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Cognitive Dickens


Last Name 1 Adam De Gree Kay Young ENGL170CD May 5, 2016 Agency and Alienation in Great Expectations Great Expectations is many things – as a work of art, a sculpted paean to sentimentality; as an exploration of human psychology, a testament to the alienation of city life, as a massproduced commodity, as easily digested as Snow White, or, better yet, John Denver's Greatest Hits. Throughout its pages, Dickens employs humor to draw attention to the absurdities of the day, while nonetheless relating a plot that maintains broad sympathetic appeal, a balancing act that deserves applause (although some sections, such as Joe's outburst at the end of Chapter 27, descend into the territory of kitsch). Yet, there are also plenty of absurdities throughout the novel that are far from funny, and serve a purpose nonetheless. Dickens wrote this novel in 1860, surrounded by the progress of a new era, catalyzed by the death of the Commons as well as common culture: amid rapid adaptation to an urban order. Thus, much of the book can be read as a reflection of the 'Spirit of the Times,' a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Characters such as Mr. Jaggers, Joe, and Wemmick serve as stereotypes in this reflection, with Wemmick straddling the extremes of Jaggers' inhuman efficiency and Joe's pastoral simplicity. Through his encounter with these characters, Pip's own role as a seeker is illuminated, although the path remains as obscure and shadowy as the London Fog. In Chapter 25, Pip encounters both extremes through the shifting identity of Wemmick and the allegorical 'Castle,' a place of isolation and, paradoxically, empowerment, for the clerk. In the absurdity of the Castle, an attempt to reconstruct an imagined past, we see the impossibility of Pip's situation.

Last Name 2 While Pip is a deeply complex character, some of his companions in London are absurdly simplistic. Jaggers, although far from a simpleton, is far too simplistic to be real. Mechanical and menacing, he towers over the other characters, much as factory smokestacks might tower over a worker drone. In the beginning pages of the chapter, Wemmick takes time to inform Pip about Jaggers' home: "he never lets a door or window be fastened at night (363)." Jaggers, the unattached man, has absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by being violated. In this, as in all other things, he is inhuman. He hopes that some criminal mind will undertake to challenge him, so sure is he of his powers as an inquisitor. And yet, this omnipotent being is lowered a bit when Wemmick admits, "Not but what he's artful, even in his defiance of them. No silver, sir. Britannia metal, every spoon (364)." What is Dickens getting at here? The point becomes a bit more clear in a few lines: "As to the absence of plate, that's only his natural depth, you know. A river's its natural depth, and he's his natural depth. Look at his watch-chain. That's real enough (364)." While Jaggers might scoff at the tradition of keeping silver in the home, the place of attachment, he is completely attached to his massive watch. To the contemporary mind, this watch would likely have brought up myriad associations: the long hours of factory work, the mechanization of daily life, the intricacy and inherent obscurity of the rapidly developing Industrial age, these are all possibilities. 'Efficiency, efficiency above all else,' Jaggers whispers to himself, wasting not a moment nor motion unless it might bring him satisfaction. He displays attachment, not to things, not to people, but to ideals: he enters the plot declaring that defendants should be innocent until proven guilty at the Blue Boar; and exits as the silent savior of both Estella and her mother, two creatures he shows no personal interest in. Far from morally bankrupt, he is the embodiment of the principles of the age, perfectly and consistently adjusted to them and demanding the same adjustment of all he meets.

Last Name 3 Wemmick, on the other hand, can afford no such consistency. He is too tied to his past and the inhabitants of his contemporary world. Once expending his energy to screw himself up for Jaggers' company, he must retreat into the nostalgia of his heritage. Yet, through this retreat, Wemmick gains the ability to control something of his own identity, to say nothing of his sanity. Although it is the "smallest house I [Pip] ever saw"(365), the Castle is clearly the clerk's pride and joy. It houses his history (the Aged), his love (Miss Skiffins), and his art (the execution of his values in the creation of the Castle). Secluded from the comings and goings of the busy street, hidden away behind a confusing collection of byways, it also offers Wemmick the chance to be his own King, solely responsible for all that enters into his kingdom. There are plenty of textual clues that alert the reader to the Castle's real symbolic value as a stand-in for the pastoral simplicity of a bygone era. The description of the garden, as well as Wemmick's gardening, is perhaps the only direct mention of plant life in all of Pip's London. The presence of the Aged, a functionally useless yet positively adorable remnant, serves as a temporal link to the very world that is fast disappearing. And, of course, the meticulous decoration and the tradition of the gunfire at precisely 9 PM further serve to create, for Wemmick, Pip, and all others involved, a separate world. The Castle is a fitting symbol of this world, despite the fact that Wemmick, living in Dickensonian England, is removed from the Medieval Ages by a cool five centuries (counting from the dawn of the Renaissance). Evoking not only the scenery of a bygone era, but its values as well, it stands in stark contrast to the machinery of Jaggers' watch. In the Castle, respect for tradition, social immobility, and feudal notions of duty are all embodied. In fealty to the Aged, Pip and Wemmick nod their heads to tradition, which smiles deafly back at them. Unchanging and harmless, it seems, at least within the confines of the Castle.

