A psychoanalytical interpretation of Orlick’s presence, Unheimlich.

Get Complete Project Material File(s) Now! »


We mentioned it before, what makes Great Expectations such a flourishing work is that it managed to put together many branches of research such as literature, mythology and science. This last point is going to be our main focus here, as we will try and link our novel to the main figures in science and psychology, namely Darwin, Freud and Jung. We will show and prove how the pair Pip/Orlick is the perfect illustration of the evolutionary theory, as well for the environment they live in as for the behaviour of the characters surrounding them. Freud’s work is definitely arriving later than the date when Great Expectations was published but our pair is nonetheless an early suggestion that the figure of the repressed, Das Unheimliche, has actually been highlighted in the novel. Finally, as Orlick is continually following Pip, one can also try and link this to Jung’s main work on the Shadow of the self.

Dickens and Darwin.

Darwin has often been described as a “tenacious empiricist”52, wanting to prove that there was something bigger than just a simple series of events randomly following each other. The term “evolution” describes the development of organisms from immature to mature state and adds with it one fundamental rule that is called “survival of the fittest, (as everything is a) question of competition”53. To stay alive, every single species has to prove stronger than the other or else it will end in its destruction by the one with the upper hand. In 1859 Darwin announces that there is in life a “natural selection (which can be interpreted as) a universal sanction”54. This idea has arisen many reactions in every domains but one may underline that literature has been very responsive to developments in science, especially Dickens as we will see. With this idea in mind – that of an evolution – everything will work according to one track of thoughts : “the observer becomes the observed”55 . We will from now on be given the ability to understand everything that is happening – why does this animal look like this one, why does this person stand like that – everything will be put into perspective and evaluated so as to draw conclusions and get some indisputable answers. “Dickens tended to find throughgoing gradualism inadequate and often implied through his narratives the possibility of causes outside the secular. His complex relation to this idea is an important register of the culture’s ambivalence about Darwinism and about the extension of scientific
study to human history, and it suggests some of the limitations and contradictions within the realist project”. 56 Both men were known to be revolutionary in their own way as they both put aside the idea of religion being the main ground for humanity. Through science and literature, religion (and consequently God) was not the reason that made everything happen as it is in fact natural causes that brought us where we are today. So Dickens is a man of his time as he represents all the people who have reacted to Darwin’s idea. Some would think that it was fantastically true and others didn’t want to believe that everything could be scientifically explained and that it didn’t involve God at all. Though Dickens agreed with the theory of evolution he still had some reserves as to the extension of the veracity of the whole concept, but all in all, one may say that because Great Expectations is a Bildungsroman, one is automatically thinking about the formation of the self and consequently an evolution. Therefore, the link between Dickens and Darwin can easily be made, especially when our author starts his novel with such an expression as “that universal struggle” 57. This first scene in the graveyard, introducing Pip as an imaginative boy who is curious about the “identity of things”58 is to us a big clue that Darwin was one of the models who inspired Dickens in the writing of his novel. This idea can be reinforced when we consider that most of the story of Pip’s life unravels “out on the marshes”59, sending us back to Darwin’s evolutionary theory on the origin of species taking place in such damp areas.
To reinforce this idea that the environment in which Pip’s story takes place was inspired by Darwin, one may mention that the characters in Great Expectations and especially those we are focusing on are often associated with – if not assimilated to – animals, making it unclear if we are reading about human beings or simply primitive “wild beasts”60. For example, one may mention the time when Pip is not considered a boy but more like “a likely young parcel of bones”61, erasing any form of civilised and modern consideration but taking the description down to the most basic level there is. Even Orlick is presented as a base being as we are told that “he lodged at a sluice-keeper’s out on the marshes […] his dinner tied in a bundle round his neck”62. This idea is constantly emphasized with the number of times Dickens mentions that instead of speaking, Orlick “growled”63 and that instead of walking and standing straight he was rather “slouching” (cf: “Orlick, with his hands in his pockets, slouched heavily at my side. It was very dark, very wet, very and so we splashed along”64 ). The description of the environment recurring in the story is always a damp and dark one, the kind that would see tadpoles and other amphibians grow in it. This sentence is a significant one as it says that “when we came near the churchyard, we had to cross an embankment, and get over a stile near a sluice-gate. There started up, from the gate, or from the rushes, or from the ooze (which was quite in a stagnant way)”65; this is what Great Expectations is all about, and the word stagnant is cleverly used as the said evolution will contradictorily enough take place in a stagnant atmosphere. So Dickens put Pip and Orlick in this context in order for them to be able “to affront mankind and convey an idea of something savagely damaging”66 since they will have to struggle to find their place in two worlds – that of the marshes and that of London, with the gentlemen. Even Pirrip says it so (cf: “I struggled”67) knowing exactly what word he is using and what it conveys. The environment has been for Pip and Orlick the origins of one and of the other as they both have to fight for their own preservation.
This doesn’t affect only our two characters for it would not prove very relevant. However one can assert for sure that “Mrs Joe […] gets a livelier sexual charge from seeing Orlick imbrued in blood”68 proving that the other characters in the story have also been at one point or another demeaned to their most basic instincts and needs. Moreover it has been proven that Pip’s brothers and sisters “gave up their attempts to survive not in the struggle against their presumably innate infirmities but in that universal struggle that Darwin had predicated as a condition of life less than a year before we find out about Pip’s brothers had succumbed to it”69 inviting us once more to make a parallel between Dickens and Darwin. Having said so the conclusion that can be drawn is probably that “Pip is always and only the blacksmith’s boy, his struggle is to acquire rather than to recover gentility, and he is not allowed to forget or ever truly escape from his rude beginnings.”70 . The struggle in question is probably the main motive for the writing of the book as Pirrip is always describing himself as having been an innocent little boy facing all these difficulties in life, making him what he is now. The people he met, most of them so rude and animal-like in their behaviour, this helps Pirrip’s argumentation in trying to get the reader’s sympathy. The more savage the character, the kinder the reader.

