Between Realism and Idealism:
The Construction of Reality
in Great Expectations
The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relation between
Dickens's mature fiction Great Expectations and realism
by considering the novel's referentiality and reflexivity. The
novel appeared in All the Year Round, weekly, from December
in 1860 to August in 1861, in the very period of the rise of realism.
It discloses the vanity of the ideal and warns us to put no trust
in surface illusions. Dickens seems to have inquired further into
the matter of the real and the ideal. He works at the period when
realism and idealism intersected with each other, and it is reasonable
to say that the tension between them is one of the characteristics
of his novels.
"Realism" is an elusive term whose meaning varies with
its degree and emphasis. It could be said that fiction reflects
reality and all art belongs to the realm of realism, but it is
generally considered to be a dominant characteristic of Victorian
literature. "Realism, heralded by romanticism and continued
by naturalism, has been the animating current of nineteenth century
literature" (Levin 198).
In the mid-nineteenth century there arose a discussion of the
novel as a literary form, both by English critics and by the English
novelists themselves. The terms "realism" and "realist"
occurred in an article on Balzac as early as 1853 and Thackeray
was called "chief of the Realist school" in 1851 (Wellek
229). In 1859 David Masson criticised that, contrasted with Thackeray,
Dickens was "a novelist of the Ideal, or Romantic school"
(34). While the aim of traditional realism was considered "to
represent life as it is actually and historically," Dickens
was criticised as being "light" and "poetic,"
as depicting "ideal perfection and beauty" or "ideal
ugliness and brutality," as belonging to "the supernatural"
The traditional definition of realism is the truthful representation
of reality. Art must be true to nature. Its referentiality to
historical reality is significant. Realistic criteria such as
truth of observation and a depiction of commonplace events, characters
and settings are almost universal in Victorian novel criticism
(Wellek 229). Realism is "the art of verisimilitude,"
"representation or 'lifelikeness'" (Frye 136, 134).
By these criteria Dickens's method is judged to be idealistic
or sentimental, for it tends to much extravagance and caricature.
Dickens is seen as one of "sensational novelists" who
combine melodrama with careful social documentation (Davis 215).
"Ironically, Dickens also came to be thought of as an obstacle
to the development of Realist ideas" (Williams 116).
The concept of realism has changed considerably. In Russia the
debate on "socialist realism" arose and among the Marxists
Georg Lukacs has developed the theory of "type."1 In compliance with the rise of socialist
realism the concept of realism has changed into "a depiction
of contemporary social reality" which implies "a lesson
of human pity, of social reformism and criticism, and often of
rejection and revulsion against society" (Wellek 242). As
in Marxism, the concept of realism has become widely diverse and
Furthermore, there is a conscious rejection of accepted Victorian
conceptions of realism, which involves a critical rehabilitation
of realism, in the twentieth century. The accepted Victorian concept
of realism is turned upside down. It is replaced by the views
that realism means different things in different contexts and
that it is not objective but subjective, dependent upon the individual
In the process of diversification of "realism," it
has kept open the question "What is reality?" Reality
means all things to all men. Its concept is perpetually changing
in compliance with human consciousness. We have no way of distinguishing
between the real and the unreal in any absolute sense. Imagination
and reality are identical (Miller 36). Reality is fancy, fantasy,
dream, or illusion. What we believe to be real is created in our
The concept of realism has been diversified and defined as "anything
but an unmediated record of reality" (Levine 253). Realism
is "a formula of art which, conceiving of reality in a certain
way, undertakes to present a simulacrum of it on the basis of
more or less fixed rules" (Becker 36):
To write realistic novels is to deal with imaginary events
and characters and with the hypothetical formulation of possibilities,
in other words with the counterfactual, for the sake of illuminating
political, social, economic, psychological, or moral "truths"
of an age. (Kaminsky 230)
All fiction, even realistic fiction, is fiction. Realism, I
say, is a sort of creation, imaginative and constructive.
From this modern perspective, the reflexive function of realism
becomes more significant than the referential one. "The language
that appears referential, innocently pointing toward an objective
world beyond it, can now be seen as opaque, self-reflexive, gesturing
toward its own principles of operation" (Ermarth xiii). The
novel literally "objectifies" the world. Through the
act of writing, subjectivity passes into objectivity, but without
losing its subjective aspect. By means of this objectification,
the narrative presents its world as an autonomous reality self-reflexively.
By this redefinition of the term "realism," Dickens
seems to be regarded as a realist. His mature novels reflect "not
selected aspects of the surface of social life, but the essential
condition of social relations within a whole society,"
and his method is considered not "passive or mechanical"
but "creative and critical" (James Brown 14-15).
