Joe also finds it difficult to deal with Pip when he is a ‘gentleman’. When Pip is ill, and needing Joe’s help, Joe is happy to call him Pip and treat him like he did when he was younger. But as soon as Pip starts getting better and gaining strength, Joe reverts to calling him “Sir”: “I shall be happy fur to see you able, sir”. This could show Joe’s insecurity, that when he is no longer sure if Pip needs him, he becomes very polite, and address Pip as if he is in a higher class again.
However, Joe does treat everyone equally, for example when Magwitch confesses about stealing the pie, Joe says that whatever he has done, “we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creature. ” This shows how Joe views the world, and the people on it, that we are all of the same kind, and all have the same rights. As well as this, “creature” implies that Joe believes humans are animals, perhaps why he struggles with classes and formalities.
This may relate to the fact that Joe never shows a real desire to learn to read or write, because he thinks we are animals that just do physical things, such as make things, like a blacksmith does. “Poor” also implies that Joe sympathises with the convict, despite knowing it was his own fault that he is in the position he is in, showing that Joe is very forgiving, which the reader respects him for. Joe shows this forgiveness on a number of occasions, for example, when he tells Pip about his abusive father, and how he came after him and his mother.
He tells Pip it was because his “father were that good in his hart that he couldn’t abear to be without us. ” One could argue that this was Joe’s innocent view on the world, and that he couldn’t accept that someone would deliberately want to hurt someone else. But, more likely, it is Joe forgiving his father for what he did. Forgiveness (or the lack of it) is a common theme throughout the novel, but Joe seems to be one of the only one who offers it readily. Not only does Joe forgive his father for abusing him, but also Mrs Joe. He tells Pip that she is a “fine figure of a woman”.
This is somewhat ironic as Mrs Joe has no feminine qualities, not even a female name. It also shows Joe’s respect, if not affection, for Mrs Joe, despite her treating him so badly. For example she regularly abuses him: “she knocked his head for a little while against the wall behind him. ” Joe puts up with her, although he could easily fight back. The image if almost comic, especially the phrase “for a little while”, it makes it sound like she is just casually doing it for the sake of it. It could also link to the phrase ‘knock some sense into him’, perhaps this is what Mrs Joe is trying to do?
At any rate Joe is submissive, showing his selflessness, as he lets her do it so she doesn’t hurt Pip as much (as he explains later). The reader pities Joe, as he is such a kind man, married to an abusive woman, who takes advantage of his kindness. Joe is very loyal to Pip, and is always there when he needs him. One of Joe’s ‘catch-phrases’ is “ever the best of friends”. “Ever” shows his loyalty towards Pip, and gives a sense of stability, he gives Pip something to come back to. As if to prove this loyalty, he pays of Pip’s debts. This is such a big gesture as Joe is the poorest of all men.
The moral and emotional image of debt appears a lot throughout the novel, perhaps because debt was a personal issue for Dickens. His family were imprisoned for debt, therefore stopping Dickens’ education, and he bailed his father out many times. In the novel, Pip becomes Joe’s debtor, an image of ownership, like Joe owns Pip. One could argue that this was to do with Joe’s insecurity, and that he needs something solid to connect him to Pip. However, throughout the book, Joe has been completely selfless, so this act could just another example of Joe’s kindness.
There are also religious overtones to this, he is doing a Christian deed. There are several religious links associated with Joe, for example, Joe takes in Pip a a child “God bless the poor little child, there’s room for him at the forge. ” This could be a reference to the Nativity story, when the innkeepers turn Mary away. Add this to the Christian deeds he does (like paying off Pip’s debt), give Joe an almost saint-like quality. But Dickens needs to balance the character, otherwise we may just view him as a perfect religious figure and would then find it hard to view him as a realistic role model for Pip.
So Dickens makes Joe childish, innocent, illiterate and also includes some comedy moments. For example, when Joe has learned to write, he writes a letter to Biddy. Dickens writes this in a very comedic way, possibly overly so. Joe “constantly dipped his pen into space, and seemed satisfied with the result”, it is almost mocking him. As well as this, it is written like a performance for Pip, but throughout the novel Joe has been the only one who can’t act (e. g. he can’t deal with formal situations and pretend to be something he is not) or pretend.
So why does Dickens include these humorous details? Possibly it could be to balance out Joe as a character, for if he was just a religious prophet, he would lose his power in the novel. Or alternatively, it could be to lighten the mood and relieve the tension between Pip and Joe. Or perhaps it is to show Joe fulfilling his mother’s expectations, of Joe being a “scholar”, to show that it can be done. This may provide hope for the reader, that Pip might be able to fulfill his own expectations eventually.
Although that wouldn’t explain why it is so over the top. Some characters only see this side of Joe, the awkward, clown-like side. Pip says that Jaggers “recognised in Joe the village idiot and me his keeper. ” Jaggers doesn’t understand Joe, he doesn’t know about Joe’s forgiving, loyal nature, he just sees an “idiot”. This could be reinforcing our first introduction to Joe, where he is described as foolish. Again this could be to balance the character of Joe, rather then make the reader view him negatively, as we know Joe is a very wise character.
Jaggers believes this because Joe cries when he tells him about Pip’s expectations, and has to be comforted by Pip. Joe demonstrates many female tendencies throughout the novel, especially when he is caring for Pip at the end of the book, “Joe had actually laid his head down on the pillow at my side. ” This is ironic considering his strength. Perhaps he is compensating for Mrs Joe’s lack of femininity, or he is filling in the gap left by her death, showing Joe to be a father figure for Pip.
Ultimately, Joe is the only true father to Pip, he gives him “the wealth of his great nature”, which is more than Magwitch ever did. He may not have a lot of money, but he is a true gentleman in character. Ironically, the poorest of all the men is the most gentlemanly. Moreover, Pip eventually comes to realise this: “there was a simple dignity in him. ” Now, whilst he is recognising Joe’s dignity, he doesn’t sound very respectful. The tone sounds quite patronising, and “simple” implies stupidity.
Overall, Joe is the only constant in the book, he can’t act, he can’t pretend to be something he is not, he doesn’t change for anyone – “whoever came about me, still settled down into Joe. ” Even the use of the word “settled” gives the idea of stability and constants, Joe is always there for Pip. He acts as a role model for Pip, and the other characters, even if they don’t realise it. But he does have his negative qualities, he is childish and awkward. However, this gives him more power in the book, as the reader can relate to him, and not just view him as a religious saint-like figure.