Last Name 4 And what of Pip? As the seeker, he stands in a unique position, having direct experiential access to both of the worlds claimed by Wemmick and embodied by Joe and Jaggers. At the beginning of the chapter, we see these two worlds dancing discordantly through his experience: he contracts expensive habits, while "having sense enough to feel [his] deficiencies"(361). Here, as evident as it ever is in Great Expectations, lies evidence of Pip's great inner schism. While Wemmick has the power to choose which life to lead, the public or the private, Pip vacillates wildly, almost uncontrollably, between his options. Perhaps this is not surprising: as a young man who recently came into 'great expectations,' it is not unusual for him to lack the self-control necessary for controlling his desires. Yet, there may be something more here. Possessed by whatever mood takes him, Pip is alternately excited to become a blacksmith, ashamed of his social position, wistful after Joe, and fearful of a return home. It seems completely possible that his vacillation, evident in this chapter and many others, is due to the lack of a secure sense of self against which to evaluate his actions. An excursion into the findings of child psychology may shed some light on this issue. In their paper, Attachment and Cognition: A Review of the Literature, Ruiter and Ijzendoorn build a case for the importance of secure attachments in child development by examining the impact that these attachments can have on subsequent development. Great Expectations begins with the description of Pip's horrid home life, so attachment literature seems relevant here. Perhaps his vacillation is influenced, in part, by the lack of stability offered to him in childhood. People without secure attachment in infancy have beendescribed as running from one thing to the next. This is not confusing when we consider that John Bowlby and others have referred to the benefit offered by a 'Secure Base,' in childhood, namely, a consistent, attentive caregiver. It is this secure base that facilitates exploration without a resultant loss of security,

Last Name 5 which might be said to correlate strongly with feelings of control, knowledge, and empowerment. Ruiter and Ijzendoorn identify several issues commonly experienced by those with insecure, disorganized, and avoidant forms of attachment. It is likely that Pip displays the characteristics of anxious-avoidant attachment, which Ruiter and Ijzendoorn argue can be a root cause of anxiety and the sort of erratic behavior that we see him exhibit as he walks through life responding to stimuli, rather than acting on his own intention. That's not to say that Pip isn't an enthusiastic and hopeful character – it would be difficult to sympathize with him if this was the case. Yet, as Ruiter and Ijzendoorn report, insecurely attached infants also exhibit enthusiasm, while being "anxious," and "subdued"(531). Based on their research, it would not be a stretch to assume that anyone in Pip's position, denied the "freedom to express" and the "freedom to err" in early childhood, would lack full agency later in life. (534) Agency is one of the defining factors of both Industrial alienation and the narrative of Great Expectations. Confronted with the shocking and disruptive stimulus of the urban experience, Jaggers, Wemmick, Pip, and, for a moment, even Joe, are faced with decisions that will define the course of their lives. Jaggers, the perfectly adjusted man, commits himself wholly to the new regime, embodying some of its prized values while still retaining a touch of humanity through his dedication to ideals. Wemmick, seeking to straddle both worlds, harnesses the power of art and symbols to conjure up an imagined past at the Castle, a place to house his personality after the mechanical exertions of work in Little Britain. Joe, the Christian and pastoral ideal of the novel, rejects the new world completely, vowing to never be seen in its clothes again as he bids goodbye to a young and ashamed Pip. In perceiving and reacting to these characters and their choices, Pip slowly and surely begins to formulate his own path. In Chapter 25, we see him

Last Name 6 tossed and torn in his new home, unfit for the city but no longer content with his humble beginnings.

Works Cited Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. N.p.: Planet PDF, n.d.Planet PDF. Planet PDF. Web. 4 May 2016. Ruiter, Corine De. "Attachment and Cognition: A Review of the Literature." Attachment and Cognition. Ed. Marinus H. Van Ijzendoorn. N.p.: n.p.,n.d. 525-39. Print.


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