In the novel Dickens seems to have escaped from the limitations
of Victorian realism and provided for us new possibilities of
reality that have not been debated in his period. He investigates
the matter of reality in dealing with the main plot, the rise
and fall of the protagonist's great expectations. Pip believes
that his benefactor is Miss Havisham and pursues a dream of becoming
a gentleman and marrying Estella. Later, however, he learns that
his true benefactor is Magwitch the convict and that all his belief
is only a fanciful dream that would never come true. Pip thus
confounds reality and illusion. After being misled by imagination
into a false ideal, he gives up dreaming away his life and accepts
his construct of reality. "In Great Expectations Dickens
reverts to his more pessimistic view of imagination, seeing it
as mainly delusive" (Higbie 145). However, considering that
he explores the tremendous power of imagination which conjures
up more truthful a story than the actual facts, it seems to be
necessary to examine how Pip uses his imagination to construct
reality/realities and how the construct influences his self-formation(s).
The novel opens up with the description of Pip's self-naming.
Because his infant tongue has not pronounced his name Philip Pirrip
properly, he says, "So, I called myself Pip, and came to
be called Pip" (3; ch. 1). This seems to be his denial of
his real name and his personal declaration of his self-creation.
He insists on his authority as the subject of his life. "Pip
chooses life, unwittingly seeking to become the father of himself,
someone freed from the conditioning realities of social class,
of place, of time" (Frank 152). Pip means to construct reality/realities
of his life by himself.
The novel is "multilayered"2
with realities of characters in the transitional stage. First,
I will provide three specific examples of Pip by considering his
relationships with Joe, Estella and Magwitch, and then, I will
point out cases of other characters as well. Pip's constructs
of reality gush out of his early traumatic experiences, and he
is conscious of being in bondage to them:
Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long
chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never
have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one
memorable day. (73; ch. 9)
Although he emotionally appeals to the reader, it is Pip himself
who forms "the first link" and binds himself with "the
long chain." These metaphors for imprisonment express Pip's
reality, which is his subjective construct based on his experiences.
I aim to examine this causality in terms of memory and desire.
By origin Pip is a blacksmith's boy living in a cut-off village.
It is a closed world, as he recollects that "I had had no
intercourse with the world at that time" (42; ch. 6). His
older sister Mrs. Joe is conceited about having brought him up
"by hand" (8; ch. 2), but as his severe surrogate mother
she often tortures him with the "Tickler." Joe is the
young Pip's guardian and the "fellow-sufferer" of Mrs.
Joe's violence (11; ch. 2). Pip respects Joe and dreams to be
an apprentice to him:
But, Joe sanctified it [home], and I had believed in it. I
had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; I
had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the
Temple of State whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice
of roast fowls; I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste though
not magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as the
glowing road to manhood and independence. (106; ch. 14)
By Joe's influence Pip believes in the sanctity of home and
in the pride as a blacksmith. For the young Pip, it is his only
belief that his rural life promises a golden road of his life.
Considering Pip's repetition of the expression "I had believed,"
his strong belief itself seems to engender a sense of reality.
Pip thus invests the exterior world with his subjective value,
and it could be said that dualism of subjectivity and objectivity
breaks down. Objective referentiality is impossible in any absolute
sense. As he enters the larger world, Pip's self is more diversified
and he cannot maintain the belief any more.
In Satis House he encounters Miss Havisham and Estella who represent
the genteel values of the upper class. Estella shows a sharp contempt
for him, calling him "a common labouring-boy" (61; ch.
8), so that he feels nervous about his commonness for the first
"He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!" said Estella
with disdain, before our first game was out. "And what coarse
hands he has. And what thick boots!"
I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but
I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt
was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it. (61;
Pip cannot challenge Estella's values but obediently acquires
them. He feels so ashamed of his own self that he can no longer
have belief in his home and his future as a blacksmith. Pip judges
the values of his hands and boots subjectively. It is clear from
the verbs such as "thought" and "consider"
that what he believes to be real is created in his consciousness.
Pip is captured by Estella's values, because she is the object
of his love and desire. Estella instils in him a desire for wealth
and gentility, as he says, "I want to be a gentleman on her
[Estella's] account" (128; ch. 17). He internalises her values,
helplessly dreaming of money and gentility and despising his job
and home, that is, the reality in which he has always had great
Truly it was impossible to dissociate her presence from all
those wretched hankerings after money and gentility that had
disturbed my boyhood--from all those ill-regulated aspirations
that had first made me ashamed of home and Joe--from all those
visions that had raised her face in the glowing fire, struck
it out of the iron on the anvil, extracted it from the darkness
of night to look in at the wooden window of the forge and flit
away. In a word, it was impossible for me to separate her, in
the past or in the present, from the innermost life of my life.
(236; ch. 29)
Pip falls into self-conflict, because his wild desire for wealth
and gentility haunts him perpetually and he cannot maintain his
belief in his job and home. He seems to oscillate between the
two antithetical values: one, represented by Joe, is the virtue
and sanctity of job and home, and the other, represented by Estella,
is wealth and gentility.
