Student Paper on Great Expectations and Hamlet

This paper shows a student conceiving his project in traditional rather than hypertextual ways, as a single essay about the allusions to Hamlet in Great Expectations. Nonetheless, this essay benefitted from the course's hypertextual environment. The student selected the general topic after examining the materials in The Dickens Web on literary history, especially the influence of earlier writers and other genres (like the fairy tale) on Dickens, and the use of the relationship between Hamlet and his father rather than on Hamlet alone resulted from the student's reading of material in the Web on the father-son relationship. Even more than the student working on sanitation and disease, however, this student had difficulty getting beyond the construction of what is basically a list of examples of figures of Hamlet's ghost in the novel. Rather than sustained analysis of key examples shaped into an argument, the essay provides brief comments on many examples, all implicitly treated as being of equal importance even though some are clearly more relevant than others. And the novel's most direct reference to Hamlet, the production that first Joe and later Pip both see, is barely discussed.

The Many Manifestations of Ghosts in Great Expectations

Charles Dickens uses Shakespeare's Hamlet to show that there is a parallel between the main character of Great Expectations, Pip, and Hamlet. The fact that both Pip and Hamlet begin as young boys dealing with a tragedy in their lives is only the first of these parallels. Both characters are also orphans in a sense. Hamlet, of course, has only physically lost one of his parents, but he feels as abandoned as Pip does. This abandonment forces both of these characters to become independent, which in turn makes them feel that they can only trust themselves and not others who might have valuable information for them. Hamlet, at first, doesn't trust the ghost of his father and when he finally does, his inability to act for so long causes pain to so many that he cares about. Pip, on the other hand, doesn't have a father, but characters in the novel play this for him. Charles Dickens has these father figures specifically play Hamlet's ghost to Pip as Hamlet. The three people in the novel who play Pip's ghosts, whether Pip knows it or not, are Joe, Magwitch, and Miss Havisham.

Miss Havisham is by far the most intriguing of the three characters to be considered a ghost of Pip's father. From the very first encounter we can see she is a ghostly type when she asks Pip, "Look at me, You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?" (Ch. 8). This gives us an image of someone very pale and ghost-like. Also, when Pip is playing cards with Estella, he describes Miss Havisham as sitting "corpse-like" (Ch. 8). These both give the reader the idea that Miss Havisham is more ghost or corpse than she is human.

Unlike the ghost of Hamlet's father, however, Miss Havisham is not a ghost who has Pip's best interest at heart. In Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet's father wants Hamlet to avenge his father's murder in order to give Hamlet closure in Hamlet's life and to save his very name. The "ghost" of Miss Havisham is not out to help Pip in any way, and she can be seen as the main reason that Pip decides to change his lifestyle when he does. She is constantly trying to get Pip to change his ways in order for him to think he can have Estella. During their first meeting Miss Havisham plants the idea of Pip having Estella when she says, "And never see her again, though she is so pretty?" (Ch. 8). This takes place at their first meeting and even though it is only one line, it gives Pip hope that he and Estella actually have a chance together. Pip reads Miss Havisham's words to mean that she would like to see Pip and Estella together one day. The reader, however, can see that she is only using him to play out her sick fantasy of revenge on her old lover.

Pip does, later in the novel, begin to see Miss Havisham in a different light and considers her actions to be selfish. After seeing a production of Hamlet, Pip dreams of having to "play Hamlet to Miss Havisham's ghost, before twenty thousand people, without knowing twenty words of it" (Ch. 31). He sees himself playing this part, because Miss Havisham is telling him to do something (make himself into a gentleman in order to be with Estella and get the money) like Hamlet's father's ghost is telling Hamlet to do something (revenge his murder). He considers this his worst nightmare and thus Miss Havisham a horrid ghost. To this point Pip isn't sure of what Miss Havisham is doing, but he still thinks that she is the benefactor of his money. This and the idea of having Estella is what keeps Pip thinking that Miss Havisham's game is something that she must play in order for Pip to be worthy of her money.

Finally, seeing Estella release all of her feelings in Chapter 38 and finding out that Magwitch and not Miss Havisham is his benefactor, Pip realizes that Miss Havisham is just a false ghost. She is like Hamlet's father's ghost, in that she is using Pip in order to exact revenge upon someone or something, but she is unlike Hamlet's father's ghost in that she is doing it for her own purposes and not to benefit Pip in any way.

Another figure that can be seen as a "ghost" of Pip's father is Magwitch. Indirectly, he is responsible for a big change in Pip's life. One reason Magwitch gets Pip to be the recipient of his money, is because Pip was so nice to him in the beginning; even though Pip felt threatened, he still treated Magwitch with respect. Another reason is that Magwitch wants to get back at the gentlemen who put him in prison, by making his own gentleman. Magwitch never really cares what happens to Pip otherwise, as long as Pip is able to do what Magwitch asks. The whole process of becoming a gentleman has changed Pip immensely, and this is one reason Pip decides not to take Magwitch's money.

