Great Expectation’s Happy Ending

For my Final Essay I am examining the portrayal of Wemmick as an inspiration to Pip, or as just another poor soul suffering under capitalism. One of the central subjects in this debate revolves around the novel’s ending. If it is a happy one and Pip reaches it by acting like Wemmick then Wemmick is good, If either of these things are not true then Wemmick’s position is much murkier.

Although I believe Wemmick is a good character, this argument gives me pause because I do not see Wemmick’s actions echoed by Pip. Pip does not engage in any division of self and his acceptance of Estella at the end of the Novel, even if it may lead to good things, is a clear demosntration that his self control has not improved. Meanwhile Wemmick is the master of Self Control. Furthermore, Although Pip’s relationship with his Joe improves, It is extremely different from Wemmick’s relationship with his father. Not only does Pip live far away from his father, he never returns to do any work at the forge and as such does not engage in the same type of labor and physical object oriented bonding that Wemmick and the Aged engage in (raising the drawbridge, or firing the cannon for example.)

Another Issue with scholars who connect Pip’s ending with Wemmick, is that they ignore the influence of Joe throughout the novel, from the moment Pip leaves town, as well as Pip’s transformative experience with Magwich. One scholar suggests the Pip’s treatment of Magwich is misdirected but I would instead characterize it as a learning experience. Through Magwich Pip learns again what it is like to be loyal, to be a son, and gains a new understanding of money, lessening its appeal. Without Magwitch’s arrival Pip may never have gone back to Joe, no matter how many times he visited Walworth.

As I go into my essay I still intend to Argue that Wemmick is a positive response to capitalism, but I think I will have to do so without the same narrative arguments that other scholars have, since the case does not seem to be very clear on that front.



Job’s Bugs are Colonial Thugs

What are we to make of Job Leigh and his entomology? On the one hand, they create a cookie cutter image of the working class intellectual portrait that Elizabeth Gaskell paints in the opening of chapter 5 “There are entomologists, who may be seen with a rude-looking net…” This shallow portrait, however, doesn’t seem to explain the prominence of science and insects in the novel, which even appear in the closing lines.

As a narrative tool they position Job as a disinterested character, unaligned with either the hand-loom weavers or the masters. They also create some endearing interactions with Margaret and William, and just generally make Job Leigh seem like a cute and kooky old man who’s not quite on the right page. However, what more can we learn about the meaning they create by utilizing Elaine Freedgood’s metonymic Lens? 

Outside of class I have done some research on colonial writing and discovered Mary Pratt’s book Imperial Eyes where she details her theory that the emergence of natural sciences had a significant role on colonial exploration following the publication of The System of Nature in the 18th century. The same book which is responsible for latin naming method Job Leigh is so infatuated with. 

While I do think there is an interesting reading where Job’s scientific drive can be seen as a colonizing force (he supports Williams imperial expeditions and wants him and other sailors to bring him back specimens) that doesn’t have much impact on our understanding of Mary Barton itself. Instead, I would direct our attention to another way Job’s specimens serve as metonymic device: they stand in for international competition. Reading Gaskell’s propagandizing description of Mancunian already makes it clear that she is proud of Job’s entomology, but I think this lens helps to understand why.  Entomology is not just a silly hobby for an old man, it is the space race of the colonial age. Traveling the world, naming plants and animals, that was how colonial power’s fought their intellectual battles, and little old Job Leigh was a player! Poor working class Manchester was a player! In very small ways of course, but still, readers at the time would have associated Job’s hobby, not like we might, with our cliche’d old man hobbies like gardening, but with a scientific pursuit of national importance.

Wemmick and his Marxist Castle

Of Great Expectations numerous Gothic haunts, Wemmick’s castle interests me the most. Unlike its spookier cousins, the castle is a light, almost carefree alternate reality that turns its gothic tropes into parody, and in doing so creates a kind of reverse haunting. 

Every aspect of the house which seems to point towards a spooky gothic setting, instead accomplishes the opposite effect. The title of castle is adorable in the context of Pip’s description of it as “a little wooden cottage…the smallest house [He] ever saw” (Dickens, XXV). Other gothic ornaments like the windows are described as queer and sham, and the gothic door is said to be “almost too small to get in at.” The moat is so small that Pip could leap across it, and the battery on top of the cottage is much more a treat for the aged P. than it is any kind of threat to intruders. 

All of these features, and Wemmick’s pride in them, make the man and his home precious to the reader, but that is not the only purpose they serve. As pip moves away from his home and from Joe, the castle is set up as a new positive and wholesome location which promotes manual labor and independence in opposition to the gentility and stasis of statis house. It Haunts Pip in the reverse, rather than reminding him of some trauma or mistake in his past, it provides and suggests to him an alternate, anti industrial and marxist path which, while reminiscent of the forge, is compatible with his new life and station. 

