Parental and Child Relationships in Great Expectations

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Discuss Dickens’ presentation of relationships between children and their parents/parental figures in ‘Great Expectations’.

Dickens uses the relationships between children and their parental figures to explore the themes of belonging, as well as status and identity.

Pip, the protagonist of the novel, has been identified as an orphan and never saw either of his parents. Instantly, this gives the reader an idea that Pip did not belong to a typical and perfect family and never had his actual parents look after him or contribute to his upbringing. We are told that instead, his sister brought him up ‘by hand’. This phrase has been used by Dickens repetitively in the novel in linking the two siblings together; the idea that it is emphasised may imply that Pip should in fact be grateful to his sister as she provided him with all that he needed, and that she has a certain power over him. Although they live in the same house and belong to the same family, Pip was aware that his sister was hugely superior to him and he ‘had no hope of deliverance through his (my) all powerful sister’. It is evident that although she acts as a motherly figure towards him, she possesses all the attributes of a scornful mother and does not allow Pip to forget that he owes his existence to her. It is also evident that she herself did not wish to bring him and ‘repulsed him (me) at every turn’. The description of Mrs.Joe as having a ‘hard and heavy hand’ and ‘laying it on her husband as well as upon me’, along with Pip’s description of her spreading butter on the bread in an ‘apothecary kind of way’ with aggressive verbs such as ‘slapping dexterity, sawed, and hewed’ tells the reader a great deal about her nature; in the household, she played the role of a man and an aggressive figure. The word choices also makes it clear that Pip thought of her as an almost intimidating figure in his life, despite Mrs.Joe being his sister and playing the role of his mother. Simply by the fact that...
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