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The Blacksmith's Wife

These are some thoughts on Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations, a story of how a boy becomes a man.


Since it is Great Expectations after all, let me not spend time and space explaining the story itself. Here is a synopsis if you need a quick refresher :-)


Background


There are two different ideas of Self and completeness - two ways of picturing God.

Why I am starting by talking about God while on a Dickens novel will become clearer later.

But the short version is that we are all aiming at completeness and destiny in our lives regardless of whether we are religious or secular or atheistic, whether the idea is implicit or explicit. That means that there is always an image.


One image is that of a bountiful provider.

There is a personal relationship with something greater than yourself, and all things shall be given to you as long as the relationship is good. Being in that relationship is what makes you complete. People may project this not only onto a God(dess), but instead onto a person or a family or an employer or a group or society at large - as long as the image is not made conscious. But the idea is the same. This is the nature of a Feminine deity and the first carrier of this projection would be the mother.


One one hand this could give a sense that one walks in grace, but on the other hand it might lead to a sense of entitlement, or bitterness and resentment if said things considered as entitlements are not received. People who carry this idea of completeness may latch on to what or whom they consider as the bountiful provider, and may try to earn their favour - not by proving themselves worthy in some way, but by pleasing them. But Feminine deities are terrible gods, and you never know where you stand with them. You may have grace or you may not - and you will never know why.


The other idea, which can be characterised as Masculine is that of a God that governs.

There are clear rules to follow and apparently you are ok as long as you stay within the straight and narrow. The first carrier of this projection is usually the Father although later on this will be projected onto a person or a family or an employer or a group or society at large. As long as the relationship is not made conscious, one will expect to automatically receive good things as long as one does things that are deemed good. And bitterness sets in when the implicit assumption of a promise is broken.


I still remember the young woman in an Irish news report “They told me to study well and I studied. They told me to be a good citizen and I did that. They told me not to waste my life chasing pleasure and drink and I did none of that. They told me that I must work hard and I have two jobs. But I still can’t get a house to live in, even on rent. Tell me what I did wrong”.

It is important to understand the broken image that caused her deep sense of betrayal.


If one is atheistic or indifferent, then the idea that one does not believe in, or is indifferent to, will correspond to one of these two.

But then it gets projected onto something else since it is an archetypal image and won't simply go away because one chooses to ignore it - and that makes things more tricky.


Having an idea does not mean you like it - so the attitude itself may be full of bile, anger or disdain. This does not change the idea.


The Self is the one archetype that cannot be adequately contained in any one symbol.

We learn on the individuation jounrney that the Self (the image of being complete) is neither of these things, and both and everything else at the same time.

Christianity neatly segregates these two aspects, thereby making integration slightly more tricky.

Father is all about his kingdom, keeping us from what is considered evil and forgiving our trespasses.

Mary is full of grace, and will speak for you. Personally. Now and later. If you have her favour.


In that context, let me talk about the main characters in this novel.


Mrs Jo


First of all, she is called Mrs Jo. We don’t know her name.

The most telling statement she makes is

I may truly say I’ve never had this apron of mine off, since born you were. It’s bad enough to be a blacksmith’s wife (and him a Gargery) without being your mother”.


Mrs Jo does not consider herself a person in the true sense - she is only a blacksmith's wife - and it is this unconsciousness that will completely pervade Pip's life as well.

Being a wife and a mother are important things in itself, but due to her unconscious relationship to the Masculine (values), they are merely roles and chores for her.

And she performs them sullenly, resentfully without finding any meaning in it.


Sons learn masculinity from their mothers, since they are the ones who need to develop a conscious relationship with it instead of simply embodying it (Likewise for Fathers and their daughters where Femininity is concerned, only instead of values, it is about the ability to feel). This does not mean that mothers should be masculine and fathers feminine - this is about the quality and consciousness of relationship with the opposite principle.

And until one develops this towards the Other, it is only a provisional enactment of one’s “own type”.

This means that Pip never has a clear idea of what it means to be a man.


The other thing about Mrs Jo is that she is a cruel mother, a “bad breast”, which means that while she is still the provider, she is also harsh and violent.

That is how Pips learns how women work apparently - first they are nasty to you and then they give you things. So too with his Feminine idea of completeness.


And remember, this is the only image he has considering how weak and voiceless Jo is - no-one has shown him the other version of completeness that was discussed previously.


Jo


Jo compensates for the way his wife was.

Since she was the negative mother, he had to become the positive one.

