Guilt-full to Guilt-free

timer Asked: Feb 22nd, 2013

Question Description

Guilt-full to Guilt-free

Guilt-full is a state of being that everyone finds themselves in at least once, whether it remains permanently, or if it dissolves. Throughout Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations the theme of guilt remains a prevalent topic, centered by the main characters of Great Expectations. Dickens creates characters throughout his novel, so that he may keep a guilt-full cycle throughout the novel. Dickens use of symbolism and allusions creates a depth-full novel that continues without repetition. Although Dickens portrays guilt as matter, he creates a novel based on the transference of guilt through symbolism and allusions.

Guilt-full consciousness’s are created by the spreading of guilt throughout Great Expectations by symbolism; Dickens uses different characters and animals to portray guilt throughout his entire novel. Characters are brought into the novel through guilt, not completely existing until guilt touches their lives. Pip, Dickens main character is an example of guilt-full birth. Magwitch transfers guilt to Pip, allowing Pip to take center stage as the novels starring character. Macleod illustrates “The argument that Pip did not to all intents ‘exist’ before Magwitch kicked him into life” (Macleod 5). By having Magwitch in essence bring Pip to life, Dickens does not follow his standard character development; Dickens does not present Pip with the attributions of a normal Dickensian character. Before Magwitch Dickens presents information into the novel as if Pip was not aware of the information.

Sin becomes the creation of life throughout Great Expectations allowing many to believe that you cannot be born without guilt; although Magwitch is believed to have ‘kick-started’ Pip’s life, his creation was also born in sin. Dickens creates a child born in sin to illustrate that every soul is born to absorb the sin of others. Pip’s sin, was not in fact a life defining sin, yet because it was transferred from a convict it became a defining sin, a guilt-full sin. As seen through Pip’s thoughts, “The guilty knowledge that I was going to rob Mrs. Joe- I never thought I was going to rob Joe” (Dickens 9). Pip begins his life with sin, and allows guilt to hold the reigns for most of his life.

Guilt is transferred, rather than erased, in order to work towards being guilt-free on must create a new life. Dickens allows Pip to attempt to create a new guilt-free life for himself after leaving Joe and Biddy, yet instead of leaving his guilt behind him, Pip travels with guilt circling over his head, looking for more to absorb. Dickens illustrates that guilt is not an easy emotion to overcome, or gain tolerance over; instead it is a life consuming emotion. As Moynahan explains, “He not only suffers agenbite of inwit for his sin of snobbish ingratitude toward Joes and Biddy” (Moynahan 82-92). Pip’s actions are not criminal; therefor he should not feel the criminal guilt that he expresses throughout the novel, yet because guilt is a powerful emotion he feels a strong sense of underlying guilt for innocent actions.  Pip’s underlying guilt is found in the guilt that he absorbs from Joe and Biddy by never visiting them.

Many believe that by hiding from guilt, the guilt vanishes, instead it becomes stronger. Dickens allows Pip to hide from guilt by creating a new life for himself. As Dickens renames Pip, “Would you mind Handel for a familiar name?” (Dickens 139) As Pip’s position changes as does his name, by changing his name Pip himself is reborn to live a guilt free life. (Dickens 139) Pip’s adventure as a gentleman is one way of hiding from guilt; he recreates himself into a man that he was not meant to be. Pip recreates himself by attempting to start life anew, a guilt-free life, without going through the process of transferring his guilt. 