As a result, Estella's value surpasses Joe's virtue in Pip's
mind. As he ardently declares his attachment to her later, Pip
recognises that his fancy of Estella seems to be so real to him
and has captured his mind:
"You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy
that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which
the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or
more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence
and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will
be." (362; ch. 44)
Under her influence his dream of becoming a gentleman and marrying
her seems to come true. His desire dominates his mind and leads
him to construct reality that is suitable for his fancy. Judging
from his comparison between his fancy and London buildings, it
is clear that the referentiality to the exterior world is subjective.
Pip often imagines himself to be a gentleman, as he repeats such
descriptions of the subjunctive mood as "if I were a gentleman"
(116; ch. 15). For Pip, his ideal is more precious and more "real"
than the actual facts. His imagination gives him a sense of reality.
In other words, he takes his fiction for reality. What he desires
and believes to be real is real for him. Moreover, he makes a
favourable story in which he will "do all the shining deeds
of the young Knight of romance, and marry the Princess" (232;
ch. 29). This chivalric discourse of the passage, instead of the
forge, signifies Pip's new golden road of life. As he imagines
himself to be a suitable hero for the fancy, he imagines himself
to be a gentleman. Seeking for an identity as a gentleman, he
constructs reality until he loses control of it and becomes bound
Pip's subjective construct of reality has an intimacy with a
dominant desire for wealth and gentility. His imagination becomes
more real to him as "the stupendous power of money"
(150; ch. 19) is repeatedly demonstrated to him. Money verifies
the reality of his imagination. It is the decisive moment for
him when Miss Havisham gives him a bag containing twenty-five
guineas as a premium for his services. He witnesses the tremendous
influence money exercises upon people. Although he avoids stating
his own impressions of the money and cynically observes the feverish
excitement it induces in his sister and Pumblechook, this experience
leads him to rediscover that he is only "a common labouring-boy"
and reproduces a strong desire in him more impressively. His desire
seizes him and tortures him until he believes that his imagination
is real. He thus represses his "past" image of self
and believes that his new construct is his "true" self.
It is after this experience that he finds himself unavoidably
haunted by the fancy of her. He is afraid that she may witness
him being in his common state:
What I dreaded was, that in some unlucky hour I, being at
my grimiest and commonest, should lift up my eyes and see Estella
looking in at one of the wooden windows of the forge. I was haunted
by the fear that she would, sooner or later, find me out, with
a black face and hands, doing the coarsest part of my work, and
would exult over me and despise me. (107-08; ch. 14)
Pip internalises Estella's gaze and watches himself by acting
in her place. "Pip begins by trying to capture the Other
in vision, but ends up himself captured in the Other's stare"
(Connor 130).3 In this case Pip is
captured by the imagined Other's stare. Pip seems to be insisting
that he is confirming the actual facts, repeating the expression
"I saw" on his first visit to Satis House (58-59; ch.
8). Nonetheless, he averts his eyes from the facts and pursues
his ideal and illusion.
Pip is captured by his imagination that Miss Havisham, like a
fairy godmother, will allow him to realise his dream. And therefore,
when he is informed that his great expectations are to be realised,
he promptly believes that his benefactor must be Miss Havisham:
"My dream was out; my wild fancy was surpassed by sober reality;
Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale"
(137; ch. 18). With the return of Magwitch, Pip at last learns
who his true benefactor is and that all his belief in "Miss
Havisham's intentions" towards him is "all a mere dream"
(320; ch. 39). Magwitch's presence is "sober reality"
which Pip must believe, but his memory causes him to construct
another sort of "reality." Pip imprisons himself in
the detestable memory of having helped the convict Magwitch, who
has made an overwhelming impact on him in the opening scene. This
memory haunts Pip continually and influences his self-formation
until he fancies himself to be a convict, thinking "of the
guiltily coarse and common thing it was, to be on secret terms
of conspiracy with convicts--a feature in my low career that I
had previously forgotten" (79; ch. 10). He tries to suppress
the dark memory and break off the imaginary "conspiracy"
with the convict, but eventually he fancies that it is inside
him, saying, "the secret was such an old one now, had so
grown into me and become a part of myself, that I could not tear
it away" (121; ch. 16). His memory seems more significant
and more "real" to him than the actual facts of his
life. In his hard efforts to keep the secret from others and banish
the memory from his consciousness, he is paradoxically imprisoned
in it and recognises it as reality.
This construct of reality is also deeply connected with his desire
for wealth and gentility. It is intensified by his experience
of witnessing the tremendous power of money. He suffers from the
memory, especially when a secret-looking stranger, who is in fact
the escaped convict and Magwitch's messenger, gives him a bright
new shilling wrapped in two one-pound notes. Here again Pip refrains
from comment on the value of money and observes its power from
the reaction of Joe and Mrs. Joe, but he honestly confesses his
fear, saying "a nightmare to me, many and many a night and
day" (79; ch. 10). This experience concerned with money strengthens
his fear of memory and his reality of being in "conspiracy"
with the convict. This reality precedes his desire to become a
gentleman and marry Estella, and his irresistible impulse to erase
the memory eventually intensifies his desire for wealth and gentility.
