Joe Gargery plays a large role in Great Expectations. It is clear that Dickens uses Joe to symbolise happiness and contentment. The changing relationship between Joe and Pip is intriguing and the manner in which he deals with Pip’s struggles is of central concern to the novel. Before studying the effect Joe has in the novel, and in particular his relationship with Pip, it is important fully to understand Joe’s background and the intent with which Dickens created a character like Joe.
While it suits the plot that Joe is a blacksmith (he has the means to remove the convicts leg-iron) it also seems a fitting occupation for the man that Dickens depicts. Being a blacksmith is hard and requires determination, commitment and skill, yet no formal learning. So Joe is seen as a fool to those around him, in particular his wife, and Pip’s sister Mrs Joe Gargery. Pip and Joe’s relationships with Mrs Joe are very important and will be discussed later.
Pip strives to become a ‘gentleman’; however, he learns through his own suffering and that of people who are important to him what is truly means to be a gentleman. Pip not only becomes obsessed with this goal; he also conjures the idea that being a gentleman entails having so great an amount of money that you need not work for a living. Money plays a large part in the novel and in particular the lack of money or ‘portable property’. Pip has the image of a stereotypical ‘gentleman’ embedded into his mind; a typical gentleman has fine clothes, eats and drinks extravagantly and lives a life of idleness. These gentlemen do not have the bad stigmas of the working class, such as rough hands and clumsy boots. To be a gentleman means not only having money, but also being educated into the rules which govern gentlemanly behaviour. Initially Pip thinks that Joe is the complete opposite of a gentleman. He is course, uneducated and more importantly he does not care about money.
Towards the close of the novel Pip has learnt the true meaning of the term ‘gentleman’, this is completely different to Pip’s own opinion on the meaning. Pip finally acknowledges this in what he states towards the end of the novel:
‘O God bless this gentle Christian man’.
Joe is totally selfless and is devoted to helping others. He is honest, open and has an extremely kind heart; all these good personality traits make him the novel’s true gentleman. Joe never digresses from his good qualities and remains constant throughout Pip’s narrative; however, Pip is blinded by his obsessions and illusions until the end of the novel.
Dickens portrays Joe as described above during the early parts of the novel. It is possible that the only reason he got married to Mrs Joe was to bring up Pip. When Pip is being attacked by his sister Joe regularly comes to his aid:
‘ Mrs Joe has been out a dozen times, looking for you, Pip. And She’s out now, making it a Bakers dozen.’
The manner in which Joe acts so paternally towards Pip, who is his step son, highlights just how much he cares for Pip and shows Joe to be truly kind.
Pip also feels that he can find solidarity within Joe and rarely hides the truth from him,
‘I was common, and that I knew I was common, and that I wished I was not common.’
When Pip says this Joe comforts him and reassures him:
‘You are oncommon in small things. You’re oncommon small. Likewise you’re a oncommon scholar.’
Joe may not be well-educated, highlighted by, “oncommon”; however, he is kind and he will reassure Pip that he is special. Another example of Joe’s kindness towards Pip is when he discovers Pip hiding or ‘bolting’ bread down his trouser leg. Joe acts kindly and he does not inform Mrs Joe of Pip’s actions and saves him from Mrs Joe’s “hand”.
Joe’s actions to the convict are very revealing of Joe’s attitude. Not only is Joe kind and caring to Pip, who may be regarded as family, he shows humanity towards strangers, in particular one who has supposedly stolen from him. Towards the end of chapter five when Magwitch proclaims that he broke into the forge to steal the food Joe reacts with the utmost kindness,
‘We don’t know what you have done, but we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creature. – Would us, Pip?’
Joe realises that it is important to care for others, no matter the situation. This shows is once more just how Dickens uses Joe to represent all that is honest and good in the novel. Joe is unconditionally humane and posses a sense of what is just. Dickens highlights the attitude of others towards Magwitch by contrasting Joe’s fairness with the harsh and unfeeling attitude of the officers of justice later in the book.
