Criticism Psychoanalysis

Was Dickens Convinced that his Father had Failed him, Despite Loving Him? – V

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Through Joe, Dickens indicts yet finally exonerates his ineffective father. Pip is incredulous that Joe views his wife as a “master-mind”, a judgment that invests her with additional power and rationalises his own passivity. Joe’s abandonment of Pip is less conspicuous than De Lacey’s desertion of the Frankenstein Creature, but both failures are severe enough to produce confused and angry sons, opines Prof. Ashoka, in the fifth part of his eight-part erudite research, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.

The problem may well lie in Dickens’ ambivalent feelings toward his father, whom he loved but felt had abandoned him. It is risky to explain a fictional  character’s  inconsistency  in  terms  of  the  writer’s  unconscious conflicts, but in this case biography intrudes into art, and we cannot help recalling Dickens’ anguished  conviction that his father had failed him. Through Joe, Dickens indicts yet finally exonerates his ineffective father. Pip is incredulous that Joe views his wife as a “master-mind”, a judgment that invests her with additional power and rationalises his own passivity. Joe’s abandonment of Pip is less conspicuous than De Lacey’s desertion of the Frankenstein Creature, but both failures are severe enough to produce confused and angry sons. Pip’s traumatic disappointment with his father surrogate produces a wounded image of masculinity, resulting in the fear of maternal omnipotence implicit in the misogynistic portrait of Mrs. Joe. It is painful for Pip to acknowledge ambivalence toward Joe, and when he does so, he offers superficial reasons. Pip simply cannot bring himself to admit that he is angry over Joe’s failure to protect him from a rampaging mother.

Significantly, Pip’s yearning for an idealised, omnipotent father compels him to mythologise Joe into a Herculean figure. Pip needs to idealise his father in order to restore his own wounded image of male hood. Additionally, Pip’s idealisation of Joe repeats the blacksmith’s Christ-like forgiveness of his father. As if wryly to acknowledge Joe’s autobiographical meaning, Dickens cannot  resist  introducing  a  private  joke  into  the  novel,  Joe’s  otherwise inexplicable reference to visiting a “Blacking Ware’us” on his way to seeing Pip in London . Pip has known all along about Joe’s ineffectuality and has tried hard not to express bitterness or disillusionment.  From the beginning of the novel, there has been a role reversal between the two men, with Pip treating Joe “as a larger species of child, and as no more than my equal”. By regarding Joe as a child, Pip removes him as a competitor, and the two men, fellow-sufferers at the hands of Mrs. Joe, form a lasting bond.

Understandably, Pip has more difficulty forgiving Mrs. Joe. He cannot forgive her, in fact, until he participates vicariously in Orlick’s brutal attack upon her. Since the reader’s identification with Pip would be seriously impaired if his matricidal feelings became overt, Dickens shrewdly introduces Orlick, the hero’s dark double, who is permitted to act out Pip’s secret wishes. In chapter 1 the convict foreshadows Orlick’s later arrival when he refers ominously to a terrible young man who will tear out Pip’s heart and liver. “A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself up, may draw the clothes over his head, may think himself comfortable and safe, but that young man will softly creep and creep his way to him and tear him open”. Orlick’s entry into the novel coincides with the beginning of Pip’s dissatisfaction with his old way of life. Meeting at Joe’s forge, Pip and Orlick instantly  dislike  each  other,  Pip  explaining  that “when  I  became  Joe’s ‘prentice, Orlick was perhaps confirmed in some suspicion that I should displace him” . Pip is right in more than one way. He not only succeeds in displacing Orlick as Joe’s apprentice, but also displaces his pent-up rage onto his shadowy nemesis.

Q.D. Leavis, in an article entitled “How We Must Read Great Expectations” (1970), dogmatically dismisses the “antics of critics searching for Freudian explanations” of Orlick’s role. Presumably she refers to Julian Moynahan’s essay “The Hero’s Guilt” (1960), which convincingly describes Orlick not only as Pip’s “would-be murderer, but also as a distorted and darkened mirror-image.” Orlick represents a parody of Pip’s upward progress throughout the novel. Orlick’s psychological role in the novel may be viewed in several related ways. In Rankian terms, he is Pip’s narcissistic double, personifying pathological self-love; in Kleinian terms, he represents Pip’s tendency toward projective identification, the projection of rage upon another object, with whom the self then actively identifies and fears; in Kohutian  terms,  he  represents  Pip’s  grandiose  self,  which  comes  into existence as a defense against intolerable reality. However we view Orlick, he remains a mirror image of Pip’s repressed self.

In addition, Orlick uncannily embodies the dynamics of narcissistic rage, including the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, and for undoing a hurt by whatever means. Orlick sees himself as the injured party in life, the besieged outsider, and he vows to punish his enemies. Orlick is a thoroughly abhorrent character, but his criticisms of Pip are accurate, since Pip does everything he can to thwart his rival’s demand for love and acceptance. Pip cannot see that Orlick’s feelings of entitlement reflect his own feelings as well. Pip is threatened by Orlick’s interest in Biddy, and he later advises Jaggers to secure Orlick’s dismissal as Miss Havisham’s gatekeeper. Orlick incarnates the fearful rage Pip must continually ward off if he is to remain in control of his life. The imagery identifies Orlick with insatiable orality, with the wish to tear open a person’s insides and devour his heart and liver. Feeding off his own rage, Orlick is one of the most malignant characters in Dickens’ world. Orlick’s boundless wish to avenge injury represents not only his own driving passion, but that of Miss Havisham, Estella, and Magwitch as well.

(To be continued)
©Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

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