Explore Joe Gargery's role in Great Expectations

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Explore Joe Gargery’s Role in Great Expectations

        In Great Expectations, Joe acts as a father figure to Pip, when he is in fact his brother-in-law, as Joe married Pip’s sister, Mrs Joe Gargery.

        We are introduced to Joe as a “mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow”. Pip describes him as a kind and gentle man, making the reader immediately like him. “Good-natured” and “sweet-tempered” give Joe an endearing quality, so the reader is drawn to him. However, “foolish” introduces a potentially negative side to his character, like he is stupid, although this too could be considered endearing. Perhaps Dickens does this so that we can understand Joe’s actions better, or at least don’t view him too negatively when he can’t protect Pip from Mrs Joe.

        In contrast to his gentle personality, he is a blacksmith, and therefore a strong man. Pip thinks of him “like the steam-hammer, that can crush a man or pat an egg shell”. He is likening Joe to a machine in the forge, giving Joe a sense of power. Although, “crush” is quite a violent word, suggesting Joe to be violent, which he definitely is not. Perhaps Dickens included this detail to make us respect Joe, which is important for later on in the novel, so we don’t just view him as a “sweet-tempered” man. But there is a sense of this good natured man in the word “pat”, it could potentially have paternal connotations. Perhaps this links to the image of the egg shell as well, as it is a fragile protector of life. Furthermore Joe could almost be seen as the protector of Pip’s life, as he saves him several times. Also egg shells can be strong, but have weak sides if they are put under stress, just like Joe has a weak side - he can’t protect Joe from Mrs Joe Gargery. As well as this, there is the idea that Joe is in control, in the words “can” and “or”, he can choose which side of himself to be, strong or gentle. This is a very adult concept, but Joe can sometimes be very childlike.

        Joe can’t deal with the idea of death, despite being a strong blacksmith. When Pip asks Joe if Miss Havisham died, he eventually replies “she ain’t living”. This is a very backward way of saying it, a way we don’t normally use, showing Joe’s childish innocence. He avoids the subject of death again, when Pip asks him if he had heard of Magwitch’s death. Even though Joe never knew him personally, he avoids saying the words, instead he says he heard “something or another in a general way in that direction”. The vagueness of this statement is almost humorous, he can’t even just say “yes”. Joe is unable to confirm a person’s death, he just brushes over the subject, not fully acknowledging or possibly understanding it, like a child would.

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        Another way Dickens portrays this childishness is through making Joe illiterate. Pip writes him a letter, and all he can read is his name: “Why, here’s three Js, and three Os, and three J-O, Joes, in it, Pip!” The exclamation mark at the end implies he is excited and proud that he has managed to read, and that he is wanting Pip to recognise his achievement, like a child would want their father too. This childishness makes Joe a lovable character, the reader wants to see him do well. Perhaps it also makes Pip’s behaviour towards him seem worse, ...

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