Pip’s views and attitudes change immediately after he begins to visit Satis house and Miss Havisham. Pip falls deeply in love with Estella and hates the feeling of shame brought up by the fact that he is merely a common labouring boy. One way that Estella recognises Pip’s true background his by his heavy boots and his working hands, this is a quality gained from working in the forge, one that Joe also possesses. There are many passages where Joe and Pip appear together and most of these provide a good insight into the closeness of their simple relationship. However, parts of the novel where Pip and Joe are together, whilst being confronted by another character, who is not a part of their relationship, gives us a better understanding of what Pip sometimes feels of Joe. When Joe is invited to Satis house Pip is distraught at the possible embarrassment that Joe could cause Pip, as Pip thinks that Joe is common and he should not be proud of him. What is more important about this encounter is that Pip is normally so caring towards Joe and vice-versa, this makes it all the more terrible when Pip feels deeply ashamed:
‘Have you brought his indentures with you?’ asked Miss Havisham
‘Well, Pip, you know, replied Joe as if that were a little unreasonable, you yourself see me put ’em in my ‘at, and therefore you know as they are here,’ With Which he took them out, and gave them, not to Miss Havisham, but to me. I am I was ashamed of the dear good fellow – I know I was ashamed of him – when I saw that Estella stood at the back of Miss Havisham’s chair, and that her eyes laughed mischievously. I took the indentures out of his hand and gave them to Miss Havisham.
‘ You expected,’ said Miss Havisham, as she looked them over, ‘no premium with the boy?’
‘Joe!’ I remonstrated; for he made no reply at all.
‘Why don’t you answer – Pip,’ returned Joe, cutting me short as if he were hurt, ‘ which I meantersay that were not a question requiring a answer betwixt yourself and me, and which you know that answer to be full well No. You know it to be No, Pip, and wherefore should I say it?’
Miss Havisham glanced at him as if she understood what he really was, better than I had thought possible, seeing what he was there; and took up a little bag from the table beside her.
‘Pip has earned a premium here,’ she said, ‘and here it is. There are five-and-twenty-guineas in this bag. Give it to your master, Pip.’
Throughout the novel Dickens draws attention to the gulf between the world of love and the world of money by making his characters speak very differently – this is one such example. Joe’s outlook upon life, as the above passage clearly depicts, involves pure, unconditional love for his fellow men, and this is shown by the way he speaks a language other than that used by those who belong to the world of money. One senses some sort of tension between these two worlds, represented by Joe against Estella and Miss Havisham. In the middle of this tension is Pip, who is related in someway to both kinds of people. This directs are attention more specifically to Pip’s relation to Joe, on one hand, and his relation to Miss Havisham and Estella on the other.
The most noticeable thing throughout the whole dialogue and Joe’s response to the situation is that he replies not to Miss Havisham, but to Pip. This action is instantly amusing, and there are many kinds of ways that this can be accounted for. It is very reasonable to assume that a simple village blacksmith is understandably in awe of such a powerful and strange woman in her strange house. However, similar to most times, although we can account for the situation naturalistically, Joe’s response best fits in with the thematic tensions of this passage and the book in general. At one point Miss Havisham tries to confirm the fact that ‘no premium for the boy’ was to be expected by Joe. However, Joe fails to answer, the reason for this being quite simple: he does no answer because he has no answer. As he reliably informs Pip, ‘it were not a question requiring an answer betwixt yourself and me.’ Joe is anxious and affronted no merely by Miss Havisham’s startling appearance, but also by what he views to be her strange desire to turn his relationship with Pip into a somewhat commercial one. By refusing to talk with Miss Havisham, he refuses to share in her view of the world, refusing to turn his love for Pip into a commercial transaction.
The way that Pip describes Joe is also important. Earlier he has told us that his love for Joe was a simple matter of equality: ‘I had always treated Joe as a larger species of child, and as no more than my equal’. However, now things a different, he is the subject of a commercial transaction. Pip’s simple love for Joe is replaced by something entirely different, shame: ‘ I am afraid to say I was ashamed of the dear good fellow – I know I was ashamed of him.’ Joe’s relationship with Pip enters a new area, on the one hand he is now the master of Pip. However, Pip sees Joe as a simple-minded fool, and somebody to be ashamed of, this provides Pip some basis for a superiority complex over Joe. If there was one point where the relationship of Joe and Pip breaks down it is most certainly here and is it the pernicious effect of money upon people and relationships which destroys the simple love that Pip had previously held for Joe.
One thing that is repeated many times throughout the novel is the idea that Joe is not concerned with money. As was stated earlier Joe did not want a premium for Pip and has very little interest with money. Indeed, Joe’s lack of caring for money makes him feel he has no need for secrecy – unlike many other characters in the book. Chapter twenty-two is where Pip first gets the illusion that a series of co-incidences must be linked to Miss Havisham and she is plotting to marry Estella with Pip. When Jaggers arrives from London bringing news of Pip’s great expectations it is clear that Pip is excited.