I have observed the process of Pip's constructing reality. His
fancy haunts him continually until he confines himself in the
closed world of his own making. His belief in it is caused by
his desire for wealth and gentility. His direct experiences of
money reproduce a strong desire in him, which seizes and tortures
him day and night, and he creates a fiction and then takes it
for reality. Because of his strong desire and belief he cannot
control his construct of reality but it dominates him. In this
sense, he is a victim of "the stupendous power of money."
It is generally discussed that in the later novels Dickens denunciates
the evil influence of industrial society. There are the power
relationships between characters that result in dehumanisation.
Individuals are "controlled or manipulated, bought and sold"
(James Brown 20). "Everyone is a god to someone else's mortal:
Magwitch to Pip, Miss Havisham to Estella" (Vernon 122).
The power relationships seem to be supported by the characters'
confined worlds of their own making. Magwitch confers power on
Pip by making him "a brought-up London gentleman" (319;
ch. 39). He projects his desire upon Pip, but he is captured by
his own fiction, because his image of gentleman, which is so real
to him, is ironically a false one, modelled on his enemy Compeyson.
Miss Havisham uses Estella as a method of revenge on men and gratifies
her repressed desire, but she also imprisons herself in her fictitious
world. Saying "I know nothing of days of the week; I know
nothing of weeks of the year" (63; ch. 8), she believes herself
to be outside of the current of time, regardless of the gradual
decay of herself and of her house.
The novel is thus multilayered with subjective constructs of
reality. Dickens shows us that reality is fiction. Hence, his
realism aims, not at referentiality to an objective, external,
social, or personal "reality," but at referentiality
to a created one. Therefore, his realism seems more aligned to
the reflexive axis than to the mere referential one, or it could
be said that his realism aims to be self-reflexive as a result
of achieving the referential function. By means of its referentiality
the novel presents its world as an autonomous reality self-reflexively.
There is an influx of imaginative realities, but the novel presents
a certain mode of reality as a reliable guide to Victorian morality,
that is, the ideal of the gentleman. Now I would like to investigate
the novel's referentiality to history. We find its referential
function at work, for the novel points towards an objective world
beyond it, not innocently or mechanically but creatively and critically,
so that it helps us towards a better understanding of the novel
to consider how the novel combines the functions of referentiality
and of reflexivity.
In the mid-nineteenth century Britain was the world's industrial
superpower at the top of the capitalistic hegemony, and the Victorians
were threatened with the infectious effects of the utilitarian
and commercial spirit, and raised the cry for idealism to protect
their noble minds (Houghton 267-71). They cherished the ideal
of the gentleman, which was represented in Samuel Smiles's Self-Help
published in 1859, the year before Dickens started the novel.
In the closing chapter Smiles discusses true gentlemanliness.
He sets up the ideal of the gentleman and emphasises the need
for morality, selflessness, courage, self-control, independence,
and responsibility. Considering that the sales of this book continued
briskly through the beginning of the twentieth century,4
the Victorians seem to have shared the ideal.
Dickens works at the intersection of realism and idealism. The
novel is centred on the ideal in the process of the rise and fall
of the protagonist's great expectations. Pip pursues a false ideal
and gradually learns what "a true gentleman at heart"
is (179; ch. 22). The novel takes the form of the autobiography
of Pip. In his first-person narrative he represents his autobiography
as a Bildungsroman in which he depicts his struggles in
his early life until he builds the ideal life of a gentleman.
My aim is to investigate how the novel reaches the ideal and how
it represents the historical reality with the ideal.
This novel is regarded as a Bildungsroman. In comparison
with David Copperfield, as a Bildungsroman "Great
Expectations is undoubtedly the more impressive novel, for
its narrower, sharper focus allows a much fuller characterisation
of the narrator, who is once again the protagonist" (Buckley
43). It seems to be the narrator's scheme to enforce the reader
to interpret his autobiography as such. As we have seen, Pip represses
his detestable memory and fabricates a favourable story. It deserves
careful examination how he makes up and forges a plausible Bildungsroman
in regard to its referentiality to history. The English Bildungsroman,
including Pip's, is considered to be "less sensitive to major
historical changes than the continental one, in the respect of
the stability of narrative conventions and basic cultural assumptions"
(Moretti 182). But the referentiality to history seems to be still
open to further consideration, because the purpose and result
of Bildungsroman are closely connected with the cry for
idealism in the period. And moreover, the characteristics of Bildungsroman
in the nineteenth century place considerable stress upon subjectivity
and narcissism, and it becomes essential to write a 'self,' to
construct an order from the chaos, to locate oneself in some way
within the ordering of power (Carolyn Brown 65). It seems reasonable
to examine the Bildungsroman with some reference to its
The distinction is crucial between the young Pip who sees and
the mature Pip who professes, and it is the latter who controls
the perspective of the narrative. The narrator carefully chooses
the memories of the past to write about, and examines and interprets
the depiction of each memory, according to his values and experiences.
