Essay, Research Paper: Great Expectations By Charles Dickens

Literature: Charles Dickens

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The importance of Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations has two major parts: the
significance of the character, and the symbolism of the character. The
significance of Mrs. Joe is to complete the figure of Joe. The symbolism of Mrs.
Joe is actually the physical manifestation of Joe's fears in combination with
his desire for a commanding father figure. Mrs. Joe's reign of terror is
obviously necessary for Joe's existence. In the beginning of Great Expectations,
Joe requires identification as a major character. Without the weakness that Mrs.
Joe instills in Joe through her reign of terror, Joe would never develop into a
major character. Joe is identified as a compassionate, sensitive person. The
best way to display this feature is to have the character appear vulnerable.
Mrs. Joe serves as the tyrant for which Joe is made helpless. Joe, unless he is
a scared character, does not recognize the friend he has in Pip. Without Joe as
a major role in Pip's life, Pip also seems very incomplete. Mrs. Joe also serves
as the comical interlude of an otherwise somber story. "When she had
exhausted a torrent of such inquiries, she threw a candlestick at Joe, burst
into a loud sobbing, got out the dustpan -- which was always a very bad sign --
put on her coarse apron, and began cleaning up to a terrible extent. Not
satisfied with a dry cleaning, she took to a pail and scrubbing-brush, and
cleaned us out of house and home..." Truly, a frightening creature could
destroy a household by cleaning when she gets angry. Mrs. Joe seems to serve
very well as a mother to Pip. Besides the age difference and the motherly duties
of housekeeping for Pip and Joe, the attitude of a scornful mother is also
apparent. This, of course, draws Joe even closer to Pip, by relation. Mrs. Joe
serves as link to make it possible that Joe appears to be the father of Pip. In
addition, Joe, although terrified of Mrs. Joe, is a very honorable man and would
never consider divorcing his wife. Through this condition, however, Joe appears
to be even a more honorable man to choose to preserve the sacred marriage rather
than seek his comfort. It is ironic that Mrs. Joe be referred to as Mrs. Joe
constantly when there doesn't seem too much a part of Joe in her. The main
purpose it serves is probably to characterize Mrs. Joe as a more masculine, and,
therefore, typically more commanding, character. In the tradition of marriage,
the wife usually gives up her last name to show that she is "property"
of the man, therefore it is especially ironic that she be called Mrs. Joe when
it is clear that Joe, rather, belongs more to her than vice-versa. It is also
ironic that Joe be the one that seems to be stuck in tough situation in his
marriage. Often, in this time, women suffered from the abuse of their husbands
and expected to keep the marriage together regardless. However, Joe is clearly
the one being abused in this story and he also is the only one decent enough to
care enough about the marriage to try and keep it together by enduring the abuse
of Mrs. Joe. Fifth, through love, Joe shows the audience that he is not just a
very timid man but a whole-hearted man. It takes a loving man to stay in love
with such a woman as Mrs. Joe. No kissing ever took place between Joe and Mrs.
Joe, and it becomes clear to the reader that the relationship between Joe and
Mrs. Joe is a very "one-way" relationship. It would seem that Joe
cares enough for Mrs. Joe, though Mrs. Joe never once seems to show a bit of
compassion for him. Illustration of this can be seen in Mrs. Joe's numerous
derogatory references to being married to "a lowly blacksmith."
Surely, after Mrs. Joe dies, Joe reflects upon how he was treated and what he
will do differently in the future. With Mrs. Joe gone, a piece of Joe's life is
again freed up and can slowly be reclaimed, making him into a stronger person.
Eventually marrying Biddy makes it apparent that Joe is changed, as Biddy seems
more the feminine, quiet, traditional girl, compared to Mrs. Joe. Mrs. Joe
represents the semi-aristocracy that oppresses Joe and Pip. She continually
threatens them with bodily harm, pushing Joe and Pip together under a common
oppression. This is also seen in the way she ridicules Pip through Estella and
Joe through Pip. Although Mrs. Joe isn't exactly wealthy, she has the
aristocratic connections that define her as part of the elite class. A pair of
nurturing parents supposedly fills the home life, however, in this book, the
home serves as sort of a microcosm. The social structure and events that take
place within the house echo all the rest of the events in the book. This
includes the theft of the file and food along with Pips first feelings of guilt.
Mrs. Joe's oppression of her husband and little brother is also very important.
Finally, Joe first sought this relationship with such an overbearing character
because he has always needed someone to make his decisions. Before, he didn’t
suffer under abuse, I assume, although he has always been clumsy physically as
well as mentally. Examples of this are his general timidity to confrontation and
his occasional stumbling over items, especially when trying to act in the
presence of Pip when he is a gentleman. Joe's speech and use of words illustrate
his plainness and accented Pip's aristocracy. Decisions never came easily for
Joe and he'd much rather have someone else make them for him. Being uneducated,
it seems as Joe never felt sure that he could make an appropriate decision. When
asking for Mrs. Joe's hand in marriage, it can be assumed that Mrs. Joe did
everything to make the marriage a reality. So, Mrs. Joe essentially created Joe
to be the character that he allowed himself to be. With the slow death of Mrs.
Joe, Joe reclaimed his life from his earlier insecurity. Mrs. Joe's importance
in tying Joe to Pip made the relationship between the two significantly more
believable, and without her, the great expectation of this book would never have
been met.
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