Great Expectations

The Essence of Pip

The forms that stand in closest competition with those undergoing modification and improvement will naturally suffer most.

--Darwin, The Origin of the Species (1859)

Christopher Ricks poses the question, in his essay on Dickens' Great Expectations, "How does Pip [the novel's fictional narrator] keep our sympathy?" (Ricks 202). The first of his answers to this central inquiry are: the fact that Pip is "ill-treated by his sister Joe and by all the visitors to the house" and that Pip "catches" his unrequited lover, Estella's, "infectious contempt for his commonness" (Ricks 202). In answering like this, Ricks immediately assumes a dichotomous contrast between the natural human and the taught (acted-upon) human. Ricks is saying that the natural Pip is good and therefore holds the reader's sympathy while the manipulated Pip is bad and behaves in ways with which the reader cannot sympathize, and wants to condemn. The reader sides with the basic Pip and blames not him, but his circumstances and others, for his problematic conduct.

The abbreviated childhood narratives that many of the novel's characters provide support this loaded nature / nurture division, in which nature is the...

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