Chapter 4 (Volume 1, Chapter 4) (Instalment 2):

Pumblechook and the rest of the Company / Frightful demonstratios of Pumblechook

Synopsis of Chapter 4 (Volume 1, Chapter 4) (Instalment 2)

During Christmas dinner at home, Pip becomes the victim of the adults (except Joe) and is used as a moral example. He is regarded as an evil creature who must be made good by constant reminder and punishment from adults. The Christmas described here is not a joyous celebration but suggests a harsh religion.

Pip fears that his thefts will be discovered when it emerges that the brandy bottle has been topped up with tar-water and that the pork pie is missing. Pip makes a run for it, but meets a squad of soldiers at the door.

Commentary on Chapter 4 (Volume 1, Chapter 4) (Instalment 2)

Perhaps if I waren't a blacksmith's wife Dickens' readers may have been reminded of the story of Martha and Mary: Martha complained about her sister, who sat listening to Christ while she had to do the work of looking after everyone. See Luke 10:38-42.

Knight's Tomb, photo by David Merrett available through Creative Commonslike monumental Crusaders as to their legs Medieval knights were often buried in tombs in churches, beneath an effigy of themselves in armour. It is sometimes said that if they were shown in the effigy with their ankles crossed, this meant they had been on a Crusade (fighting in Palestine for the protection of the holy places in Jerusalem, which was seen as a holy act in the Middle Ages).

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and some people do the same by their religion Just as Mrs. Joe's cleanliness is ‘more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself', so her religion also seems to be as painful as the sin she tries to ‘cleanse' from Pip and Joe.

when the blithe bells were going, the picture of misery, in a full suit of Sunday penitentials Joe is uncomfortable in his best clothes, worn for the celebration of Christmas, but which in themselves make Christian festivals like enduring a kind of penance.

Reformatory A young offenders' institution. Pip is made to feel guilty about his new clothes, which are made to look like the uniform of an inmate in a young offenders‘ institution, to teach him a lesson.

the time when the banns were read The names of those intending to marry in the Church of England are read out in church for three weeks before the ceremony, giving an opportunity for those who may know of any reason why the wedding should not take place to register their objection. Pip is dreaming that such a moment would give him a reason to see the clergyman in private to ask for help.

Mr.Wopsle, the clerk at church The role of the clerk (who was a layman), especially at a time when many people could not read very well, was to announce readings, lead congregational responses and perform various clerical tasks such as making entries in registers.

he would read the clergyman into fits Mr.Wopsle's religious practices are to do with style rather than substance. Note later in the chapter his manner of saying grace, into which he introduces some inappropriate references to Hamlet and Richard III by Shakespeare.

‘Naturally wicious' (‘Naturally vicious') This is a comic version of the doctrine of original sin, which was often used to justify the harsh treatment of children. (Contrast this withJoe's actions after this particular tirade and later on in the chapter. See also Religious/philosophical context: Dickens and the importance of childhood).

‘Swine were the companions of the prodigal A reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-32) which talks about a forgiving father.

What light do you think it throws on the tone and the intention of Mr.Wopsle's words? When Mr.Pumblechook speaks to Pip, he describes what life would have been like if he had been a ‘four-footed Squeaker' - that is, a pig.

Investigating Chapter 4 (Volume 1, Chapter 4) (Instalment 2)
  • Look back over the chapter
    • What does the reader learn about Joe's character and his place in the family?
  • Read the account of the birth of Christ in Luke 2:1-14
    • Compare it with the account of Pip's Christmas.
  • Read the parable of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:1-32
    • Compare it with the Christmas dinner in this chapter.
      • In what ways is Dickens satirizing the Victorian practice of religion?
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