The Importance and Symbolism of Mrs. Joe In Great
The importance of Mrs. Joe in Great Expectations has two
major parts: the significance of the character, and the
symbolism of the character. The signifance of Mrs. Joe is
to complete the figure of Joe and the symbolism of Mrs. Joe
is actually the physical manifestation of Joe's fears in
combination with his desire for a commanding father-figure.
First, Mrs. Joe's reign of terror is obviously necessary
for Joe's existence. In the beginning of Great
Expectations, Joe requires identification as a major
character. Without the weakness that Mrs. Joe instills in
Joe via her reign of terror, Joe never develops to a major
character. Joe is identified as a compassionate, sensitive
character, and the most direct way to display this feature
is to have the character appear vulnerable. Mrs. Joe serves
as the tyrant, by whom Joe is made helpless. Joe, unless he
is a scared character, does not recognize the friend he has
in Pip. Without Joe as a major role in Pip's life, Pip also
seems very incomplete. Second, Mrs. Joe also serves as the
comical interlude of an otherwise sombre story.
"When she had exhausted a torrent of such inquiries, she
threw a candlestick at Joe, burst into a loud sobbing, got
out the dustpan -- which was always a very bad sign -- put
on her coarse apron, and began cleaning up to a terrible
extent. Not satisfied with a dry cleaning, she took to a
pail and scrubbing-brush, and cleaned us out of house and
home,..." Truly, a frightening creature is one that may
destroy a household by cleaning when anger besets her.
Third, the comedy also has a serious side, though, as we
remember our mothers exerting their great frustrations upon
the household tasks of cleanliness. So, Mrs. Joe serves
very well as a mother to Pip. Besides the age difference
and the motherly duties of housekeeping for Pip and Joe,
the attitude of a scornful mother is also apparent. This,
of course, draws Joe even closer to Pip, by relation. Mrs.
Joe serves as link to make it so that Joe appears very much
to be the father of Pip. In addition, Joe, although
terrified of Mrs. Joe, is a very honorable man and would
never consider divorcing his wife. Through this condition,
however, Joe appears to be even a more honorable man to
choose to preserve the sacred marriage rather than seek his
comfort. It is ironic that Mrs. Joe be referred to as Mrs.
Joe constantly when there doesn't seem to much a part of
Joe in her. The main purpose it serves is probably to
characterize Mrs. Joe as a more masculine, and, therefore,
typically more commanding, character. In the tradition of
marriage, the wife usually gives up her last name to show
that she is "property" of the man, therefore it is
especially ironic that she be called Mrs. Joe when it is
clear that Joe, rather, belongs more to her than
vice-versa. It is also ironic that Joe be the one that
seems to be stuck in tough situation in his marraige.
Often, in this time, women suffered from the abuse of their
husbands and expected to keep the marriage together
regardless. However, Joe is clearly the one being abused in
this story and he also is the only one decent enough to
care enough about the marraige to try and keep it together
by enduring the abuse of Mrs. Joe. Fifth, through love, Joe
shows the audience that truly he is not just a very timid
man but a whole-hearted man. Truly, it takes a loving man
to stay in love with such a woman as Mrs. Joe. No kissing
ever took place between Joe and Mrs. Joe (much less child
birth), and it becomes clear to the reader that the
relationship between Joe and Mrs. Joe is a very "one-way"
relationship. It would seem that Joe cares enough for Mrs.
Joe, though Mrs. Joe never once seems to show a bit of
compassion for Joe. Illustration of this can be seen in
Mrs. Joe's numerous dorogatory references to being married
to "a lowly blacksmith." Surely, after Mrs. Joe dies, Joe
reflects upon how he was treated and what he will do
differently in the future. With Mrs. Joe gone, a piece of
Joe's life is again freed up and can slowly be reclaimed,
making him into a stronger person. Eventually marrying
Biddy makes it apparent that Joe is changed, as Biddy seems
more the feminine, quiet, traditional girl, compared to
Mrs. Joe. Sixth, Mrs. Joe represents the semi-aristocracy
that oppresses Joe and Pip. She continually threatens Joe
and Pip with bodily harm, pushing Joe and Pip together
under a common oppression, just as the aristocracy
ridicules Pip through Estella and Joe through Pip,
eventually. Although Mrs. Joe isn't exactly wealthy, she
has the aristocratic connections that define her as part of
the elite class. The home life is supposedly filled by a
pair of nurturing parents, however, in this book, the home
serves as sort of a microcosm. The social structure and
events that take place within the house echo all the rest
of the events in the book: from the theft of the file and
food and Pips first feelings of guilt, to Mrs. Joe's
oppresion of her husband and little brother. Finally, Joe
first sought this relationship with such an overbearing
character because he has always needed someone to make his
decisions for him. He did not used to suffer under such
abuse, I assume, although he has always been clumsy
physically as well as mentally. Examples of this are his
general timidity to confrontation and his occasional
stumbling over items, especially when trying to act in the
presence of Pip when he is a gentleman. Joe's speech and
use of words illustrate his plainess and accent Pip's
aristocracy. Decisions never came easily for Joe and he'd
much rather someone else make them for him rather than have
to choose on his own. Being uneducated, Joe never felt sure
of himself that he could make an appropriate decision,
anyway. When asking for Mrs. Joe's hand in marraige, it can
be assumed that Mrs. Joe did everything short of buying the
wedding ring herself to make the marriage a reality. So,
Mrs. Joe essentially created Joe to be the character that
he allowed himself to be. With the slow death of Mrs. Joe,
Joe reclaimed his life from his earlier insecurity. Mrs.
Joe's importance in tying Joe to Pip made the relationship
between the two significantly more beliveable, and without
her, the great expectation of this book would never have
been met. 


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