‘My name’ he said, ‘is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. I am pretty well known. I have unusual business to transact with you, and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. If my advice had been asked, I should not have been here. It was not asked, and you see me here. What I have to do as the confidential agent of another, I do. No less, no more. Finding that he could not see us very well from where he sat, he got up, and threw one leg over the back of a chair and leaned upon it; thus having one foot on the seat of the chair, and one foot on the ground.
‘Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures, at his request and for his good? You would want nothing for so doing?’
‘Lord forbid that I should want anything for not standing in Pip’s way,’ said Joe, staring.
‘Lord forbidding is pious, but not to the purpose,’ returned Mr Jaggers. ‘The question is, would you want anything? Do you want anything?’
‘The answer is,’ returned Joe sternly, ‘No.’
I thought Mr Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a fool for his disinterestedness. But I was too much bewildered between breathless curiosity and surprise, to be sure of it.
‘Very well,’ said Mr Jaggers. ‘Recollect the admission you have made, and don’t try to go from it presently.’
‘Who’s a-going to try?’ retorted Joe.
There is again a basic tension in this paragraph: love on one side, money on the other. Certainly it is easy to observe in Joe’s manner his adherence to his feelings for Pip. In the case of Jagger’s manner his adherence to the facts of the case; Joe is adamant that he will not stand in Pip’s way, and refuses to accept money for the release of Pip from his apprenticeship: ‘The answer is,’ returned Joe sternly, ‘ No’. This once again shows us Joe’s lack of concern of money. In addition, what is interesting is the simple honesty with which Joe responds to the idea that Pip may be part of a commercial transaction.
The situation in which Joe finds himself would appear to be very similar to that which he was found in his encounter with Miss Havisham: he is being made a financial offer in regard with Pip. However, Joe answers Jaggers directly, ‘sternly’ and not through Pip. This highlights Joe’s growing confidence and may also show us that Joe understood that he deeply embarrassed Pip in his encounter with Miss Havisham. Jaggers naturally finds this very strange and thinks that Joe is simple-minded for being so unconcerned about money.
It is at this point, where Pip begins to think that he is character in a fairy story. When Jaggers brings him this news about his great expectations, he feels that, like Cinderella, he somewhere has a fairy godmother. In his own opinion he feels the intention must be that he is to become educated as a gentleman in order to be worthy of Estella’s hand in marriage. However, Joe does not fit into this story at all. More so, Joe represents the world that Pip wises to escape from. Pip soon becomes increasingly ashamed of what he views as Joe’s crudeness and lack of education. He is unable to see Joe’s better qualities, his courage, loyalty, selfless devotion and outright honesty.
The lowest point of their relationship is in chapter 27, when Joe comes to visit Pip in London. It is important to examine this chapter particularly to see where Pip and Joe’s differences lie. Even before Joe has arrived Pip confesses that he is not looking forward to Joe’s imminent arrival:
‘If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.’
This shows how far apart Joe and Pip have grown and that their minds now lie in different places. Pip is obviously deeply embarrassed of Joe and has strayed from his childhood, homely roots. Pip still feels that he wishes to be the complete opposite of Joe, many of the possible reasons why are shown in the following quotations: ‘I knew it was Joe, by his clumsy manner of coming upstairs.’ There is a sense of irony here as Pip hated it when he was judged by Estella to be common, but is now doing the same to Joe. Pip also comments on Joe’s inability to read, this is something that Pip certainly does not want to replicate as Pip feels he needs to be educated.
Joe also acts in a manner which Pip is not accustomed to: the way he knocks, the way he walks even the manner in which he deals with his hat is seen strange and embarrassing to Pip. Joe is seen by Pip to be wearing the wrong clothes and talking “incorrectly”. However, it is Pip’s embarrassment that makes thing worse. Joe however is as loving and kind as usual and his goodness shines through towards the end of chapter twenty-seven. He analyses the situation very well and very perceptively:
‘Pip dear old chap, life is made up of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a copper smith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there’s been any fault at all to-day, it’s mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown , and understood among friends. It ain’t that I’m proud, but that I want to be right as you shall never seem me no more in these clothes. I’m wrong in these clothes. I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’ meshes. You won’t find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in hand, or even my pipe. You won’t find half so much fault in me, supposing as you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I’m awful dull, but I hope I’ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so G O D bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, G O D bless you!.”