A psychoanalytical interpretation of Orlick’s presence, Unheimlich.

When we focus on Freud’s work on the Unheimlich, we can read that this concept goes hand in hand with that of fear and anguish (cf : ce concept est apparenté à ceux d’effroi, de peur, d’angoisse78). Because this German term is the exact opposite of “heimlich” which means “homely and familiar”, Unheimlich would be consequently the image of the unfamiliar and the unknown, which logically brings us to the idea of a certain fear on the part of the person facing it. We’re always terrified about what we don’t know because we just can’t figure out how to handle it, and therefore we choose to ignore the very existence of such a figure as the Unheimlich, hoping that maybe eventually it will go away. What about Pip and Orlick then? Does the latter fit the description? I would say yes, because Orlick is already scary in his appearance but also in his acts as he is very impulsive and tends to become violent quite easily. Furthermore, as the term also means everything that should have remained hidden and secret but managed to manifest itself79, Orlick is simply the perfect character to express it all. He is the type of person nobody wants to be associated with (especially not Pip) and unfortunately as he keeps on showing up in the novel, one cannot get rid of him and ends up acting as if he didn’t exist altogether. However one might ponder on the origins of such a figure. Is it something everybody possess or is it simply a product of the imagination? Well in order to answer that question « il faut se contenter de choisir, parmi ces thèmes qui produisent un effet d’inquiétante étrangeté, les plus saillants, afin de rechercher si, à ceux-ci également peut se retrouver une source infantile. Nous avons alors tout ce qui touche au thème du « double » dans toutes ses nuances, tous ses développements »80. This sentence means that whatever scares you, it might have one way or another its source in a childhood episode. Whether it be a trauma relating to an episode that hit you while you were young or just a simple fear that you decided to erase from your mind, it is still there in a kind of basement that you have within yourself, that we all have within ourselves. The theme of the double is therefore an uncanny example of these repressed fears, and once again our pair is consequently a proper example of the fact that they might be each other’s double. Firstly Pip has known Orlick in his childhood, while everything he has wanted to leave behind when becoming a gentleman has belonged to this past in the marshes. The blacksmith being the past, by trying to follow our hero around he is just actually demonstrating the operation of something bigger that Freud has been working on : the recurrence of the unconscious, the return of the repressed.
« Dans le moi se développe peu à peu une instance particulière qui peut s’opposer au restant du moi, qui sert à s’observer et à se critiquer soi-même »81. Orlick’s main function as a double is not to bother our hero until one of them commits suicide. No, as we are trying to prove, Orlick has a symbolic role in all this. As a double, his purpose is to try and open Pip’s eyes, in order for the young man to realise who he is really and see what is wrong with his behaviour so as to be able in the end to criticize himself and change for the better. It is no wonder then that the double conveys with itself the image of something terrifying : indeed, it is a big step for anyone to be as open-minded as to achieve self-criticism. Everybody should be scared of being face to face with one’s own flaws. And as part of every type of evolution, you might expect to end up somewhere along the way exactly where you started your journey, which can be quite scary for the inexperienced mind. « Le retour involontaire au même point […] produit cependant le même sentiment de détresse et d’étrangeté inquiétante 82 ». Once again the parallel between life and Great Expectations is hard to miss. As this sentence suggests that the scary part in Unheimlich is the constant return to the starting point, hence the impression of being trapped in an endless