The narrator is a worker of Clarriker House, the firm of shipping
broker, so that he belongs to the so-called middle class. The
narrator is considered to be a "moderately successful, middle-aged
businessman," and he is "confident, secure, and powerful"
(Jordan 78-79). But it seems to me that he is a deceptive and
Pip represents his autobiography as a record of his efforts of
drawing on an ideal true gentleman, which is clearly described
in Smiles's Self-Help. Smiles explains that the qualities
of a true gentleman are truthfulness, integrity, and goodness.
"[A true gentleman] is strong to do good, strong to resist
evil, and strong to bear up under difficulty and misfortune"
(323), and the ideal is realised by self-discipline, self-control,
self-respect and self-culture. In comparison with this ideal,
the novel is considered to be "an unequalled record of the
small daily pains, embarrassments, gauchenesses, involved in self-culture
for the poor boy trying to become a gentleman" (Gilmour 121).
Pip's self-representation follows Smiles's idea of the gentleman,
and he narrates his autobiography as a Bildungsroman from
the perspective of an ideal gentleman.
Near the ending of Pip's story we find that he stabilises his
own living by himself, not relying on such a dream as his earlier
great expectations, but supporting himself with certainty and
reliability. The narrator describes his life after his departure
from England: "I must not leave it to be supposed that we
were ever a great House, or that we made mints of money. We were
not in a great way of business, but we had a good name, and worked
for our profits, and did very well" (476; ch. 58). This is
the ideal life in the Victorian period, for he supports himself
on a sound business. Pip, after suffering his bitter experiences,
at last lays the foundation of his life and sets it on its path.
"Pip's business career involves a parade of traditional middle-class
virtues--thrift, earnestness, duty (he repays his debts), industry,
perseverance and patience (his deserved promotion)" (James
Brown 140-41). Pip seems to find a new golden road of his life,
which seems to be right and "real." But, as the others
were fragile fictions, this one also threatens to dissolve.
Pip's principal motive to write his autobiography seems to be
self-justification.5 He intends to
write it as a plausible Bildungsroman, because he is afraid
to be misunderstood by others: "The death before me was terrible,
but far more terrible than death was the dread of being misremembered
after death" (422; ch. 53). It could be said that Pip is
still living in the gaze of the other. He now wants the reader
to know how distressful his life has been and wishes to be appraised
rightly and satisfactorily. With this strong motive he skilfully
controls the reader in his autobiography.
The narrator arbitrarily emphasises his mental development by
using such expressions as "I did not know then, though I
think I know now" (96; ch. 12). In the novel the young protagonist
ceaselessly tries to construe the secret before him, but he misunderstands
it, as he wrongly believes that his benefactor is Miss Havisham.
When he recognises the facts of Satis House, he says, "I
saw in everything the construction that my mind had come to, repeated
and thrown back to me" (301; ch. 38), and he learns that
he has believed an improbable fiction. Different from the young
self, the narrator now tries a correct reconstruction of the whole
story in this autobiography. The novel seems to represent Pip's
transition from fiction to fact. Unlike his earlier self, who
holds a firm belief in his fiction, the mature narrator exceeds
the fictive world and writes his autobiography in conformity with
the actual facts.
Nonetheless, the authenticity of his narrative is still doubtful.
As he confesses himself to be one of "self-swindlers"
(225; ch. 28), he deceives even himself into believing a fiction
of his own, for the purpose of self-justification. He denies the
past and construes it as he pleases, wishing the reader to misunderstand
it in a favourable way. He sets up an ideal of himself by concealing
The narrator Pip treats Joe as a model in his narrative. Even
though he despises Joe for his commonness and simplicity, and
although he cannot confide all his feelings to him, Joe always
plays the role of a barometer for Pip that indicates his moral
degradation. And moreover, Pip accepts Joe's values as part of
his own self and internalises his gaze to measure himself by his
standard. Pip the narrator rather strengthens this tendency. Unlike
Pip's early illusions, Joe represents the plain, unvarnished truth
for Pip. In his autobiography the narrator judges his past by
the subjective values that are adopted from Joe. In order to justify
himself, he shows his mental development, performing as a self-made
man who does not feel confused by apparent gentility or snobbery.
Pip takes Joe as a credible model of the prime virtue and follows
his example in his Bildungsroman.
Joe is depicted as an ideal true gentleman of the Victorian period.
"Riches and rank have no necessary connexion with genuine
gentlemanly qualities," and a true gentleman is "honest,
truthful, upright, polite, temperate, courageous, self-respecting,
and self-helping" (Smiles 334). Joe is depicted in parallel
with the ideal. He functions as the moral standard in the novel.
