Great Expectations By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 16-17

Summary

The police investigation into the attack on Mrs. Joe is a comedy of errors and false accusations. The investigators leave without solving the crime. The only things known for sure are that the candle in the room was blown out and she was hit on the back of the head with a rusted convict's leg iron while she faced the fireplace. Joe and Pip have alibis, and Orlick seems to. She has survived but now requires constant care. Biddy, whose grandmother has died, comes to take care of her and it is Biddy who learns to understand the woman's signals, particularly the letter "T" she keeps writing. Biddy determines it is really a hammer and Mrs. Joe is asking for Orlick, who Mrs. Joe now seems very anxious to please.

Pip has become vain as his self-education progresses. He observes that Biddy is common and not very beautiful, though she is pleasant, wholesome, and sweet-tempered. In his arrogance about his own progress he manages to insult hers; even his attempts to compliment her are patronizing and condescending. He tells her he wants to become a gentleman to win Estella. Biddy tries to point out that given Estella's treatment of him, she may not be worth having. He agrees, but further insults Biddy by telling her that he wonders why he cannot love her instead. She quickly understands where things stand and responds that a relationship between she and Pip would not work. Orlick, who has been following them as they talk, has been making advances to Biddy that she fears and does not want. Pip is jealous and judgmental, and does his best to frustrate Orlick's overtures.

Analysis

Ambition, snobbery, obsession, secrecy, guilt, and shame are undercurrents here. Like Dickens, who taught himself with books from the library, Pip tries desperately to become educated and less coarse by teaching himself. Yet there is no escape from his prison, the forge, and Pip feels guilty that he hates the forge so much. Ambition can be a good force unless the motive is only to please another — Pip knows in his heart that pursuing Estella is wrong but he cannot let go. Biddy tries to get Pip to understand that striving to please a woman who despises you is a mistake, but she astutely sees it is a lesson that the "student" cannot learn.

Pip has become a snob, so wrapped up in himself and Estella that he fails to see the wonderful person Biddy is. For all his book-learning, he is ignorant in human relationships. He repeatedly puts Biddy down such as when he is surprised at her level of knowledge. Biddy gracefully stands up for herself, yet she is hurt and quickly knows the score. She remains kind but tells Pip they will never be together, something that annoys him. Pip wants everything. He wants Estella, but wishes he could love Biddy. He does not care about Biddy, but does not want her to reject him. He is jealous of the attention Orlick pays her, so he tells her he would not think much of her if she encouraged him. And he is not smart enough to realize he has no right to judge or dictate anything to her. Pip is a mess. He does, however, have moments of insight, such as when he comments that he "felt vaguely convinced that I was very much ill used by somebody, or by everybody." He is being used, even if at a distance, by Miss Havisham, Estella, Mrs. Joe, and Pumblechook. His true self realizes that something is wrong, but he just cannot see it yet.

When he discovers that the weapon his sister was attacked with is probably the same leg iron his convict filed off years ago, he feels much guilt. Old secrets and sins seem to multiply the evil they do and those sins, along with the taint of criminal associations, continue to haunt him. Joe continues to show his fineness when he looks on his wounded wife with moist eyes and comments that she was a "fine figure of a woman." Orlick's guilt is implied by the hammer Mrs. Joe draws and by her desire to please him; however no one makes the connection.

Glossary

the Bow-street men from London; extinct red waistcoated police there were two groups—the Bow Street Runners and the Bow Street Patrol. The latter wore red uniforms, worked as patrols in London, and were often confused with the former. The Runners were plainclothes detectives in London who often went out into the provinces to investigate serious crimes.

stile a step or set of steps used in climbing over a fence or wall. Another definition is a turnstile or post with revolving horizontal bars, placed in an entrance to allow the passage of persons but not of horses, cattle, and so on. Pip and Biddy are walking on the marshes near the sluice-gate, which is a gate that controls the flow of water onto the marshes. Either definition—a turnstile or a wall with steps climbing over the wall—works here because either one may be used to prevent animals and unaware persons from getting hurt near the sluice-gate.

supposititious case hypothetical case.

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