Cathy’s close reading of Great Expectations


It revived my utmost indignation to find that she was still pursued by this fellow, and I felt inveterate against him. I told her so, and told her that I would spend any money or take any pains to drive him out of that country. By degrees she led me into more temperate talk, and she told me how Joe loved me, and how Joe never complained of anything – she didn’t say, of me; she had no need; I knew what she meant – but ever did his duty in his way of life, with a strong hand, a quiet tongue, and a gentle heart.
“Indeed, it would be hard to say too much for him,” said I; “and Biddy, we must often speak of these things, for of course I shall be often down here now. I am not going to leave poor Joe alone.”
Biddy said never a single word.
“Biddy, don’t you hear me?”
“Yes, Mr. Pip.”
“Not to mention your calling me Mr. Pip – which appears to me to be in bad taste, Biddy – what do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” asked Biddy, timidly.
“Biddy,” said I, in a virtuously self-asserting manner, “I must request to know what you mean by this?”
“By this?” said Biddy.
“Now, don’t echo,” I retorted. “You used not to echo, Biddy.”
“Used not!” said Biddy. “O Mr. Pip! Used!”

Excerpted close reading:

When Pip returns home from London for his sister’s funeral, he encounters Joe as devoted and wordless as before. In fact, in the entirety of the chapter, Joe only speaks three times: once when Pip first arrives to offer condolences, once when Pip is leaving and once when he notes that he would have preferred to have different funeral arrangements. Most of the dialogic interaction in the chapter occurs between Pip and Biddy.

In the passage above, a marked point of contrast is that Biddy’s words are unquoted in the first paragraph. In portions of dialogue in previous pages and in the immediate words that follow, Biddy is quoted directly.[1] Yet, when she speaks of Joe’s love for Pip, it is as if she is not speaking for herself and cannot thus be quoted. It would be safe to assume that she is, in fact, speaking for Joe as well as speaking of him. The unquoted form not only signifies that Biddy could be speaking for Joe but also reinforces that Joe, with a “silent tongue” literally does not speak. No words are produced and so, even when one speaks for him, there is nothing to quote…

…Even though Biddy never “states”—and I use states in quotes to indicate the irony that the reader does not know what Biddy has actually stated—that “Joe…complained…of me; she had no need; I knew what she meant.” There is a sense in which Joe’s silence is mapped onto him because Pip does not need to, want to present that which he is ashamed of; his shame of Joe as uncultured and un-gentlemanly forces Pip to curtail the legitimacy of his voice via unquoting while unquoting Joe and stripping his voice confesses a certain desire of Pip’s to bury his own mishaps. “Indeed, it would be hard to say too much for” Joe, and indeed, Pip does not “speak for” Joe in a formalistic manner after he has become too elite for his old friends.[2] If I were to make a even bolder statement, that Joe’s words are rendered so powerless could also be read as Pip abandoning his language, as Danielle aptly pointed out in her close reading paper last week, that he has learned and shared with Joe in order to escape from the constraints of that world that uses that language.

[Excerpted by Rachel]

[1] As directly as is presented through the narrator.

[2] Here, I am very much reminded of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II. Before assuming the crown, Prince Hal speaks the language of the lowly crowd with his good friend Falstaff, a comic character who should not be in the company of a future King. However, when Prince Hal becomes the King, his “language” changes and he refuses to speak with and of Falstaff.