These doubts are realized and the hopes painfully crushed when the truth behind Pip’s rise in social class is revealed. Magwitch, the coarse but fearsome convict from Pip’s past is a symbol of the lowest level of society. Though Pip believed that the convict’s appearance in his childhood was an isolated incident, he soon learns that Magwitch has in fact, been the most influential character in his life-the chief architect of his great expectations.
Although Magwitch “ain’t a gentleman, nor yet ain’t got no learning, [he’s] the owner of such” (321). Terrified by his connection with a person of such low standing, Pip experiences intense physical pain, “All the truth of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew… I seemed to be suffocating” (319). Once again, Pip’s fixation with social class creates painful consequences.
As the magic of his wealth and social standing slowly evaporate with each revealing word of Magwitch’s story, a bombardment of painful truths “rush in” to take its place, bearing down their cruel weight on Pip. Nevertheless, Pip’s hopeless cry, “O Estella, Estella! ” amidst this scene conveys the greater pain Pip experiences due to his deflated hopes that he was meant for Estella. He exclaims, “How wrecked I was, and how the ship in which I had sailed was gone to pieces” (323).
Ultimately, this revelation completely breaks down the social divisions that have defined Pip in the novel (from poor laborer to wealthy gentleman) and consequently, destroys the idealism that has directed Pip to this point of the novel. Unlike previous examples, this incident did not require a helping hand from the upper class for Pip to suffer pain and misery. This time, it is Pip’s own rise in social standing and the unalterable reality behind it that proves social class does not shape well being.
Finally, the different manner in which certain character’s lives end in Great Expectations is linked with their social class-the victorious death attributed to the one of lower standing signifies a redemption of Pip’s lifelong torment by the upper class. As time progresses in the world of Great Expectations, Pip’s fear of Magwitch turns into a fear for Magwitch and his safety. The original dynamic between the two, with Magwitch as the providing benefactor and “owner,” and Pip as the dependent child, is completely reversed.
Pip now takes charge of Magwitch’s life and the responsibility of safely shepherding him to freedom. Nevertheless, while the “crisp air, the sunlight, and the movement on the river” did not forecast a smooth or successful ending for Magwtich’s escape attempt, it does foretell a redemption in death. Pip observes by Magwitch’s death bed, “… a smile crossed his face… confident that I had seen some small redeeming touch in him” (456).
While Compeyson, the man who was “set up fur a gentleman” (347) dies with an act of betrayal, violent and alone in the waters, the inner nobility and love for Pip renders Magwitch’s death a victory. The striking contrast in manners of death between the gentleman and convict further illustrate the irrelevant relationship between an individual’s social class and his well being in life or in death. Pip’s newfound love for Magwitch and the role he plays in Magwitch’s redeeming death represents a redemption for Pip as well-a deliverance from the cruel and binding world of the upper class.
After the boat incident it becomes clear that Pip has completely accepted Magwitch, “for now my repugnance to him had all melted away… I only saw a man who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously toward me” (446). Near the end of his journey, Pip has finally discovered Magwitch’s inner nobility. His ability to disregard Magwitch’s external status as a criminal is Pip’s redeeming force from the miserable idealism that had previously consumed his life.
His admiration for Magwitch helps Pip finally understand that one’s social position is not the most important quality and is irrelevant in defining one’s real worth; instead, improving one’s inner character is the ideal worth striving for. Great Expectations is a complicated but ingeniously fabricated tale of an individual’s struggle through his changing positions in society’s class system. Through Pip’s long and arduous journey, misery and torment pervade each step he takes concerning social advancement.
While Pip’s continuous suffering demonstrates that a high social position does not determine one’s well being, it remains uncertain whether or not he would have been substantially better off had he remained a commoner. Pip’s journey is an example of the painful growth involved in any coming of age narrative; but more importantly, it exemplifies how these events shape and form an individual’s character. In the end, Pip is able to discard his immature fantasies about wealth and class, see the inner worth of characters, and ultimately fulfill his great expectations.