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Weissman, J. Cohan, S. (1981). Dickens' Great Expectations: Pip's Arrested Development. Am. Imago, 38(1):105-126.

(1981). American Imago, 38(1):105-126

Dickens' Great Expectations: Pip's Arrested Development

Judith Weissman and Steven Cohan

“Miserably I went to bed after all, and miserably thought of Estella, and miserably dreamed that my expectations were all cancelled, and that I had to give my hand in marriage to Herbert's Clara, or play Hamlet to Miss Havisham's Ghost, before twenty thousand people, without knowing twenty words of it” (Ch. 31). Thus does Wopsle's dreadful production of Hamlet provide the manifest content of a dream Pip has in the middle of Great Expectations. This anxiety dream, which Pip reports without analyzing, reveals the two most important psychological problems that result from his growing up an orphan in the home of his oppressive sister and her oppressed husband. First, this dream focuses his repressed incest fantasies on the sister instead of the mother; Herbert Pocket, whose surname calls to mind Pip's lasting impression of his dead brothers (Ch. 1), is a kind of adopted brother, whose fiancee Pip dreams of marrying. And second, the authority figure, in this dream and in his life, is female rather than male; the ghost of Hamlet's father is replaced by the ghost of Miss Havisham, Pip's imagined fairy godmother.

Pip is one of the most psychologically complex and coherent of Dickens' heroes, and beneath his many superifical weaknesses, faults of which he eventually becomes conscious and outgrows, there are underlying psychological disturbances, which reveal themselves in his dreams and fantasies, and from which he never fully recovers. One measure of a man's psychological health in Great Expectations is his ability to marry happily; Dickens balances the three principal deaths in the novel, of Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, and Magwitch, against the marriages of the three most psychologically successful men, Herbert, Wemmick, and Joe.

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