The way that Joe is so understanding with Pip is very heart-warming. He comprehends the dream that Pip possesses to become a gentleman and respects his choice. Joe understands that he is out of place in the big city and tells Pip that it would only be acceptable imagining himself in the forge working, not in the city. Joe, ‘gently touches me [Pip] on the forehead, and went out.’ Joe is so selfless he can provide unconditional love even when he is not welcome. This once again highlights just how kind a person he is. Pip soon realises what a great mistake he has made in making Joe unwelcome, however, by this time it is too late and he is gone. Joe proves once again that he is the novel’s true gentleman and possesses all the qualities one must have to be granted the dignity of being called a gentleman. Joe’s role as the beacon of goodness in the novel is highlighted regularly with comparisons in Pip’s narrative between the kindness and honesty that Joe provides compared to Pip’s actions, which provide him with a vast amount of guilt.
Pip only realises when Magwitch returns, with terror, what he has done. He realises that his beliefs have been mere illusions and are not real. The money he has gained has nothing to do with Miss Havisham – she was not creating him into a gentleman, nor was Estella meant for him. Instead he was the beneficiary of a convict who wishes revenge on the class system from which Compeyson came and to show his gratitude towards Pip. Before Pip gains an affection for Magwitch, who acts like Joe – another father figure towards Pip, Pip’s profound state of depressions brings him to consider the full meaning of what he has done:
‘But, sharpest and deepest pain of all – it was for the convict, guilty of I knew not what crimes, and liable to be taken out of those rooms where I sat thinking, and hanged at the Old Bailey door, that I had deserted Joe.’
Pip is beleaguered by a sense of irrelevance as he contemplates the kindness of those he has deserted. He is finally realising who is the novel’s true gentleman and how disillusioned he was:
‘I would not have gone back to Joe now, I would not have gone back to Biddy now, for any consideration; simply, I suppose, because my sense of my own worthless conduct to them was greater than every consideration. No wisdom on Earth could have given me the comfort that I should have derived from their simplicity and fidelity; but I could never, never, never, undo what I had done.’
Pip believes that what he has done is unforgivable. However, he is wrong and should know that Joe loves him unconditionally without exception.
While Pip’s deep feeling of shame obstructs him from returning home, to Joe, Joe visits him when Pip is in his moment of greatest need. This is when Pip has had a complete mental and physical break down at the end of the novel. It is here where Joe is described as some sort of angle in human form:
‘After I had turned the worse point of my illness, I began to notice that while all its other features changed, this one consistent feature did not change. Whoever came about me, still settled down into Joe. I opened my eyes in the night, and I saw in the great chair at the bedside, Joe. I opened my eyes in the day, and, sitting on the widow-seat, smoking his pipe in the shaded open window still I saw Joe. I asked for a cooling drink, and the dear hand that gave it me was Joe’s. I sank back on my pillow after drinking, and the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon me was the face of Joe.’
The repetition of the word, ‘Joe’ shows just how much Pip needs his unconditional love. Pip describes Joe in the above paragraph as a great carer who is there for Pip’s every possible need. Emotive words such as ‘tenderly’ and ‘hopefully’ show just how close Pip feels to Joe once again. Pip begins to speak to Joe and expects Joe to be angry and this would be justified, however, he is totally overwhelmed by Joe’s unconditional love. Not only does Joe care for Pip greatly, but also he also generously pays off his debts with not a single thought of being paid back. This once again highlights Joe’s lack of care in matters involving money and his love and care.
Pip eventually does return to the forge and many things have changed. It is now described as a place of peace, innocence and contentment. Joe’s marriage to Pip enforces the message to Pip that he is unable to undo the mistakes of his life. One can assume that he would have been both happy and respectable if he would have stayed in the village and married Biddy, the women who truly understood him.
The role of Joe Gargery in Great Expectations is one of honesty, kindness and caring. Pip’s education is complete with the acknowledgment that Joe is a ‘gentle Christian man’. Pip’s eyes are not fully open. He is no longer trapped by his distorting illusions, and he is able to observe the values that Joe has represented throughout the novel are a much firmer foundation for life than the life of extravagance he has experienced in London. It is with no doubt, that I state: Joe is the novel’s true gentleman.