People tend to separate life into two distinct time periods: childhood and adulthood. While childhood is characterized by a lack of responsibilities, education, or strength; the latter emphasizes maturity, wisdom, and the ability to aid others. However, the bold line that separates the two age ranges is not always so heavily drawn in regards to the characteristics the person exhibits. Often, a forty-year-old can have childish, immature tantrums just as a ten-year-old can speak as brilliantly as a full-fledged adult. In Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Joe Gargery exhibits the blurred line as his interactions and characteristics vary between traditionally childlike and stereotypically adult.
Though Joe is not classically intelligent, his wisdom and eagerness in raising Pip is an adultlike aspect of his character. After Pip confides in Joe about lying and being called common, Joe reprimands, teaches, and uplifts Pip in his response – a very mature and unchildlike thing to do.
First, Joe scolds Pip for lying and pressures Pip to not lie again. Though this is already a mature and responsible reaction, Joe’s subsequent comments demonstrate adultlike aspects even further. Rather than simply yelling at Pip, Joe recognizes why Pip lied and attempts to console him. He explains that everyone has features that can be considered common, but Pip is uncommon. Joe understands Pip’s actions and comforts him about his insecurities. Joe’s treatment of Pip and Pip’s willingness to confide in Joe illustrates an almost parental relationship between the pair in which Joe upholds all the necessary adultlike characteristics. Joe’s ability to be helpful, knowledgeable, and stern when speaking to Pip, therefore, exemplifies his patience, wisdom, and maturity.
Though many adult-like qualities can be attributed to Joe in his dealings with Pip, he exhibits many childlike characteristics when interacting with other adults.
When surrounded by other adults, Joe returns to a childlike state. When a child is in the company of a group of adults it is common for them to become scared or shy. Due to the large difference in age, size, and experience, it is understandable why children feel more powerless or less-than than the adults around them. Joe, however, is also an adult yet resembles this childlike characteristic when surrounded by other adults. When the adults at the table repeatedly speak poorly of Pip, Joe does not stand up for him but rather makes a silent and passive gesture. Instead of making himself heard or telling the table what he thinks, Joe comforting Pip in a way most of the other adults would not pick up on. In the company of other adults, Joe acts small, weak, and powerless – characteristics generally held by children.