Before he actually wrote the novel, Dickens told his friend Forster
that he conceived of Joe as "good-natured, foolish man"
(Forster 734). The narrator also depicts Joe with nostalgic attachment:
"He was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going,
foolish, dear fellow--a sort of Hercules in strength, and also
in weakness" (8; ch. 2). Even when he feels discontented
with his common life, Pip recollects Joe as a symbol of virtue,
saying that "all the merit of what I proceed to add was Joe's"
(107; ch. 14). He compares Joe's hand to "an angel's wing"
(140; ch. 18) and admires him for being "just as simply faithful,
and as simply right" (463; ch.57). Pip thus bestows his unqualified
praise on Joe.
Pip recognises that Joe is not influenced by outward gentility
and snobbery. Joe consoles him, saying, "Whether common ones
as to callings and earnings . . . mightn't be the better of continuing
fur to keep company with common ones, instead of going out to
play with oncommon ones" (72; ch. 9). Thus Joe insists on
divisions of society. When he visits Pip in London, Joe, being
exceptionally full of self-confidence, explains his faith to Pip:
"life is made of ever so many partings welded together. .
. . Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come"
(224; ch. 27). Joe makes a clear statement about his faith in
divisions of the society and insists on his satisfaction in his
part in it. Thus Joe is depicted as an ideal true gentleman, who
does not care about the outward appearance but cultivates virtues
in his mind. The narrator respects Joe and admires his honesty
and simplicity. It seems remarkably desirable for people in power
in the mid-Victorian period that Joe, who belongs to the working
class, shows a conservative attitude. Unlike the young Pip, Joe
seems to be satisfied with his life, so that he is not to overstep
the boundary of class divisions.
The novel thus establishes the ideal of "a true gentleman
at heart" on Joe. The novel may be criticised as being unrealistic.
According to the traditional definition of realism, the novel
must be criticised as escaping from the truth and pursuing the
ideal. Joe may be considered as a mere caricature, which is ideally
perfect. More recently, however, the concept of realism has been
widely diverse. After the rise of "socialist realism,"
it claims to be "all-inclusive" and "didactic,
moralistic, reformist" (Wellek 253). The character of Joe
as the ideal gentleman seems to be admired as such. But the concept
of socialist realism does not apply to Joe, because he conservatively
supports the hierarchical system in the society, while in socialist
realism "it is necessary to show where it is going, and that
is toward the inevitable future of the communist society"
Given the matter of referentiality to history, the idea of the
true gentleman represented in Self-Help is only an ideal
that has not been realised actually. "The idea of the gentleman
was therefore much more influential than precise; and it was loaded
to support the social hierarchy" (Best 247). Ironically,
the idea of the "true" gentleman is fiction that will
never be "true." On the contrary, the ideal is not only
available as a model for the rising bourgeoisie but also operates
within the reformation of English capitalism (Carolyn Brown 62-63).
The novel pursues the ideal as well, but its representation reflects
history more closely, because, unlike Self-Help, it represents
the social hierarchy truthfully, as is shown in Joe's advice to
Pip. Although the novel seems to be a record of Pip's transition
from the fictive world to the factual world, the novel still binds
itself by another sort of ideal that Joe represents. As Magwitch
believes the false model of Compeyson as a true gentleman, the
idea of true gentleman itself is a subjective construct. Here
again, the referentiality is proved to be subjective, and then,
the novel seems more aligned to the reflexive axis by presenting
an autonomous reality. And moreover, the ideal has a paradox and
the novel rather denies the possibility of its realisation inadvertently.
Now my question is about the authenticity of Joe's nature as
an ideal true gentleman. The novel paradoxically gives us a negative
answer, for Joe actually has desire in his mind but conceals it,
pretending to be satisfied with his present status. The narrator
Pip does not mention it in the narrative at all. It is possible
to think that Pip may not recognise it, but I suspect that he
notices it but rather conceals it in conspiracy with Joe by establishing
an ideal on Joe, which is a subjective construct. Now let me divulge
the deception of Joe and Pip.
One factor is to tell a lie. It is a kind of disguise and a way
of keeping up feigned appearances, far from honesty and simplicity.
When Pip confesses that he tells a lie about Satis House, Joe
gently reproves him for his dishonesty: "Howsever they [lies]
come, they didn't ought to come, and they come from the father
of lies, and work round to the same" (71; ch. 9). When he
visits Satis House, however, Joe himself tells a lie, telling
Mrs. Joe that Miss Havisham has given "her compliments to
Mrs. J. Gargery" (103; ch. 13), and that she has given money
as a premium not to Pip but to Mrs. Joe. Pip then rearranges Joe's
story, so that they do not contradict each other. Neither focusing
on Joe's lie sharply nor blaming him for it, the narrator only
describes that "Joe's intellects were brightened" and
that "he invented a subtle and deep design" (102; ch.
13). He seems to overlook Joe's lie because he has a good understanding
about his motive. Both Joe and the narrator save appearances before
others by telling lies and maintaining the conservative attitude.