When Pip first meets Magwitch at the cemetery, a parallel can be seen between Hamlet's father's ghost and Magwitch. The common bond between these two characters is the fact that both commission others to remember them. Hamlet's father's ghost wants Hamlet to remember him, so that Hamlet does not lose sight of his goal, to avenge his father's death. Magwitch wants Pip to remember him, so that Pip does not lose sight of his goal, to bring back to Magwitch a file and food. The irony of both Magwitch's and Hamlet's father's ghost's pleas to remember them is that both Hamlet and Pip seem to forget about them, only to see them again in a different light.

The point that Dickens is trying to make from the first scene in the book is that Magwitch is forcing Pip to remember to bring back the file and food, but ironically, Magwitch is also telling Pip to remember him later when Pip gets his money. Pip does not remember him, because Pip believes that Miss Havisham is his benefactor. Pip does not have a clue that Magwitch is actually the benefactor, and thus the first scene in the book serves as a reference point to show how Magwitch uses this time to ironically tell Pip to remember him and how Pip does not remember him later and suffers for it. The scene is also ironic, because Magwitch doesn't realize that he is actually saying this, but the reader does. Even though this scene does not seem very important at the beginning of the book, it becomes very important when the reader realizes that it is Magwitch who is Pip's benefactor and not Miss Havisham.

Magwitch is seen as Pip's father figure because he is making Pip become a gentleman. This is something most fathers want to do for their children. They want to teach the child how to behave and have certain manners for certain occasions. The only thing wrong with Magwitch's desire to give Pip a better life is that he is doing it for his own reasons and not for Pip's best interest. Therefore, Magwitch and Miss Havisham are alike, in that they are both being a "father figure" to Pip in order to take advantage of him and thus they are false "fathers" and, unfortunately for Pip, are very influential in what he does throughout the entire book. This leads Pip down the wrong path many times and makes Pip hurt many who are very close to him, like Joe and Biddy.

The last character that can be viewed as a "ghost" to Pip's is Joe. This is almost a tragic story of one man trying to get his "son" to realize that his son is making a mistake with his life. Throughout the novel, Joe is regarded by Pip as a simple man with simple values who will never make anything with his life, but in reality, Joe is the closest thing that Pip has to a genuine father and is more of a man than Pip realizes. Pip only views him as a thing of his past, however, and that tells us that Joe is looked at like a ghost.

The most telling scene in Pip and Joe's relationship is when Joe visits Pip in London, just after seeing Hamlet, himself. The scene takes place after Pip is told by Drummle that he spends his money too freely. This is important, because that fact that Pip is running around spending money that he does not have yet is something Joe tried to warn him about before Pip left. In the scene with Pip and Joe, the reader sees that Joe has the best intentions to tell Pip about ruining his life, but never has the right words or the courage to express it. The reader can see clearly that Joe is trying to give Pip good advice when he says that it took him a while to get used to the fact that Pip was leaving and that he doesn't think Pip thought about it enough and tells Pip, "Bless you, it were only necessary to get it well round in a man's mind, to be certain on it" (Ch. 19). Pip never sees this, though, because he can not get over the fact that Joe is not a gentleman. Pip does not want to accept that Joe is actually intelligent, even though he only works in a forge. It is this insight that costs Pip much of his dignity and shows the reader the importance of Joe's words.

When Joe is talking about the play, he says some things that apply to the play, but also apply to his and Pip's relationship. Joe feels that Pip never really takes his advice and when he is talking about the play his feeling come out as he says, "If the ghost of a man's own father cannot be allowed to claim his attention, what can" (Ch.27). He says this because Joe feels like a father to Pip and if he cannot claim the attention of Pip, he does not see exactly who can. He is trying to get Pip to realize that he has been ignoring Joe, but it never really works. Pip does hear what his "father" has to say, but like Hamlet, he does not act on the advice, which is why both Hamlet and Pip have hard lives and meager endings. Even though Pip does not die, like Hamlet, he ends up with less than if he would have listened to Joe in the first place.

Another scene in the play that reminded Joe of his relationship with Pip is the part when the ghost tells Hamlet to remember him. Joe is trying to get Pip to remember where it is that he comes from. Joe knows how important it is that Pip remember his past, so that he will not lose focus on what it is he wants to become. By Pip not remembering Joe, Biddy, or Mrs. Gargery, he does in fact lose sight of what it is he wants out of life and in the end falls short of everyone's expectations. He realizes that he must do the things that he wants to do and not the things that everyone else wants him to do if he wants to be happy in life.

The way Pip treats Joe in this scene shows us that Pip still views Joe as something in the past, like a ghost, and that he does not want much to do with him. Pip cannot get past the fact that a common blacksmith actually came to see him. He sees Joe's discomfort when he says, "But Joe, taking it [his hat] up carefully with both hands, like a bird's nest with eggs in it, wouldn't hear of parting with that piece of property" (Ch. 27). Pip can see Joe's discomfort, but never does anything to try to make him feel comfortable. In fact, Pip's lack of interest in Joe's telling of the play shows us that Pip still does not want to acknowledge his background.

Joe is, undoubtedly, the most like Pip's father of the three characters. Unlike Miss Havisham and Magwitch, Joe is saying things to Pip for his own good. The other two were simply using Pip for their own needs. Joe is who Pip should have been turning to the entire time, but it is Joe who he turns to last. Joe's acceptance of Pip back into his house is just another example of how loving a "father" he really is.