Curt Hartog and U.C. Knoepflmacher both discuss the androgynous quality of Dickens' characters. Knoepflmacher argues that Pip has to resolve a gender-conflict within himself by finally confronting his anger against women which feminizes him by rendering him passive aggressive:
Pip must not only be brought to face his own anger at women but also be brought to see the abuses inflicted on Miss Havisham, Estella, and Mrs. Joe are similar to those he himself suffered...Pip must admit his identity with Miss Havisham, Estella, and, hardest of all, with the sister who replaced his mother, the entombed presence he knows only as 'Also Georgiana Wife of the Above'. Only by recognizing that his scars and their scars are the same, can Pip go beyond anger at these man-haters and try to repair the bruised femininity that he, like David [Copperfield], requires for restoration of his psychic wholeness. (89)
None of the important women in the novel, reveal any true tenderness for Pip, and this lack of a tender maternal figure in his life combined with his lack of a strong masculine figure in his home (both Joe and even Herbert are feminized) render Pip weak as a man. Curt Hartog, in "The Rape of Miss Havisham," writes that "Together, the three [women: Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, and Estella] create in Pip a vague unbounded desire for acquisition and possession aimed equally at status and relationships that is narcissistic and self-defeating" (249). Although he believes that Miss Havisham intends Estella for him, Pip does nothing to push actively for a marriage. He merely waits for Miss Havisham to pronounce the date, only to learn that Miss Havisham never had any such plans for him.
According to Knoepflmacher, when Magwitch returns from Australia, Pip is forced to reassess his expectations about class and gender because Estella is Magwitch's daughter. The woman who caused his desire to become a gentleman as a very young girl turns out to be nothing but the daughter of two criminals, her mother a murderess. Pip feels ruined by the taint of a convict when he first learns that it is Magwitch and not Miss Havisham who is his benefactor. "But, sharpest and deepest pain of all it was for the convict, guilty I knew not of what crimes, and liable to be taken out of those rooms where I sat thinking, and hanged at the Old Bailey door, that I had deserted Joe" (341). Magwitch's return to England disillusions Pip and kills any false expectations he had concerning his prospects as a gentleman and as a suitor to Estella. The ambitions he had concerning elevating his social status to match Estella's own turn out to be false, and Pip realizes what false dreams and how awful and selfish his actions have been as he grew older and gained a fortune from an unknown benefactor.
- Gender and Pip's Fantasy of Social Advancement
- Questions of Feminism in Aurora Leigh
- Women and Social Status in and Great Expectations
- Conflicts of the Woman Poet in Aurora Leigh
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.
Hartog, Curt. "The Rape of Miss Havisham." Studies in the Novel 14. (1982): 248-65.
Knoepflmacher, U.C. "Dickens' Bruised Femininity." in Shattock, Joanne. Dickens and Other Victorians: Essays in Honor of Philip Collins. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.
Last modified 1996