In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens presents John Wemmick's lifestyle in parallel to Pip's progression in the novel in order to highlight Pip's change. Wemmick also focuses the reader on the person Pip eventually becomes and what he thus achieves, as Phelan implies (Phelan 182). Wemmick "has completely divided his work and home realms in a way similar to the [idea of] separate spheres" (Allie 1), completely secluding his home world at Walworth from his work world in London. Within his home sphere, the relationship that he maintains with the Aged P. exemplifies the value Walworth Wemmick places on interpersonal relationships. Wemmick is also a frugal character who is devoted to stockpiling "portable property" to gain financial security. Conversely, during Pip's time in London, instability exists within both his personal and financial worlds. Nevertheless, by the end of the novel, Pip reestablishes his friendship with Joe and like Wemmick, achieves an appreciation for those around him and for living within his means. Thus, Dickens constructs Wemmick, a minor character, to parallel tribulations that Pip faces in the novel and uses Wemmick and Pip to promote a lifestyle where meaning is not found in having monetary wealth, but rather in interpersonal relationships and frugality.
Wemmick lives his life in two separate spheres - his private life is relegated to his castle at Walworth, and his professional life is apparent when he is in London and around Mr. Jaggers. In this divided life, "Wemmick derives his character in Walworth from the Aged and in Little Britain from his surrogate father, Jaggers. His journey becomes one from home to work and back, a system of survival in London" (Allie 1). Wemmick's character is a motif with sharp divisions. Nevertheless, this "system of survival" is a successful division for him. When Wemmick is at his home in Walworth, he becomes a caring, compassionate figure who maintains a peculiar, but respectful relationship with his father, the Aged P. Wemmick cares for the Aged P. and entertains him with his nodding and smiling. Conversely, the Aged P. is overwhelmingly proud of his son, proclaiming to Pip, "very regular in everything, is my son" (Dickens 293). The Aged P. agrees to everything his son says in an amicable tone, saying, "all right, John, all right" (Dickens 297), though whether or not the Aged P. can hear what he is agreeing to is seriously in doubt. In "Walworth, Wemmick's jovial, indulgent care for the Aged P. contrasts with Pip's rejection of Joe" (Phelan 182). Thus, the relationship between Wemmick and the Aged P. highlights the unstable "father"-son bond between Pip and Joe.
When Pip receives his fortune and goes to London, his relationship with Joe becomes strained, and they are no longer close friends. Pip is torn between his love for Joe and the fact that he is "ashamed of [his] home" (Dickens 125), as he strives to become an upper class gentleman. Joe, Pip's father-like figure, reciprocates this uneasiness when he comes to visit Pip in London. Joe refers to Pip as "sir" (Dickens 222). Pip's question, "how can you call me Sir?" elicits a look "faintly like reproach," and Pip is conscious "of a sort of dignity in the look" (Dickens 222). Pip's new, lavish life drives a stake between Joe and him. The tension that arises over Joe's use of the status-defining word "sir" exemplifies the strained undertone of animosity that develops in their speech. Later, Dickens uses the "cold dinner" (Dickens 281) that Pip, Joe, and Biddy have together as a double entendre to describe the brooding sentiments present at the meal. Considering Wemmick's relationship with the Aged P., Phelan says that "in Walworth Wemmick, Dickens gives us a character who invites reflection on the instabilities of [Pip's] home plot… providing a contrast between his treatment of his Aged P and Pip's treatment of Joe" (Phelan 182). Dickens thus uses Wemmick as a means of placing two different "father"- son relationships side-by-side.
Nevertheless, by the end of the novel, Pip matures, and his relationship with Joe progresses accordingly. He goes back to Kent, giving Joe and Biddy his "humble thanks for all you have done for me" and pleading that "you forgive me!" (Dickens 479). Joe and Biddy are "melted by [Pip's] words" and eventually show their respect for Pip by naming their son after him (Dickens 479). Also, Joe's frequent use of "sir" in reference to Pip is no longer present. An additional sign of these improved relations comes when the reader learns that Pip "maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe" while he is in Egypt (Dickens 480). Although Pip never establishes the same close bond with his father figure as Wemmick has with the Aged P., by the end of the novel the societal divide that separated Pip and Joe has been mitigated.
