Approaching literature: Reading Great Expectations
Approaching literature: Reading Great Expectations

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Approaching literature: Reading Great Expectations

3.5 Summary

Like so many earlier scenes, this return to the forge replays numerous details of Pip's preceding encounters, giving it an almost ritualised feel, as the reader is made to go through the process of repetition and return that makes up the basic rhythm of the story. These details appear at first to be purely surface realism, but an active reader can sense that more lies behind or within them, in the heightened awareness encouraged by recognition of Dickens's hallucinatory writing. When Biddy touches the new Pip's hand to her lips, ‘and then put the good matronly hand with which she had touched it, into mine’ (p.476), we can understand that she thereby replaces Mrs Joe's bringing up ‘by hand’ and the sado-masochistic feelings long associated with it, with her own form of domesticated desire. Pip's hands were burnt by the false mother, Miss Havisham, and are now recovered. Before that, Magwitch had, in the climactic recognition scene, come towards him, ‘holding out both his hands for mine’ (p.327). Pip resisted this action at first, then accepted it, as he accepted his ties to the outcast convict. On the latter's deathbed he held Magwitch's hand, who finally ‘raised my hand to his lips. Then, he gently let it sink upon his breast again, with his own hands lying on it’ (p.455). That moment is recalled by ‘the friendly touch of the once insensible hand’ (p.477) of Estella when, at the last, Pip meets the convict's daughter and thinks of Magwitch pressing his hand, a memory empowering him to take ‘her hand in mine’ (p.479), as they go out of the ruined place in the last paragraph of the novel.

Thus, the constant association of Miss Havisham's world with that of Magwitch, represented as coincidence, contains a revelatory truth about Pip and the source of his aspirations. It is also an indication of their common status as outsiders.

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