This is Part III of the author's “The Endings of Victorian and Modern Works: Domesticity Preserved, the Family Resurrected, Domesticity Destroyed, the Family Denigrated."
n the tradition of Jane Eyre, Great Expectations also ends with the fulfillment of unrequited love and key changes in the lives of the protagonists. Indeed it is at the very end of the novel — the last sentence in fact — in which Dickens assures the reader that Pip and Estella will ride off into the proverbial sunset together. While for the course of the novel Pip is characterized by extreme selfishness and self-aggrandizement, by the end of the novel he comes to see the errors of his ways and rectifies the wrongs he has done, cleansing himself of the egocentricity that accompanied his fortuitous rise to wealth. Other characters, like Joe, also evolve and come in to their own happiness by the end of the novel. At the end of Great Expectations, as in Jane Eyre, new children are brought into the world, new relationships and marriages are cemented, as Dickens forms his characters into more kind, self-aware and fulfilled people. The endings of both Jane Eyre and Great Expectations chart the road from sickness to health, from decrepitude to renewal, and physical as well as spiritual rebirth.
One of the driving themes in the ending of Great Expectations is reconciliation, which inherently improves relationship and sets them on a new path. As he does not want to be “misremembered after death," (Dickens, 380) Pip reconciles with his benefactor, Magwitch, Joe and finally, Estella. In the cases of Joe and Magwitch, Pip wants to show them he is aware of and has washed himself of his wealth-and-fortune-induced selfishness, an affliction which made him look down upon Joe's simplicity and rarely to consider the identity of his benefactor. For Magwitch, Pip makes daily visits as he festers in prison, unwilling to desert his benefactor as he feels he has in the past. Magwitch's death scene ends with a prayer, as Pip asks the Lord to forgive Magwitch for his sins. Interestingly, Jane Eyre also ends with a prayer: both endings speak to the fervent religiosity of the Victorian period. After reconciling with Magwitch, Pip becomes ill, spending many nights that teem with “anxiety and horror" (412): it is both a physical and existential illness and crisis. It is Joe who cares for and revives Pip. Acknowledging his “ingratitude" of years past, Pip goes on to reestablish a relationship with Joe and Biddy. The new, more humble. Pip is best exemplified on page 428 when he shows his gratitude to Joe and Biddy for taking care of his debts and his health, profusely offering to repay them and acknowledging that no payback will ever be great enough. Indeed, Pip is greatly changed from the young man who is deeply “ashamed of the dear good" (91) Joe.
Closely mirroring the scene in Jane Eyre when Jane brings Rochester out from Ferndean and into the open air of the English countryside, Joe and Pip have their own symbolic adventure in nature. Tenderly carrying the weak Pip to his carriage, Joe and Pip drive “away together into the country" (417), as if moving onwards from their from their old selves and experiences. At this point in the novel, both are new men: Pip, more humble and now accustomed to working for a living, Joe, literate and in love. On this Sunday afternoon, Pip is overcome by the “rich summer growth�on the trees and on the grass, and sweet summer scents�filled the air" (417). Gazing at the landscape, Pip thinks of how it has “grown and changed, and how the little flowers had been forming, and the voices of the birds had been strengthening" (418). He seems to be describing himself, as someone who has “grown and changed" and who has strengthened himself as he recovers from sickness, but as someone who has also strengthened his sense of humility. As the landscape in Jane Eyre reflects Rochester's rebirth and the growth of Jane and Rochester's love, so the outside world reflects Pip's physical and emotional rebirth in Great Expectations.
As reconciliations abound, there are several romantic relationships that blossom as the novel concludes. First among them is Joe and Biddy's romance: as Jane and Rochester are deeply in love, so are Biddy and Joe “in love and charity with all mankind" (428). Complementing and improving each other as lovers do, Biddy teaches Joe to write (415), a simple yet empowering skill; able to sign his name — indeed his identity — comes to have a renewed sense of self worth and has a sense of “unbounded satisfaction" as he wields his pen. Also like Rochester and Jane in their Victorian love story, Biddy and Joe are blessed by the birth of a baby boy, who they call Pip and who is the spitting image of Pip senior. In a novel the comes to be about Pip's growth and the paths and evolution of relationships, it does not seem accidental that Dickens chose to “rewrite" Pip as a young child, perhaps allowing him another life in which to correct the mistakes of old. Theirs is a simple and wholesome domestic bliss.
Finally, there is Pip and Estella. Like Jane for Rochester, Pip enters back into Estella's life at the very right moment, as she has led “a most unhappy life, and as being separated from her husband, who had used her with great cruelty, and who had become quite renowned�" (431). In the tradition of the great ending of Jane Eyre, the hardship and tragedy in Estella's life will be rectified on the last pages of the novel. In keeping with the theme of miracles , or at least highly fortuitous circumstances in Victorian novels, Estella and Pip meet again after having been separated by marriage, time, children and Pip's self-imposed isolation. Visiting Miss Havisham's old home for the last time, the mysterious figure of a woman appears: moving slowly towards the figure, Pip soon understands that the apparition is Estella, his childhood love. They make no pretenses. “I am greatly changed," says Estella to Pip, and indeed, she is: her coldness has melted away, the “proud eyes" have “softened" and the “once insensible hand" is graced with a “friendly touch" (432). She has grown from a cold girl into a warm woman and mother, perhaps humbled by her cruel husband. And Pip admits to her, “I have been bent and broken, but — I hope — into a better shape." Meeting in the place where their relationship first began, Pip's final description of the landscape serves as a symbolic representation of the beginning of their new lives in their new selves. As the novel concludes, Dickens again establishes the landscape as a symbol of what is happening between or to the characters. In the highly romanticized finale, Pip describes how he and Estella “went out of the ruined place," emblematic of their moving on from their old relationship into a new, more mature one. Moving from ruin, they focus on “the broad expanse of tranquil light" (433), which contrasts with the “stranded and still landscape" (392) that has up until this point defined Pip's life. The new light is dazzling, as their future shall be, and tranquil, as the new couple is. Grasping her hand, Pip sees “no shadow" of parting from Estella, and with this confirms that together they will remain.
The Endings of Victorian and Modern Works
- Jane Eyre: Victorian Ideals and God's Triumph
- New Life, Old Love in Charles Dickens Great Expectations
- Wide Sargasso Sea and the blossoming of hate
- Waterland: Families Fractured
Last modified 20 May 2004