Wemmick's devotion to gaining portable property is another important element of his character which Dickens uses in Great Expectations to highlight Pip's progression and change. This guiding principle is evident in the "two "compartments" of Wemmick's life… [as] each has a collection of portable property" (Allie 2). By no means a wealthy individual, Wemmick lives a comfortable life epitomized by his reliance on portable property, primarily gifts he receives from clients. Wemmick feels "they may not be worth much, but, after all, they're property and portable… my guiding-star always is, 'Get hold of portable property'" (Dickens 201). Thus, portable property is an integral part of Wemmick's life. In fact, as Allie says, Wemmick's castle "is maintained by a salary from Jaggers and the acquisition of portable property" (Allie 1). Though a materialistic pursuit, this saving of gifts is Wemmick's exercise in frugality as he uses them to live a stable financial life.
In contrast to Wemmick's frugality, Pip's acquisition of the fortune directly leads him to "contract… expensive habits, and beg[in] to spend an amount of money that within a few short months I should have thought almost fabulous" (Dickens 204). This incredible expenditure of money drives Pip into a cycle of debt. Thus, Wemmick's presence in the novel once again invites reflection on another instability in Pip's London life - his finances. A sharp contrast is established between the two materialistic characters - Pip and Wemmick. While Wemmick keeps a strict eye on his acquisition of material possessions in order to maintain his frugal lifestyle, Pip exercises little regard for his finances as he indiscriminately spends his fortune on items such as jewelry and clothes.
Ironically, only after Magwitch dies is Pip able to progress toward financial security. Without the fortune, and having matured, Pip says toward the end of the novel, "I sold all I had, and put aside as much as I could, for a composition with my creditors… and joined Herbert (as a clerk)" (Dickens 480). Pip has adopted a more pragmatic tone as he makes decisions to help put his life in order, including being willing to accept a job as a clerk. Furthermore, in Egypt, Pip "lived happily with Herbert and his wife, and lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe" (Dickens 480). Pip's outlook on life has changed. He has become a frugal and compassionate individual who thinks of others. Pip's worldly concerns are no longer money-centric but relationship-centric. Thus, the contrast that was previously evident with Wemmick highlights Pip's progression as he eventually reaches a point where the two characters' values, both in their interpersonal relationships and frugality, are more aligned.
Despite being a minor character in Great Expectations, Wemmick is significant as Dickens uses him in contrast with Pip to highlight the latter's progression. Phelan notes that "Wemmick's presence substantially increases our sense of what Pip eventually achieves" (Phelan 178). Although this statement is a reference to Wemmick's life in two spheres as Pip tries to come to an acceptance of Magwitch as his benefactor, Wemmick also increases the reader's appreciation for Pip's progression from being insensitive and driven by his financial wealth to becoming caring and fiscally responsible. Additionally, the new life that Pip creates in Egypt and his renewed relations with Joe are emphasized by the similarities that come to exist between Wemmick and this changed Pip. Dickens uses the initial contrast between Wemmick and Pip to imply that an irresponsible devotion to materialism and social class does not make a successful and satisfying life. As Pip's lifestyle becomes more aligned with Wemmick's ideals by the end of the novel, Dickens suggests that he favors a life which derives meaning and happiness from relationships with others and from frugality.
Allie, Anna. "Walworth vs. Little Britain: Wemmick's Compartmentalized Personality." Pip's World: A Hypertext on Charles Dickens's Great Expectations .: 1-4. University of Michigan-Dearborn. 8 Jan. 2009
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Charlotte Mitchell. England: Penguin, 1996.
Phelan, James. "Reading for the Character and Reading for the Progression: John Wemmick and Great Expectations." New Casebooks: Great Expectations. Ed. Roger Sell. London: MacMillan , 1994. 177-185.