Furthermore, on the contrary to his precept to Pip, Joe seems
to harbour a secret desire for money and gentility but pretend
to be indifferent, and the narrator seems to be in conspiracy
with him. I suggest an episode to prove that Joe is captured by
the idea of keeping up appearances. When Pip consults with Joe
about his revisit to Satis House, Joe gets an idea of giving a
present to Miss Havisham. Though Pip tries to stop him, Joe repeats
the discussion about a present, offering concrete examples such
as "a new chain for the front door," "a toasting-fork"
and "a gridiron" (110-11; ch. 15). Joe may mirror Pip's
inward desire, but it is Joe himself who develops the idea of
saving appearances. Thus Joe unconsciously reveals his secret
desire, while he warns Pip not to wish to communicate with such
"oncommon" people as Miss Havisham. It is Joe who is
one of the "self-swindlers" and deceives himself. Although
Pip depicts him as invariably honest and simple, Joe is a two-sided
character, for he represses his desire and outwardly keeps the
conservative attitude. And moreover, although he emphasises the
divisions of the society, Joe paradoxically insists on linking
them by showing his own desire for gentility. Joe wishes to participate
vicariously through Pip's success in the gentility. If Pip follows
his advice, then Joe is in a superior position as a mentor of
the gentleman Pip.
As we have seen above, Pip repeatedly emphasises that Joe has
sanctified home and influenced him to believe its importance.
However, Joe paradoxically encourages the hierarchical structure
of the society, both of the divine home sphere and the public,
governing system; in the home he supports Mrs. Joe's "government";
in the public sphere he recognises the hierarchy and passively
supports it as well.
Joe recognises Mrs. Joe as the governor of the home, saying to
Pip, "[y]our sister is given to government" (49; ch.
7). Although he admires Pip, who expresses eagerness to gain knowledge,
saying, "You ARE a scholar" (46; ch. 7), Joe later expresses
"And She [Mrs. Joe] ain't over partial to having scholars
on the premises," Joe continued, "and in partickler
would not be over partial to my being a scholar, for fear as
I might rise. Like a sort of rebel, don't you see?" (50;
On the pretext that he is only voicing Mrs. Joe's beliefs,
Joe persuades Pip that gaining knowledge means becoming "a
sort of rebel" and produces disorder in the home. Joe recognises
the role of home as a substructure of the governing system, and
maintains it by remonstrating gently with the young Pip. "From
the viewpoint of ego psychology Joe identifies with the aggressor,
suggesting his unconscious collusion with his wife's violence"
(Berman 129). Joe seems to be a "fellow-sufferer" of
Pip, but, if he really feels sympathy for Pip, why does he overlook
Mrs. Joe's abuse of Pip? Joe has a capacity to prevent disorder
in the home, but he does not head off Mrs. Joe's violence. He
later makes an excuse for it that he has not protected Pip to
prevent her further violence. Pip then only affirms that Joe is
"always right" (465; ch. 57), and here it could be said
that Pip has a blind praise for Joe as the ideal. Instead of stopping
her from bullying Pip, Joe rather tells Pip to obey her, repeating
that "your sister is a fine figure of a woman" (48;
ch. 7). Joe thus passively maintains the control of home as the
substructure of the governing system.
In the public sphere he also keeps his conservative attitude
and does not express his inmost desire for wealth and gentility
openly, but the scenes are depicted almost like comedies and it
is remarkable that in each of the scenes Pip is ashamed of Joe.
When he visits Satis House, Joe looks "so unlike himself
or so like some extraordinary bird; standing, as he did, speechless,
with his tuft of feathers ruffled, and his mouth open, as if he
wanted a worm" (100; ch. 13). When Jaggers first comes to
inform them of Pip's great expectations, Pip considers that Jaggers
may recognise "in Joe the village idiot, and in me his keeper"
(140; ch. 18). When he confronts people of higher status, he cannot
remain as an ideal gentleman but rather appears only a fool, by
hiding his inmost desire.
It is clear from his attitude when he sees Pip in London that
Joe recognises the social hierarchy: "'Which you have that
growed,' said Joe, 'and that swelled, and that gentlefolked;'
Joe considered a little before he discovered this word; 'as to
be sure you are a honour to your king and country'" (219-20;
ch. 27). For Joe, the social hierarchy means something significant.
It seems to be noteworthy that Joe, a member of the working class
and the weak in the society, supports the hierarchical structure.
