Great Expectations: The Double-Sideness of John Wemmick

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John Wemmick is one of the most peculiar figures in Great Expectations with his sharply split personality, Which is conveyed in completely different ways depending on whether he is at work or at home. Dickens creates this unusually divided man as a way to show how living and working in a capitalist society forces people from their private to develop different people.

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The brusque way and inflexible characteristics of Wemmick strike Pip on their initial acquaintance. The sympathy and generosity feelings of Wemmick are so impervious that Pip says he appears to have been chiseled out of wood. Wemmick is repeatedly described by Pip as mechanical. Wemmick's demeanor seems to be as hardened as his face, and Pip is deeply disconcerted by the clerk's familiarity with unpleasant people and places and his casual way of referring to nefarious activities as though they were completely normal. The only thing Wemmick seems to be interested in is 'portable property,' which he describes as his life's leading concern. All this distance from what Pip sees as the normal course of conduct, coupled with Wemmick's association with the seemingly vicious Jaggers, leaves Pip wondering if he hasn't aligned himself with men as disreputable as the criminals they're dealing with.

The first indication that Wemmick's cynical exterior may mask another side of his personality is when he tells Pip that Jaggers doesn't want Pip to know his real intentions. This remark visibly struck Pip. When Pip accompanies Wemmick to his home, a bizarre suburban castle complete with a moat and drawbridge, the extent of this separation becomes even clearer. This fortified building allows Wemmick to completely leave behind his public life, and he becomes a completely different person once at home. When they leave the house of Wemmick, Pip notices that the features of the clerk grow more and more wooden the closer they get to the office until Wemmick has turned back into the dry mercenary he first seemed to be.

Wemmick's two sides are evidently at odds. In fact, Wemmick tells Pip that he has nothing to do with his feelings at home and his feelings at work, and he suggests that they are so unrelated that they can't even be said to be in conflict. This point is underscored by the fact that Wemmick tells Pip in the office that helping Herbert Pocket would be equivalent to throwing money right into the river, but he shows his eagerness at home to support his friend's plan to move forward. Wemmick has produced a hardened, cynical shell that allows him to get through his working day, where his primary concern must always be to help his employer make a profit. According to Dickens, the profit motive for workers in the capitalist economy is so great that people have to transform themselves into amoral machines just to get through their working days.

Dickens is calling attention to this feature of capitalism so that he can then suggest ways of reforming it. When Pip wants Jaggers to confirm Estella's identity, the change Dickens seeks to introduce occurs. Pip pleads with Wemmick as Jaggers continues to refuse to help, reminding the clerk that he has a family and home he loves, and asking him to open his heart to the case of Pip. Jaggers is stunned by Wemmick's revelation of the other life, and Wemmick tells him that he kept it hidden because it had nothing to do with work, suggesting that Jaggers should have a home life rather than just a professional life. This makes Jaggers so moved that he immediately reveals the details that Pip is looking for about Estella. In creating this scene, Dickens proposes an alternative version of the relationship between private and public life, one in which home feelings can be brought into the workplace, thereby relieving workers from the burden of living double lives and instilling sympathy and generosity in the workplace.

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