Childhood Influences in Great Expectations and the Kite Runner

Michael Dennedy – Word Count : 1944 How do Dickens and Hosseini present the influence of childhood experiences in their novels ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Kite Runner’? The influence of childhood experience is at the core of these novels as both of the main protagonists go through a rite of passage and change of character which is influenced by their contrasting childhood experiences. In Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, the main character Pip grew up in southeast England with his harsh and blunt sister Mrs.
Joe who raised him forcefully and often violently ‘by hand’ and her kind and loving husband Joe Gargery who is what many critics such as E. M Forster call “a flat character” as his personality and motives do not change throughout the novel. Despite later feeling that blacksmithing is below him, in the Victorian era, Pip would have been very lucky to have had an automatic apprenticeship due to Joe’s profession. In my opinion, two major events in Pip’s childhood affect him for the rest of his life: his fateful and terrifying meeting with the convict Magwitch, and his embarrassing and revelatory meeting with Miss.
Havisham and Estella. The first life-changing event for Pip is when ‘a fearful man… with a great iron on his leg’ named Magwitch approaches him in the graveyard where our protagonist’s parents lay. The Wordsworth Classics edition of the novel offers an illustration in chapter one by F. W Pailthorpe is provided which connotes that Magwitch is dark and frightful, although the illustrator used irony here as the criminal stands behind a gravestone which reads ’Sacred’; in my opinion this gravestone represents Magwitch’s true kind hearted nature.

