Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How has Great Expectations shaped your understanding of “Responsibility”?

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Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, shows many different examples of

characters accepting, neglecting and showing a lack of responsibility. Through these

examples we can gain a better understanding of the word “Responsibility”. An

examples of taking on responsibility can be seen in the relationship of Pip and

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Magwich. The responsibility shifts from Pip to Magwich and back to Pip in the end.

Also there are many examples of lack of responsibility and neglect through Miss

Havisham & Estella and in the family of Joe, Mrs Joe and Pip. Through these parts in

the novel, as readers we gain an understanding of the issues of responsibility, the

surrounding circumstances and the consequences as a result. Responsibility can be

looked at from different angles. It can be accepted for many different reasons, for

example, love, self gratification, and all of these are present in the novel.

Responsibility can have good or bad consequences and these consequences can help us

grow as our knowledge of responsibility is shaped more and more.

Due to Miss Havisham’s suffering, she had made it her duty to bring up Estella

and to direct her to break the hearts of all men. This is her revenge for the mishap on

her wedding day (although the reader does not know exactly what happened we know

her heart was broken by her husband to be). By allowing Estella to “break the hearts

and have no mercy”, Miss Havisham is neglecting her responsibility in being a good

parent. Miss Havisham had “meant to save her” from her own misery. “At first I

meant no more”, but instead “stole her heart away and put ice in it’s place”. Later in

the novel, when Estella is wedded and abused by her husband, it is then, when Miss

Havisham realises how her want of revenge, that she had burdened on Estella, has

effected Estella’s life and made her miserable. “What have I done! What have I

done!” This repeated line uses an exclamation mark instead of a question mark. This

shows that she knows what wrong she has done but it is here in the novel where she is

coming to terms with it. When she took on the responsibility of bringing up Estella in

this way, she did not consider how it could effect Estella in the later part of her life, in

the future. Through this issue in the novel we, as the reader, are subject to the idea of

family responsibility. Dickens shows us that when we neglect responsibility in our

family, particularly as a guardian or a parent, there can be physical consequences and

emotional consequences. In Miss Havisham’s case, she suffered emotional

consequences and Estella is subject to both physical and emotional consequences due

to Miss Havisham’s lack of family responsibility.

The relationship between Pip and Magwich shows us aspects of responsibility

all throughout the novel. In the very beginning, when Pip is faced by the terrifying

convict of whom he had never met, even though he is scared, he takes on the

responsibility of getting food and brandy for him. Pip does this knowing what

consequences there were of stealing the pie and brandy from his angry and bitter sister,

but still provides Magwich with this act of kindness. Magwich never forgets of this

kindness towards him and this is shown later in the novel when we find out that he is

Pip’s benefactor. “I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should

go to you”, as Magwich speaks of the time when Pip brought him the food and brandy.

And so Magwich has taken on this responsibility. There are many reasons why he

could have taken on the responsibility. maybe to seek self-gratification in knowing

that he make a gentleman of Pip or maybe for revenge on society to prove that he was

more than just a convict. “Yes Pip dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman of you.”

Eitherway, we learn through this as readers, that people take on responsibility for

different reasons. And at this point in the novel, when Pip realises that Magwich is his

benefactor, the responsibility shifts place again, back onto Pip. Magwich, having to

face the death penalty if found, has left a consequence in his return and Pip feels

obliged to take on the responsibility to get him out safely. Through these series of

events in the relationship between Pip and Magwich, we see how there are different

reasons for accepting responsibility, we also see how some times we don’t really have

a choice due to our emotions. For instance in Pip’s case his emotions led him to

taking responsibility in getting Magwich safe, to repay him for what he has done. We

also learn how responsibility leads to consequences, both good and bad.

There are very different relationships between Pip & Mrs Joe, and Pip & Joe,

this being because Mrs Joe and Joe are two completely different people. Mrs Joe

being very angry and bitter and Joe, a very kind hearted person. But no matter the

difference in personalities, they both neglect their responsibility for Pip one way or

another, showing a lack of responsibility. Firstly Mrs Joe, although she is looking

after Pip and has brought him up ”by hand” she is doing it in the wrong manner. She

is violent, “my sister made a dive at me and fished me up by the hair”, she is unkind

“saying nothin more than aweful words” and she has too many expectations of Pip.

For example forcing him to play at Miss Havisham’s, for her own benefit (having links

to a higher class). Secondly, Joe, who is a kind, gentle man seems to take great

responsibility for Pip and although he does, take on the responsibility, he is not

fulfilling it by allowing his wife to treat Pip in such an aweful manner and he does not

stop the violent and harsh environment his wife inflicts on Pip. In this way we see

Joe’s weakness reflect his lack of responsibility. later on in the novel, we see another

example of neglect of responsibility. This is when Mrs Joe is attacked. Pip “had

deserted Joe” when he should have stayed home with Joe through this hard time. The

relationships between Joe, Mrs Joe and Pip show us neglect of and lack of

responsibility through each of the characters.

The theme of responsibility can be seen all throughout the novel and through

the issues in which it is rooted, as readers, we can develop and shape our

understanding of responsibility. By seeing responsibility or a lack of responsibility

played in the parts of different characters, our knowledge is expanded and we learn

what consequences arise when different types of responsibility is taken on. Through

reading such texts, we view different ideas and different aspects of responsibility and

this is what helps us shape our knowledge of what responsibility is.

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