Great expectation by Charles Dickens and The Fixer by Bernard Malamud; two great stories that share us inspiring lessons about love, identity crisis, freedom, social conflict and irony. Charles John Huffam Dickens is an Eanglish novelist acknowledged with his memorable characters and rich storytelling. Today, Dicken’s life and works are being celebrated through festivals and museums in many towns he was associated with (Merriman). Bernard Malamud was an American writer known for his Jewish-American literature. He was acclaimed for his extraordinary works in novel and short story writing. The Fixer won him the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (“Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)”).
” An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as hen the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger. Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.” –James Baldwin.
Pip’s great expectations and struggle for his identity
Pip, being an orphan of Mr. and Mrs. Joe does not have his strong sense of self identity because he does not have strong family ties. But he can see his identity in his behavior. This is quiet evident when he felt guilty about stealing food from Mrs. Joe and lying to Joe. He knows that if he does terrible things such as his stealing and lying, he can not feel like a good and trust-worthy person. When Estella insulted Pip that he is “common” and has coarse hands, it hit him hard. Never a moment that he thought about his social status before, and because of what Estella, her real-time crush, had said to him, his perception on self-identity and cavalry begun to change. He became anxious to think he might be “common.” This feeling became stronger when Miss Havisham told him never to return because he is going to be Joe’s apprentice as a blacksmith. He even refused the idea of being a blacksmith for Estella might see him horribly common. The major turning point to Pip’s life started one night at the village bar when Jaggers, a London lawyer approaches Pip, revealing surprising news: Pip has inherited a lot of money from an anonymous benefactor and must leave for London immediately, to become a gentleman. Because of his inheritance and elevated social status, Pip gets even more snobby and arrogant towards Joe. Pip seems to think that by getting richer and becoming a gentleman, he is now better man than Joe. He drifted apart from the people he truly loves and he doesn’t even want to look back to his past. Not until he found out the true identity of his mysterious benefactor, everything had changed. He did not expect that his benefactor is not a rich old woman that he imagined but the wanted convict whom he despite in his childhood. His expectations suddenly seem bedazzled for his great expectations not only rely from the money he inherited but the source of the money as well. Since then, he made a lot of realizations in his life and made some reflections on his past doings. Without the inheritance, Pip must not deny the fact that he’s not experienced for any profession; he has no real expectations in the business world. He learned that being a gentleman is not a matter of social status but on the way you get along with other. He began to appreciate those people he disregarded before; Joe and Magwitch. Who inspired him and never left him from the moment he was lost until he found himself again. From innocence to gentleman-snob and back to his old self that he found where his heart, his identity and inner peace truly lies; in a simple life back into the marshes. However, Pip found out that he can longer go back to life on the marshes. He went to a place where he can make use of his own talent, work hard on it, and build his own good reputation and finds simple satisfaction and happiness in his life. “… It [felt] very sorrowful and strange that this first night of my bright fortunes should be the loneliest I had ever known” (Merriman). It is true that you can try wearing different kinds of robes, in different designs and colors. Only to realize that you will end up choosing and using the same old robe you love and cherish with all your life and no other robe will ever replace it.
Boks’ escape from home
When Bok is wrongly persecuted for a ritual murder, he left shetl to escape the physical and mental tortures he has to face; to escape his Jewishness. He went to Kiev hoping to find opportunities for work and education and deny his Jewish heritage. His life’s major turning point takes place when a boy was found lifeless in a cave and the accusations were blamed to the Jews for using the boy for ritual sacrifice. Bok is arrested and thrown in prison. In the prison, he found himself dreaming, hallucinating, reflecting and making realizations. He realized that his Jewish blood, his true identity can never be denied. No matter how he tries to escape, his journey leads him back to where he truly belongs. His perception of freedom has also changed; that freedom is not merely physically free from walls and chains but to found the inner freedom. For him, what truly matters in not his own freedom but the freedom of those who will come after him. With this, he found his grater sense of freedom. He finally realized what the purpose of his life must be: to become a martyr for his people, the very people that he had tried to abandon before. Despite the guards’ encouragement to denounce the Jews, he refused the offer and made the choice of not confessing to a crime that he had nothing to do with. Bok decides to defend his Jewish heritage to his captors. While in prison, Bok was saved by a Gentile who risks his own life for him. When Bok must walk through the street on the way to his trial, he is a chained man but not a broken one.
“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself [or herself] into a monster.” –James Baldwin
Pip’s monstrosities in his heart
If Pip, did not faced the reality that a kind hearted convict would be his benefactor, he most probably turns himself into a monster. He never noticed what money is turning him into until he was stricken by the truth about Magwitch. It is never easy to abandon such wealth and comfortable life but he did for he found his true treasures in life through his friends and through his simple life away from pretention and hypocrisy.
Bok against the monsters
Unlike Pip, Bok is the innocent person, the damsel-in-distress but the people around him are the ones who kept accusing him as the monster, and only Bok himself (and the reader) holds the truth of him being innocent. He is the one running away from the monsters of society. But then he realized that he can never hide from them therefore he decided to face them with pride.
Bok failed to achieve the “power to change robes”
Bok did not achieved the “power to change robes” for his true identity keeps haunting him no matter how hard he tries to escape and hide from it. His initial escape had led him in much bigger trouble. His struggles had made him realize to face reality and accept it wholeheartedly. At the end, he found his true inner peace, self-worth and freedom as he embraced the reality, not by escaping it and face the hardships of life with conviction and courage.
Pip is the monster
Pip’s blind, stubborn innocence made him monstrous. The society’s norm, his love for Estella and his inheritance had him to the wrong direction in search for love, cavalry, self-worth and peaceful life. But at the end, he was able to save himself from the monstrosities the money, social status, and blinded love are inflicting in him with the help of Joe and Magwitch.
“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before-more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle”(Merriman). For a true man is not ashamed for his downfalls and his imperfections rather, a driving force to fight and make a stand.
“Bernard Malamud (1914-1986).” Jewish Vertical Library, 2007.
Merriman, C.D. “Charles Dickens.” The Literature Network, 2006.