In these first chapters, we are introduced to the character of Pip who is the most important in the novel due to him being both narrator and protagonist. Despite his horror at meeting such a fearsome man, he is kind and compassionate towards him, instantly showing that Pip is overtly, a ‘good’ character. This and similar traits – such as compassion and conscience – in Pip’s personality define his character throughout the novel as they are the core foundations in his personality.
By showing this, Dickens creates a bond between Pip and the reader that keeps us interested and concerned about the rite of passage Pip endures and the eventual outcome of the events he experiences throughout the novel. This kindness can be seen in chapter forty one when Pip remains careful and conscious of the good ‘Provis‘ and despite the utter shame and discomfort he feels throughout, Pip respects that proper treatment is due to his generous yet seedy benefactor and that he ‘must save him, if possible’.
Pip constantly thinks back about his shortcomings and bad deeds, which drives him to be morally conscious of his actions. This trait in Pip’s personality creates the initial storyline of the novel and constitutes the theme of ‘gentlemen’, as it is Magwitch’s secretive philanthropy towards Pip for his kindness which creates mystery, ‘Great Expectations’ and false loyalty for Pip who is later sent to London to be schooled and turned into a gentleman. Throughout the novel Dickens uses the question of what makes a gentleman to create a social commentary.
The materialistic Victorian mind-set saw gentlemen as being wealthy and aristocratic like the hateful Bentley Drummle however, a real gentleman is more like the altruistic and good Joe Gargery who is a ‘gentle Christian man’. The second event in Pip’s childhood which I think, is the key catalyst to his change in character as his meeting with a woman who was made of ‘waxwork and skeleton’, Miss Havisham and her beautiful ward Estella whose name means star; something for Pip to aspire to shown by his concupiscence.
This meeting introduces Pip to the theme of social betterment and class; it also introduces false hope and Miss Havisham’s stratagem of creating hopeless aspirations and sham suspicions about the identity of his benefactor. In the Victorian era, a working class boy would never be permitted to marry the ward of a wealthy, upper-class woman. Miss Havisham’s manipulation of Pip’s emotions further exposes her bitterness and cruelty.
I feel that Dickens uses Estella as Pip’s original motivation for wanting to become a gentleman and due to Estella’s contempt, Pip loses grasp of his humble and kind roots and steers away from being a ’gentle man’ in the process. In Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’, the main character Amir has an almost totally contrasting childhood although he is haunted by one key personal event: the rape of his best friend and (unknowingly to Amir at the time) his brother Hassan, and another major event that affects the whole country of Afghanistan: the Soviet Invasion.
Both of these events mark the upheaval of Amir’s life both emotionally and physically as he is forced to leave his lavish upper-class life in his homeland and find a new place as poor working class man within the alien ‘idea of America’. An almost immediate change can be seen in Pip once he has travelled from ‘town to the metropolis’. Pip’s new GREAT EXPECTATIONS, are quickly defeated as he arrives in Cheapside ‘just out of Smithfield’.
This area of London was filthy in the era due to the largest meat market in Britain, Smithfield, being in close proximity and due to the ‘ugly, crooked, narrow and dirty’ streets which were commonplace in London at the time due to the inadequate sewer systems. This disappointment at arriving in a new lace are also expressed in ‘The Kite Runner’ as ‘it was living in America that gave Baba an ulcer’. The return of Magwitch is an example of how childhood has affected Pip’s attitude and opinions on social class.
Dickens uses pathetic fallacy at the start of chapter thirty nine ‘It was wretched weather; stormy and wet… mud, deep in all the streets’ this is used to foreshadow the upcoming events and to emphasise the horror and disgust Pip feels when realising that Magwitch is his benefactor. Hosseini also uses pathetic fallacy to great effect throughout ‘The Kite Runner’, one example of how the weather is used to create a tense and murky atmosphere is in chapter 7 shortly before the rape scene.
Hosseini describes the area as ‘a secluded muddy road… My boot squished in the mud’. Both authors have used this technique to foreshadow and prepare the reader for what is to come. ‘He took both my hands and put them to his lips, while my blood ran cold’ shows Pip’s horror as this kind act should not cause such a fearful reaction. Pip truly begins to appreciate the danger Magwitch has put himself into by returning to London as returning from transportation from Australia almost certainly meant death at the gallows in the eighteen hundreds.
Childhood influences is shown in chapter forty-two as Magwitch was forced to become a thief after ‘a-thieving turnips’ to survive as a child and due to this harsh difficult upbringing, sympathy is evoked form the reader as the convict has ‘honoured his debt’ to the small boy. Throughout the novel Pip’s attitudes towards Joe and his home at the forge change constantly. Before Pip meets Estella the camaraderie and friendship can be seen as they were both ‘fellow-sufferers’ of Tickler and by the phrases and speech they use such as ‘ you and me is always friends’ and how Pip simply calls him ‘Joe’ unlike almost all other adults in the novel.
This respect for adults and even parents was commonplace in Victorian times however this example of not using ‘Mr’ shows how close a friendship they share in the novel’s opening. Respect for adults is a theme show dominantly in ‘The Kite Runner’. The term ‘agha sahib’ meaning lord, commander or friend is used throughout the novel. This term is often used by both Amir and Hassan when they speak to Baba or Rahim Kahn as they are both their elders who deserve the respect of children.
Despite the closeness of the relation between Pip and Joe in the beginning. Joe’s visit is strained and awkward as he attempts to tell Pip the local happenings. For example Wopsle, for instance, has become an actor with questionable talent; this shows the Dickensian technique of hinting towards a characters future or traits by using an appropriate name. Pip is rude and ashamed of Joe however until he redeems himself with the mention of Estella to returning to Satis House and that she has asked to see Pip.
Upon this revelation Pip becomes nicer to Joe, but he leaves before Pip can make amends. Joe’s visit to London illuminates the theme of social contrasts and guilt. This section serves by showing the awkward position between classes Pip has become and by showing the worry he that Joe will disapprove of his new life and that the aristocracy in his life will frown upon him, again showing Pip’s character trait of guilt. The life of Estella and the effect she has upon Pip is a very good example of how Dickens uses past experiences to shape and mould his characters.
In my reasoning, I think that Miss Havisham brought Estella up for two main reasons: for her to punish Men and ’break their hearts’ and for her to give Miss Havisham a final chance of receiving love despite it not being romantic. As a child Estella is ‘very pretty, very insulting’ to Pip and to other men including Mr Pumblechook and she continues this behaviour throughout the majority of the novel until the very end when she returns ‘bent and broken’ and humbled from the abuse given to her by her deceased husband Bentley Drummle.
Dickens uses Estella as a tool to create a social commentary on birth rite and nature versus nurture. Unbeknownst to Pip for the earlier half of the novel, Estella is the daughter of a thief and a murderess adopted by Miss Havisham at the age of three. With her character, Dickens shows that money does not buy happiness even in the superficial Victorian era as Estella has ‘no heart’ due to the coldness displayed to her by Miss Havisham despite having all the material possessions she could ever want or need and due to this, many critics have stated that “Estella is the only realistic female creation of Dickens‘”.
Estella contrasts heavily with the character of Soraya in ‘The Kite Runner’. Where Estella is cold and haughty, Soraya is kind, steady and dependable and despite her infertility she is the perfect wife for Amir although she often gives her negative opinions on patriarchal Afghan culture. Both Pip and Amir go through rites of passage in the novels as Humphrey House has stated that “it is a remarkable achievement to have kept the reader‘s sympathy throughout a snob‘s progress“.
Amir starts ‘The Kite Runner’ as an arrogant, selfish, cowardly although loving boy and grows up with the guilt of the cowardice he displayed when Hassan was raped although he finds solace by returning to Afghanistan seeking redemption by rescuing Sohrab during two-thousand and one whilst the Taliban were engaged in Afghan – United Nations controversy.
Pip’s character changes from the innocent, kind and timid child into a character similar to that of Amir as a child as he is arrogant and snobbish although he too begins to feel guilt for his actions during his period of snobbery and seeks redemption by returning to the forge and Satis House and the end of the novel to find forgiveness from Joe. The author’s of both novels use rites of passage as a means for character change and redemption however, Dickens puts Pip through a mental journey as he slowly unravels the traits and histories of those around him whereas Hosseini sends Amir on a physical journey to find ‘a way to be good again’.

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