians. Through such an innocent and young eyes, the audience is given a grim image of the brutality at the time of the war and in turn, the acts of selflessness and sacrifice brought by humanity at such a desperate time. When the redskins interrogate the people of Matilda’s village on who Pip is, students are lost for words to describe that Pip is a fictional character of the novel being read to them. In a desperate attempt of an explanation, Daniel reveals that “Pip belongs to Mr Dickens.” Ass outrage and anger is raised between the redskins through the confusion and unclear answers, Mr Watts say that he is Mr Dickens. Through Matilda’s first person narrative, she describes “He had taken that identity to protect Daniel.” The audience understands that Mr Watts had taken the false identity to ensure the safety of Daniel. Mr Watts was willing to risk his own safety to save that of his student. As a result, Mr Watts is seen to be a kind and courageous character, proving an act of heroism in the face of his war-torn community. Later, a similar act of heroism is described through Matilda when she describes her thoughts on a situation she is faced with – “Would my rape have been such a high price to pay to save the life of my mum? I do not think so. I would have survived it.” Mathilda’s thoughts bring into focus the brutality of the war and the inner strength needed to survive such violent experiences. The audience understands that Delores, Matilda’s mother, had sacrificed her life in order to prevent the rape of her daughter. Not only does this highlight Delores as a courageous character but it proves to show an act of sacrifice and selflessness in a time of need. The audience further understands that even in desperate times. There are ways for humanity to make the best of a situation.
Symbolism is used throughout the novel to show Bougainville residents keeping spirits high in a demanding and brutal time during the war. For example, the 19th century novel by Charles Dickens “Great Expectations” is a symbol of escape for the village children – brought to them by Mr Watts. Through reading the novel during the war-torn reality, Mr Watts provided the children with the opportunity to reinvent themselves using their imagination. The novel acted as a guide to life as different students took to its main character Pip for reassurance, guidance and support. Through introducing the students to an alternate world to their own, the audience understands that Mr Watts is a kind and well-natures being, willing to help others even in the most grim on times. Earlier in the novel, Matilda describes Mr Watts to be wearing a clown’s nose when she says “Some days he wore a clown’s nose””. In the novel, the red clowns nose worn by Mr Watts symbolizes his desire to make sad people happier. The clowns nose represents the irony of the sadness of the clown, because clowns bring joy and laughter to people’s lives. The simple act of wearing the red clowns nose, of which brought joy to village children, further highlights Mr Watts to be selfless and kind, even in the harsh war-torn environment that he too is faced with. This further highlights the important idea that even in the most dire and desperate of times, humanity can show acts of kindness and selflessness to improve a situation.
In Mister Pip, the subjects of conflict and war are explored through a young girl’s eyes proclaims the impacts of war on the island of Bougainville in the early 1990’s. Lloyd Jones uses effective language features such as juxtaposition, first person narrative and symbolism to highlight the important idea that even in the most fire and desperate of circumstances, humans can make the best of a situation. In the middle of a war torn community, characters such as Mr Watts and Delores were willing to take risks in order to benefit the lives of overs. The novel Mister Pip reminds the audience to make something good of a bad situation. Even in the face of challenges, do not resort to unfair and unkind actions; rather, take the time and effort to look out for those around you who may be struggling and put them first.