A story of moral redemption.
The hero is an orphan raised in humble surroundings, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, comes into a fortune, and promptly disavows family and friends. When the fortune first loses its lustre, then evaporates completely, he confronts his own ingratitude, and learns to love the man who both created and destroyed him. The story is told by the hero himself, and the challenge Dickens faced in devising this first-person narrative was two-fold. He had to ensure that Pip¡¦s confession of his faults ring true, so that we do not suppose him to be admitting them merely in order to win our sympathy. And he had to validate Pip¡¦s redemption by showing that it produces good deeds as well as good words. Its admirable briskness is nowhere more apparent than in Pip¡¦s account of the feelings with which he once greeted the prospect of a visit from his old friend and protector, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. ¡§Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties, with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.¡¨ (218) There are times when Pip lays on the self-mortification a little too thickly, and times when he appears desperate for our approval. By and large, though, he is hard on himself to exactly the right (the convincing) degree.
The proof of Pip¡¦s redemption lies in good deeds rather than good words.: his secret acts of kindness, in securing Herbert a partnership in Clarricker¡¦s, and in securing Miss Havisham¡¦s good opinion of the long-suffering Matthew Pocket; his final refusal to accept money from MH, or from Magwitch; and, most significantly, his love for Magwitch. The last of these good deeds, and the one hardest for the writer to authenticate, is made piercingly vivid by a subtle modification of narrative technique. This occurs in Vol III ch. XV, which describes the attempt to spirit Magwitch away down the Thames. Here, for the only time in the novel, the first-person narrative ceases to be Pip¡¦s way of thinking, however, honestly, about himself, and becomes instead an act of attention to others, and to the unfolding events. Ripples of unease spread through the narrative, in descriptions of the docks and the river, but this is a generalised anxiety, or alertness, rather than the self-absorption, justifiable or not, which has up to this time held Pip in its grip. The love Pip feels for Magwith, after his capture, is thus a knowledge earned by self-effacement (destruction).
Pip certainly has some sins to expiate (compensate), notable his ingratitude towards Joe and Biddy, and his initial revulsion from Magwitch. But his sense of guilt seems consistently in excess of the actual wrong he has done: less gradually intensifying recognition of moral failure than a deep mysterious affinity with criminal conduct. This becomes explicit when, awaiting Estella¡¦s arrival at the coach-office in Cheapside, he kills time by accompanying Wemmick on a tour of Newgate Prison.
Orlick is Pip¡¦s shadow. We fist encounter him working side by side with Pip at the forge. When Mrs Joe is brutally struck down, Orlish assaults her, but Pip might be said to have supplied the weapon, a leg-iron. Pip is employed to entertain Miss Havisham; Orlick, somewhat later, to keep her gate. Pip regards Biddy as a sister, Orlick¡¦s intentions towards her are less honorable. Pip associates with Magwitch, Orlick with Magwitch¡¦s bitter enemy, Compeyson. Orlick, in short, seems embarked on some great expectations of his own, sullenly tracking Pip¡¦s upward progress from the marshes to Satis House and on to London. Pip cannot rid himself of this obscene shadow. In Vol III, Orlick lures Pip to an abandoned sluice-house on the marshes, meaning not only to kill him, but to overwhelm him with accusations. Pip, he claims, has thwarted him at every...