The novel seems to be conservative on this point. "One of
the important perceptions of Dickens's fiction is of Victorian
society as one in which the weak support the strong, the starving
underwrite the satiated, the poor prop up the rich, the children
sustain the parent--and the female upholds the male" (Houston
What does it mean that the narrator Pip admires Joe and follows
his example? "Pip's traumatic disappointment with his father
surrogate produces a wounded image of masculinity," and "Pip
needs to idealise his father in order to restore his own wounded
image of malehood" (Berman 130-31). I offer another reason--that
the narrator agrees with Joe, supporting the division of the society
and respecting the boundary of class division. The narrator now
looks back upon his experience and criticises his error of being
blinded by money and outward gentility. It is Pip himself who
succeeds to Joe's role as a moral barometer. And moreover, it
is remarkable that the narrator, whose desire is now thwarted
and repressed like Joe's, repeats Joe's attitude. In his autobiography
Pip duplicates Joe's story of repressing desire.
Pip learns the conservative attitudes from Joe. Like Joe, the
narrator maintains the divisions of the society. He now regrets
having violated the class divisions and disturbed the social order
and regards that part of his life as an ungrateful digression.
Having his desire diminished and repressed, he repeats Joe's role
by remonstrating with the reader on the digression to prevent
it henceforth. Pip thus represses desire in conspiracy with Joe;
however, their secret desires divulge themselves spontaneously.
In this sense, this deceptive Bildungsroman paradoxically
reveals the truth.
Although Pip depicts Joe as the ideal, Pip eventually does not
return to the forge but goes abroad with Herbert. It is noteworthy
that Pip's later success as a gentleman is not due to Joe's values
but to the individual benefactor Miss Havisham, because it is
made possible, indirectly, by participating in Herbert's business.
Pip's final independence as a gentleman is dependent on Miss Havisham's
money. Joe represents the narrator's ideal, paradoxically, because
the narrator does not follow him. Owing to a nostalgic feeling
the narrator can depict Joe as a model and recollect him not with
hatred or resentment but with affection. The novel establishes
the ideal on Pip and Joe, but they betray it by their own actions.
As we have examined, the novel tends to idealism in regard to
the idea of the true gentleman. It seems to be a record of Pip's
transition from fiction to fact, but it is only a return to the
ideal. With this ideal the novel achieves the referential function
of realism in two ways. First, in comparison with Self-Help,
the novel clarifies that the ideal is loaded with ideological
assumptions that it supports the social hierarchy and that it
is utilised for the formation of capitalism. Second, the novel
reflects the actual facts of the Victorian society inadvertently,
by revealing the failure of the ideal in the relationship of Pip
I have investigated the relation between the novel and realism.
The novel combines the functions of referentiality and of reflexivity.
It moves around the referential axis by adopting the Victorian
idea of the true gentleman and pointing towards the historical
reality creatively and critically, but it also moves towards the
reflexive axis by suggesting that reality is a subjective construct
and presenting its own world as an autonomous reality. Between
realism and idealism, Dickens's method of the novel exceeds the
dualism and explores the new possibilities of reality.
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The Construction of Reality in Great Expectations
By Sakiko Nonomura
The aim of this paper is to investigate the relation between
Dickens's novel Great Expectations and realism in regard
to referentiality and reflexivity.
"Realism" is a slippery term, which has been recklessly
used and has not been given a consistent definition. The term
has a relatively short history, for it first appeared in the mid-nineteenth
century. The traditional concept of realism has been considered
as the truthful representation of reality, and Dickens has been
criticised for not fulfilling the criteria. In the twentieth century
its concept has been widely diverse and all-inclusive, and its
reflexive function has become more significant than its referential
As the concept of realism has changed considerably, it has kept
open the question "What is reality?" Reality means all
things to all men, including fancy, dream and illusion. I interpret
the novel under the assumption that reality is imagination.
Dickens seems to have escaped from the limitations of Victorian
realism and explored new possibilities of reality. The novel is
"multilayered" with subjective constructs of reality.
Pip's constructs of reality gush out of his early traumatic experiences.
By the influences of Joe, Estella and Magwitch, Pip creates a
fiction and takes it for reality. His direct experiences of money
verify the reality of his imagination, and his impulse to escape
from memory intensifies his desire for money and gentility. By
suggesting that reality is a subjective construct, Dickens's method
seems to aim at the reflexivity of realism.
There is an influx of such subjective constructs of reality,
but the novel seems to present a certain mode of reality as a
guide to Victorian morality, that is, the ideal of the gentleman.
I examine the novel's referentiality to history, in comparison
with Smiles's idea of gentleman represented in Self-Help.
The novel seems to be a record of Pip's transition from fiction
to fact, but it is only a return to another sort of fiction, the
ideal of the true gentleman. With this ideal the novel achieves
the referential function in two ways. First, it is loaded with
ideological assumptions that it supports the social hierarchy
and that it is utilised for the formation of capitalism. Second,
it reflects the fact of the Victorian society creatively and critically,
revealing the failure of the ideal.
I consider that the novel combines the functions of referentiality
and of reflexivity. In the former, it reflects the historical
reality by adopting the Victorian idea of the gentleman, but the
method is not objective but creative and critical. In the latter,
it suggests that reality is a subjective construct and presents
its world as an autonomous reality. Between realism and idealism,
the novel exceeds the dualism and provides the wider perspective