circle, our novel has the particularity to start and end in a churchyard. The first chapter shows us little Pip observing the graves of his family as the last chapter presents the same image, only with a hero a little bit older and certainly wiser. The fact that the beginning and the end of the novel takes place exactly in the same spot is in fact a means by Dickens to show us how Pip’s life has been taking the form of a circle shaping his personality. The circle in Pip’s life (or rather the circle that is Pip’s life) and the circle suggested by the figure of “the uncanny” are just yet another proof of the parallel that can be drawn between the relation with one’s double and how this relation led our hero to go around in the scary circle of his life.
«L’angoissant est quelque chose de refoulé qui se montre à nouveau car cet « Unheimliche » n’est en réalité rien de nouveau, d’étranger, mais bien plutôt quelque chose de familier, depuis toujours, à la vie psychique, et que le processus du refoulement seul a rendu autre83 ». Even though he looks scary and acts in ways that are scary as well, let us not forget that Orlick has always been there from childhood to adulthood as far as Pip is concerned. Because he is always following Pip on this path towards self-realisation, Orlick with his constant appearances in important episodes reminds the reader of the fact that he might actually be bringing a kind of comfort and reassurance to the situations encountered. This figure that we have learnt to know throughout the book becomes almost a relief when we see him appear in a scary situation. No matter how hard Pip is trying to rid himself of the man, he cannot lie about the fact that this villain is in fact the kind of monster he’s glad to already know. But maybe exaggerating the truth about how much of an evil man Orlick is helps Pip in believing that the past belongs to the past and nothing is ever going to haunt him now. This is of course a naïve reaction as everyone suspects that something is bound to happen and no amount of pretence is going to change this.
« L’inquiétante étrangeté surgit souvent et aisément chaque fois où les limites entre imagination et réalité s’effacent, où ce que nous avions tenu pour fantastique s’offre à nous comme réel »84. Pip is, through Pirrip’s narrative, the kind of boy whose imagination is very wide. Indeed, as we have been able to see him in Jaggers’ office observing talking shoes and laughing masks, he is also very creative when it comes to imagining what his family must have been like while he looks at their graves in the churchyard. And as we work on the constant oppositions between Pip and Orlick one may suggest that “these counter-positions, so fruitful of illusion”85 bring us to lose our balance and therefore wonder what is good, what is wrong, who is in the right and who is not to trust. This young boy has a way of perceiving things differently from your average human being which led him eventually to sometimes confuse reality and what is the product of his imagination. Because he was the prey of illusion, he can easily
get confused and consequently he tends to describe everything out of proportion. In this pattern, one can suggest that it is a strategy as «l’exagération de la réalité psychique par rapport à la réalité matérielle » 86 _ meaning how different the product of the mind is compared to the actual reality of things – is sometimes a way to win the reader over and make him sympathize with the poor little boy who has to face the giant brute of a blacksmith.

READ  Hydrocarbon Contamination

Table of contents :

1. Orlick seen as the perfect double through the image of the Devil.
2. Orlick and the concept of the mirror.
3. The rivalry between Pip and Orlick as the cement of their relation.
1. Dickens and Darwin.
2. A psychoanalytical interpretation of Orlick’s presence, Unheimlich.
3. The shadow of Pip.
1. Why does Pip reject the notion of the double?
2. Why does Orlick force it on the hero?
3. The trinity Pip/Pirrip/Orlick.
1. Dickens’s inspirational work to create the pair Pip/Orlick.
2. Orlick seen as a mythic figure, the importance of Hephaestus in Great


Related Posts