Both Jane Eyre and Pip suffer from isolation. Not only are the two protagonists both orphans, but their mother figures, Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Joe, actively exclude and shame them. Mrs. Reed creates “ a marked line . . . between [Jane] and her own children: appointing [Jane] to a small closet, [and] condemning [her] to take [her] meals alone“ (85). But, Jane fights her isolation. Mr. Brocklehurst proclaims Jane a sinner and a liar, but Jane refuses to crumble under his scorn.

There I was, then mounted aloft. I, who had said I could not bear the shame of standing on my natural feet in the middle of the room, was now exposed to the general view on a pedestal of infamy. What my sensations were, no language can describe; btu just as they all rose, stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl camp up and passed me: in passing, she lifted her eyes. What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary senstation that ray sent through me! How the new feeling bore me up! It was as if a martyr, hero, ahd passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up y head, and took a firm stand on the stool. [Brontë, 130]

Like Hester Prynne upon the scaffold, Jane stands proud and tall, refusing to accept her infamy. Just as Hester transforms her scarlet letter “A“ for adultery into an “A“ for acceptance, Jane actively alters her reputation at Lowood. At Lowood and beyond, Jane dedicates herself to a life of teaching and discipline to establish herself as an independent, successful woman, and reject the shameful isolation of her childhood.

Pip, on the other hand, does nothing to amend his sense of shame and guilt. In fact, Pip invents guilt and shame when it is not real or present. For example, Pip imagines that, when the soldiers barge into his house on Christmas Day, that they have come to arrest him, that they “[hold] out a pair of handcuffs to [him]“ (Dickens, 65). He has a similarly fantastic illusion of guilt when he goes to the Town Hall to be “bound“ to Joe. “The Justices were sitting in the Town Hall near at hand, and we at once went over to have me bound apprentice to Joe in the Magisterial presence. I say, we went over, but I was pushed over by Pumblechook, exactly as if I had that moment picked a pocket or fired a rick; indeed it was the general impression in the Court that I had been taken red-handed“ (Dickens, 138). Apprenticeship should be a cause for celebration, but Pip depicts it as Joe, and society’s, attempt to punish, shame, and imprison him. Guilt should not exist during this event, but Pip imagines it nonetheless. Pumblechook and Joe only wish to congratulate Pip, but Pip views his communal recognition as public humiliation. Pip is mortified when Pumplechook “place[s] [him] on a chair beside him“ (Dickens, 139) to recognize his achievement. Jane Eyre and Hester Prynne work to transform their guilt, but Pip allows his shame to consume him. Pip’s imagined guilt and obsession with shame over his course and common self do not integrate him into society, but rather drive him away from those who care for him most.

Questions

1. As children, both Jane and Pip are treated like they “insisted on being born“ (Dickens, 58). Why is Jane, even as a child, so much more self-righteous and indignant than Pip? Is it because she does not have a support system, like Joe, and must fend for herself?

2. Pip’s imagination for guilt is clearly represented as a negative quality in the above passage. But, does it ever appear as a positive quality in the novel?

3. According to Gerry Johnstone,

The use of shaming as a method of inducing conformity with social norms is by no means conŽned to the criminal justice system. In the wider society, shaming — often through much more subtle techniques — is an important form of social control. However, in modern times, attitudes towards shaming have varied considerably, and many have tried to eliminate not just the practice of shaming but also the very sense of shame. The Victorian era was perhaps the heyday for shaming as a method of regulating thought and conduct. Among the upper and middle classes, in particular, a sense of shame played a central role in the control of conduct and lifestyle. A range of methods were used to make people suffer various degrees of the emotional discomfort we call shame whenever highly detailed and intrusive norms of respectability and decency were transgressed. Knowledge of this kept most people from such transgression. [Johnstone cites Lynd and Nathson — see the bibliography below]

During the Victorian era, public shame was used as a way of monitoring radical thought and behavior. Do Dickens and Brontë publicly shame their protagonists to criticize the trend of public humiliation during the Victorian Era?

Suggested readings for question 3

Croll, Andy. “Surveillance and Shame: Regulating Behaviour in the Public Spaces of the Late Victorian British Town” Social History. 24.3 (Oct., 1999): . 250-268 http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/4286578.pdf.

Johnstone, Gerry. “Restorative Justice, Shame, and Forgiveness." Liverpool Law Review 21 (1999): 197-216. [Web version available via Brown University library system; may not be avaialble outsie the university.]

H. Lynd, H. On Shame and the Search for Identity. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1958.

D. Nathanson, Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.

Related Material

References

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Graham Law and Adrian J. Pinnington. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1998.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 3 March 2010