Essay, Research Paper: Great Expectations

Literature: Great Expectations

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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
signifance 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. First, 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 via her reign of terror, Joe never develops to a major
character. Joe is identified as a compassionate, sensitive character, and the
most direct 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.
Second, Mrs. Joe also serves as the comical interlude of an otherwise sombre
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 is that that may destroy a household by cleaning when anger
besets her. Third, the comedy also has a serious side, though, as we remember
our mothers exerting their great frustrations upon the household tasks of
cleanliness. So, Mrs. Joe serves 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 so that Joe appears very
much 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 to 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 marraige. 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 marraige to try and
keep it together by enduring the abuse of Mrs. Joe. Fifth, through love, Joe
shows the audience that truly he is not just a very timid man but a
whole-hearted man. Truly, 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 (much
less child birth), 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 Joe. Illustration of this can be seen in Mrs. Joe's
numerous dorogatory 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. Sixth, Mrs. Joe represents the semi-aristocracy that oppresses Joe and
Pip. She continually threatens Joe and Pip with bodily harm, pushing Joe and Pip
together under a common oppression, just as the aristocracy ridicules Pip
through Estella and Joe through Pip, eventually. Although Mrs. Joe isn't exactly
wealthy, she has the aristocratic connections that define her as part of the
elite class. The home life is supposedly filled by a pair of nurturing parents,
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: from the theft of the file and food and Pips first feelings
of guilt, to Mrs. Joe's oppresion of her husband and little brother. Finally,
Joe first sought this relationship with such an overbearing character because he
has always needed someone to make his decisions for him. He did not used to
suffer under such 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 plainess and accent Pip's aristocracy. Decisions never came easily for Joe
and he'd much rather someone else make them for him rather than have to choose
on his own. Being uneducated, Joe never felt sure of himself that he could make
an appropriate decision, anyway. When asking for Mrs. Joe's hand in marraige, it
can be assumed that Mrs. Joe did everything short of buying the wedding ring
herself 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
beliveable, and without her, the great expectation of this book would never have
been met.

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