This meant that Pip had two mothers (one negative and one positive - which would have made him even more unsure) and no father.


Jo might either have been forced to do this for the boy’s sake, or he might have had his own personal history that made him this way and his own share of unconsciousness.

Either way, he does not stand apart and show Pip another way of relating to the Masculine based on values and feeling and honest worth earned through hard work and hard choices.


And Pip has to bear the burden of both his parents’ unlived lives and pay that debt himself with Magwitch and other men doing what Jo should have done in the first place.


Ms Havisham and Estella


It is with this background that Pip finds nothing odd about Ms. Havisham’s behaviour towards him. She too is cruel and then gives him things.

So it requires no leap of imagination on his part when he comes into strange good fortune, to believe that she is his unknown benefactor.


As for Estella, she is already cold and cruel to him, which is half the female script as Pip knows it. So naturally it is only a matter of time before she smiles on him and starts giving him things. Naturally.


It is normal for a man to feel bad for a few days when a woman rejects him, but if he pines for her for the next twenty years, you can be pretty sure that it is not her that he is pining for.

Pip’s relationship to the Feminine and to women is largely unconscious and archetypal (since no-one demonstrated to him a healthy working relationship to the Masculine) - so his relationship is to images and ideas of women, not to the flesh and blood variety. This is the underlying trouble with addictions and all compulsive behaviour - the archetypal image will seek and find a symbol, but until the image becomes clear to the ego, the person's behaviour will remain compulsive and "irrational" - almost like it is not they who are doing it.


It doesn’t help that Pip is typologically an ENFP

E - Generally comfortable with people

N - Goes on a wild ride as soon as he comes into money (the relationship between intuitives and the idea of money and shiny objects that can come from it is another discussion, but in brief, they don't have a very good one due to their Sensation function being inferior

F - what he did for the convict even as a boy. Considering how terrorized he was at home, that must have been a very difficult thing to do, but he did it anyway since he felt it was impoartant

P - no plan whatsoever in sight and anything that happens is acceptable.


This means that his Anima is an introverted sensate - the perception is of the outer woman, but the relationship is not to her, it is to whatever idea he has of her.


What could have been


Given a background like this, and the resultant Mother Complex (Pip's Feminine idea of completeness that we have discussed above), Pip should have become a raging malcontent and/or addict with no moral compass and with no lasting relationships, and chasing skirts while only being vaguely aware that there is someone in them.

And also permanently in hell because of his inability to feel authentically.


A person (of any gender) who is not sure where they stand with their mother (or the archetypal idea of Mother) is fearful of the world. The World is very Other and unconsciously characterized as of the opposite sex. And the relationship to the world will be conceived as a power dynamic rather than a value based on - the world has an extraordinary amount of power over them and their fate. They have no control over anything.

The responses could be one or more of fight, flight or please

- fight the power i.e. rage,

- flee from the power i.e. hiding, withdrawal, chemical dependence, or

- please the power i.e curry favour and act hurt when the entitlement is not given.


How this does not happen to Pip

An earlier act of kindness and grace comes looking for him.

This is no a unique motif (same happens between Ben-Hur and Jesus) but it rarely happens this way through an external party like it does in this novel.

It is not like if we do good things, an equal number of good things will be done to us (who is keeping score?).

What is more likely to happen is that when the world has broken us, in our darkest hour, in our longest and loneliest night, they will remind us of who we were - and we will find enough hope to hang on until redemption eventually arrives.

But that doesn’t make for much of a novel unless you are Hermann Hesse. And Dickens wasn’t writing a sermon. Hence Magwitch.


I like to think that Magwitch, due to his own life experiences, was more perceptive than most and saw what was coming.

So he set up Pip for an ordinary course for a young man - to go out into the world, develop a gentleman's persona, eventually run dry and become disillusioned by it, then circle back home to see it with new eyes, and understanding and appreciation.

A normal, controlled trainwreck that most men go through, instead of the other horrendous one that might have been.


All the people Pip meets after he leaves home are counterpoints to his original idea of completeness in both affirming and negative forms of masculinity.

And this helps him to form a new perspective that there is something else other than what he already knew.



I will end with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke


sometimes a man stands up during supper

and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,

because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.


And another man, who remains inside his own house,stays there,

inside the dishes and in the glasses,

so that his children have to go far out into the worldtoward that same church,

which he forgot.


It is only after Pip is able to do the Victorian equivalent of this journey that he is finally able to form a healthy (or more accurately, human) relationship with Estella,


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