Going from guilt-free to guilt-full is an easy transaction that many do not realize happens. Dickens illustrates how guilt can be transferred from one character to another, just from simple association. Dickens places Pip within range of convicts throughout the novel, illustrating how easily Pip absorbs guilt from each of them. From the beginning of Pip’s life he has been placed within short distance from criminals; Magwitch being the one who brought Pip into “life”. Magwitch is the first convict that Pip comes across in his life, yet certainly not the last. Pip’s cycle of criminal connection begins with Magwitch, and remains tied to Magwitch. Pip lends Magwitch a file to remove his leg iron, that later becomes used as a weapon against his beloved Mrs. Joe, causing him to feel guilt from his prior actions. (Dickens 93)

Prison is an ideological location for absorbing guilt, as many inmates are attempting to begin a new guilt-free life.  Prison becomes a key location scattered throughout the novel, becoming a symbol of sin. Dickens describes the prisons of London as a sickening location, “This was horrible, and gave me a sickening idea of London” (Dickens 128). Prison is the one location where one that is looking to become guilt-free should not remain near; Pip believes himself to be tainted by the prisons that surround his life. As Moynahan explains, “I consumed the whole time in thinking how strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime” (Moynahan 82-92). Prison becomes the undesirable; the inmates become even more undesirable.

Guilt-full individual tend to hang around those who are guilt-less in a method of ridding themselves of their own guilt. Dickens creates a never ending transfer of guilt through each and every character. Through creating foiled characters Dickens creates a pair of guilt-full and guilt-free association; Dickens creates Orlick and Pip as foil characters. Foiled characters are known as characters that are the complete opposite of one another, yet Dickens also portrays them a guilt couplets. Dickens transfers guilt and innocence between Orlick and Pip. Orlick is the one whom Pip receives transferable guilt from, the man whom feels no regret, the opposite of Pip. (Moynahan 82-92) Because Orlick has no regret, he does not suffer the guilt from his actions, causing Dickens to transfer his guilt to another. Orlick falsely absorbs Pip’s innocence, believing himself to be a saint, allowing himself to live a blameless life. As Moynahan brings to life, “Addressing Pip over and over again as ‘wolf’ an epithet he might more readily apply to himself” (Moynahan 82-92) Dickens portrays Orlick as a lecherous character, out to right the wrongs others commit against Pip. 

Guilt does not require the use of foil characters; however, any two characters can transfer guilt to one another. Dickens places Pip within the guardianship of Mr. Jaggers, a man who remains no greater than the convicts he is paid to defend. Mr. Jaggers is a criminal defendant that is more concerned over money, than the innocence of his defendants. Dickens provides the reader with this early example of Mr. Jaggers character, “And if you come back here, bothering your Bill, I’ll make an example of both your Bill and you, and let him slip through my fingers” (Dickens 130). Jaggers is illustrated as a criminal defendant only interested in the money he may earn. Dickens proclaims, “Did your client commit the robbery?’ I asked. ‘Bless your soul and body, no,’ answered Wemmick, very drily. ‘But he is accused of it. So might you or I be. Either of us might be accused of it, you know” (Dickens 203). By displaying a fondness over criminals Jaggers gives Pip an unreal expectation of reality. As Dickens illustrates, “I like that spider though” (Dickens 214).

Animals are seen as wild creatures, creatures that do not exhibit civilization. Dickens illustrates guilt through animal symbolism. Epithets involving animals are a common occurrence among all literature. Wolves are commonly used as epithets because of their ruthless nature, and commonality among London. The epithet of a wolf is seen numerous times across Great Expectations as explained by Moynahan, “Addressing Pip over and over again as ‘wolf’ an epithet he might more readily apply to himself” (Moynahan 82-92). Wolves are often identified as lecherous scavengers, animals that scavenge for food rather than find their own. Another common epithet found scattered in the novel is the reference of a spider. Dickens describes Drummle as a sneaky, crooked fellow, whom Mr. Jaggers becomes found of, referring to him as a spider, and insect whom is also found to be sneaky. Dickens illustrates, “I like that spider though” (Dickens 214). Guilt remains a highlighted topic throughout Great Expectations because of Dickens use of animal epithets.

