Great Expectations is a novel written in the nineteenth-century by Charles Dickens. It tells the story of Pip, an English orphan who lives with his oppressive older sister and kindhearted uncle in southeast England. Pip eventually becomes a blacksmith before an anonymous benefactor gives him a large amount of money and tells him to move to London to learn how to be a gentleman. This coming-of-age tale resonates deeply with Matilda, who relates to Pip because—among other things—she has been estranged from her father and is frequently at odds with her mother. She sees the book as representative of the fact that change can happen to anybody, and that disagreeable circumstances can take an unexpected turn for the better. As Pip evolves as a character, Matilda considers what it means to be a gentleman, a thought process Mr. Watts furthers when he tells his class that a gentleman always does the right thing. In this way, Great Expectations comes to embody a sense of morality for morality’s sake, a philosophy that promotes the intrinsic goodness of being an upstanding person. As Matilda ventures more deeply into these ideas, she finds herself capable of escaping the turbulent wartime environment in which she lives, turning Great Expectations into a window through which she can access a foreign world that sheds new light on her current reality. Unfortunately, she also discovers that the secular commitment to goodness that Great Expectations champions is at odds with her mother’s Biblical beliefs, which uphold that morality should be rooted in religion. The presence of Dickens’s novel in the village ultimately creates incredible tension, as people like Dolores view its remote ideas as threatening to Bougainville’s traditional beliefs. As such, Great Expectations symbolizes both the positive aspects of embracing foreign stories and the danger of introducing new narratives into volatile communities.
Great Expectations Quotes in Mr. Pip
There was also a lot of stuff I didn’t understand. At night I lay on my mat wondering what marshes were; and what were wittles and leg irons? I had an idea from their sound. Marshes. I wondered if quicksand was the same. I knew about quicksand because a man up at the mine had sunk into it, never to be seen again. That happened years earlier when the mine was still open and there were white people crawling over Panguna like ants over a corpse.
This was the first time I had been in a position to tell her anything about the world. But this was a place she did not know about and hadn’t heard of. She couldn’t even pretend to know, so it was up to me to color in that world for her. I couldn’t remember the exact words Mr. Watts had read to us, and I didn’t think I would be able to make it possible for my mum to slip into that world that us kids had or into Pip’s life or some other’s, that of the convict, say. So I told her in my own words about Pip having no mum or dad or brothers, and my mum cried out, “He is lost.”
The trouble with Great Expectations is that it’s a one-way conversation. There’s no talking back. Otherwise I would have told Pip about my mum coming to speak to the class, and how, seeing her at a distance—even though only two desks back from the end of the room—she had appeared different to me. More hostile. […]
Whatever I might say about my mum to Pip I knew he wouldn’t hear me. I could only follow him through some strange country that contained marshes and pork pies and people who spoke in long and confusing sentences.
Sometimes as he read we saw him smile privately, leaving us to wonder why, at that particular moment—only to realize yet again that there were parts of Mr. Watts we could not possibly know because of our ignorance of where he’d come from, and to reflect on what he’d given up in order to join Grace on our island.
I know […] you have been hearing some story from Mr. Watts, and a story in particular, but I want to tell you this. Stories have a job to do. They can’t just lie around like lazybone dogs. They have to teach you something. For example, if you know the words you can sing a song to make a fish swim onto your hook. There are even songs to get rid of skin rash and bad dreams.
My mum said she had no problem with stating the obvious. The problem was that silly blimmin’ word insensibly. What was the point of that word? It just confused. If it hadn’t been for that silly bloody insensibly, she’d have gotten it the first time. Instead, insensibly had led her to suspect it wasn’t so straightforward after all.