Pip’s Nightmare and Orlick’s Dream

  • Allen MacDuffieEmail author


Great Expectations is notable when compared to Dickens’s other late-period novels—especially Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend—for how immaterial and non-elemental the London environment appears. The dirt, mud, smoke, and waste that are such salient, memorable aspects of the city in those texts are here ignored, muted, or only glancingly described, as if Pip’s program of self-fashioning depends upon a kind of willed forgetting of the nature of the place in which it is to happen. In this and other ways, Pip attempts to maintain an untenable divide between the London of his expectations and the elemental swamplands of his origins, which he fears define him both as a social being and as an embodied self. In this essay, I discuss the character of Dolge Orlick as Pip’s ecological nightmare. Orlick stands as a kind of return of the ecological repressed, forcing upon Pip’s awareness, through his strange status as both a separate being and another version of himself, the monsters we create when we attempt to deny our own porous and necessary relationship to the living environment. Orlick represents for Pip the terrifying prospect of what the eco-theorist Stacy Aliamo has termed “transcorporeality”—the idea that the individual person is an open, porous system in an ongoing exchange with the material world that surrounds it. Orlick, I argue, both represents in his person the swamp-like elemental condition Pip struggles to deny and threatens him with the prospect of becoming nothing more than those very elements, an undifferentiated part of that landscape.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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