Guilt-full characters and guilt-free characters switch roles more often than one would expect. Dickens initially describes Magwitch as a dog by Pip, whom is later described as a dog. As Houston explains, “Estella offers Pip ’bread and meat’ as if he were a dog in disgrace, and it is also telling that Pip’s fanciful description of his first visit to Miss Havisham’s includes four ‘immense’ ravenous dogs that ‘fought for veal-cutlets out of a silver basket” (Houston 155-166). Dickens describes Pip as a disgraceful dog, because of the location and status he has placed upon himself. Pip imagines four ravenous dogs eating out of a silver basket, after describing himself as a dog, therefor Pip is dreaming for a higher position in life. When Pip first describes himself as a dog he begins overthinking his current financial position, and dreaming about a higher position.  Pip’s guilt-full persona is highlighted when Orlick describes Pip as a wolf, creating a lecherous persona around Pip, almost as lecherous as Orlick. As Houston illustrates, “In the same interlude, after young Pip pummels Herbert Pocket, he regards himself ‘as a species of savage young wolf or other wild beast,’ and image reitereated at the end of the novel when a murderous Orlick refers to Pip as ‘wolf” (Houston 155-166).

Guilt can eventually be transferred through faith within the life of one who is guilt-full, by ridding themselves of sin, guilt soon follows. Dickens alludes to biblical stories, and faithful beliefs throughout Great Expectations. Dickens expands on the belief that you cannot become pure once again, without sin. Pip cannot become pure and innocent as he was in the beginning of the novel without gaining sin throughout his life. Dickens also entertains the idea that one can only become enlightened about the world around them by the guilt they gain throughout the years. Enlightenment is obtained through guilt. (Stange 74-81) Although enlightenment can only be obtained through guilt, guilt can be washed away through enlightenment. As Pip matures through guilt, his guilt overpowers his spiritual growth.

Philanthropic deeds can be used as a tool to obtain a guilt-free life. Dickens allows guilt to be transferred and replaced through philanthropic deeds. Examples of philanthropic individuals throughout the novel include Miss Havisham, Biddy, and Magwitch. Miss Havisham, whom has faced her own fair share of guilt, attempted to mask her own guilt by taking on a young child, Estella, to rise as her own. By attempting to live philanthropically Dickens portrays her as a less guilt-full character. Magwitch transfers his own guilt onto guilt by turning Pip into a gentleman, believing that if he creates his own gentleman, than he will once again become pure. Although Magwitch never becomes a guilt-free character, he manages to transfer a majority of his guilt to Pip. Biddy, who is the most philanthropic of all Dickens characters, also lives the most guilt-free.

Society views guilt as a commonality, nothing to be concerned over, and an idea that is too common to become a theme. Guilt has always been hidden within society, becoming the unspeakable topic, discussed only within closed doors. Dickens also alludes to societal beliefs. Dickens illustrates that guilt is a common aspect of everyday life.  As Houston explains, “But, of course, Pip both directly and implicitly compares himself to ‘bolting’ canines, and animal like the swine imagery the implies that both voracious gluttony and victimization” (Houston 155-166). Guilt is a common attribute to life, found in almost every character, and every society, whether real or imaginary. By uncovering guilt within Great Expectations, one can determine that the most hidden of all guilt is selfishness. Gilbert illustrates, “Selfishness is indeed a common vice, perhaps too common, too ubiquitious to be the main theme of any popular work of fiction. One might even argue that novels cannot be written on any other subject” (Gilbert 131-153). Almost every character in Great Expectations experiences some form of selfishness, often hidden from those closest to them, for fear that discovery would lead to greater guilt.

All things considered, Dickens creates a novel that is based around the theme of guilt, a never ending cycle. By successfully utilizing symbolism Dickens illustrates the transference of guilt. Epithets and foiling help Dickens highlight his symbolism. They also allow Dickens to create a novel on guilt, without becoming redundant. Through allusions Dickens illustrates how guilt impacts individuals and those around them. This impact is what has shaped Dickens characters within the novel of Great Expectations. Without the use of symbolisms and allusions, Dickens would have a novel of two dimensional proportion, not the three dimensional novel that he has created. Guilt-full individuals may become guilt-free, if they are willing to work on losing their sin, and their perspective on life.  

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