By turning his home into a castle, defended from the outside world and supplied by its own gardens and its lone pig, Wemmick subverts the capitalist industrial expectations placed on him by his work. Although he gives himself up to Mr. Jaggers’ business everyday, personality and all, he firmly defends his right to a private life and to control the means of production on his land, despite his bourgeois career. Pip feels the influence of these values and in fact some of the few times we see Pip not idle and engaging in real production, not pointless rowing or banking, are when he toasts sausage and bread in the castle. As small acts as these are, they are still meaningful foils to the complete inaction of Mrs. Havisham and the emptiness of the finches, the grange and the life of the gentleman. 

Not Man, Nor Beast, Nor Devil

What type of Villain is Heathcliff? Overwhelmingly, the novel describes him as something less than human: a beast, an animal, a wild untrained thing with brutal impulses. When it does not turn to nature to describe the man, it instead uses the supernatural and describes him as devilish, or in Isabella’s case, as a devil itself. 

These descriptions are effective in inciting terror because they other Heathcliff. They obscure his motives from the reader and turn him into a mystery. Our expectations of how a human may behave are thwarted and instead we must wait in terror and wonder what the bounds of his morality will finally be, if they are ever to be met. 

However, the beastly, devilish characterizations, though frequent, are not the most powerful tools in the villain’s characterization. To over stress Heathcliff’s monsterification is to ignore the true roots of Wuthering Heights’ horror: His objectification.

When Heathcliff is first introduced to his adopted family by Mr. Earnshaw with the phrase “it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” although the phrase devil is used, he is not made to be any kind of creature resembling one. Instead he is an object, devoid of any personality or motives of its own, only a force of the devil, almost like a plague. The repeated reference to Heathcliff as an It over the following pages reinforces his objectification.

Although, “it” can refer to animals as well as objects, the early characterizations of Heathcliff are devoid of animalistic traits. He is a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk…sullen, patient…hardened, perhaps, to ill-treatment” (Ch. 4). It is not until later in the book that the boy takes on beastly traits. In the early stages of his development he is a passive force, resembling an object more than a creature. 

He is passive in his responses to Hindley, passive in accepting his father’s affection, and does nothing to directly cause harm and yet “from the very beginning, he bred bad feeling in the house” (Ch. 4). 

The only force which raises Heathcliff from his inanimate status is Cathy. Once we consider, though, that he came to Wuthering Heights in place of her promised whip, It the raises the possibility that even in action he is an object. Obeying Cathy’s whims even in death, as he carries out her final curse on himself and Edgar.


If the actions of a monster are a mystery to readers, then the actions of an object are doubly so, and thus Heathcliff is doubly terrifying.

The Pitiable Trades Union

Although Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Mary Barton  is typically read as empowering and honoring Manchester’s factory workers, it is not without its critiques, and it does not always paint the poor in a flattering light. 

The most blatant criticism the novel levies at the working men is over their response to the power-loom weavers coming in from out of town to break the strike. It characterizes this event as the beginning of  “the real wrongdoings of the Trades’ Union,” (173) suggesting that the throwing of vitriol on poor men is not the only wrong-doing of the trade union. 

Following this dark turn of events, the narrator’s attitude about the Union members seems to shift. Rather than presenting a proud group convinced of its righteousness, the representatives that meet with the masters in the following chapter are made to seem weak and ineffective.

Although the scene opens with a description of the delegates as “wild, earnest-looking men” (182) and an appeal to the values the unions places on brains and speech over appearance, the remainder of the scene lacks any flattery and the adjective earnest, which is usually reserved for the likes of John barton, is even used to describe the Master’s conversation, thus considerably decreasing it’s weight as a compliment. 

What really emphasizes the weakness of the trade union in this scene are the actions ascribed to them. Throughout the entire scene only two actions could really be described as strong or admirable: When they “ positively decline” (183) the masters counter offer, and when they leave the room “without a bow” (183). The rest of their actions are almost pitiable. Even when the lead delegate does speak it is done in a “high pitched voice, psalm singing voice” (182). 

The most frequent action undertaken by the delegates is to “withdraw.” They word is used three times in the scene. The first two are done at the request of the masters almost back to back. The resulting image is of these men just walking in, and out of the room repeatedly, getting nothing done. The third use comes from the masters who withdraw their offer, a much more powerful move. Then after that point the delegates being sent out of the room is no longer described by withdrawing, instead the narrator comments within parentheses that the delegates “had been once more turned out” (184). So, not only does the narrator’s language become less respectful but, with the phrase “once more,” it characterizes the previous withdrawals as, in fact turning outs, only adding to the pitiable image of the delegates.