Myth and the 'Now' Part Fifteen: Great Expectations

In examining Great Expectations, what exactly should our thesis lead us to look for? The same kind of things that we have been finding all along: two poles, a set of archetypes, and a motion toward one of the poles. In Myth, the image presented is usually either of an eternal battle or balance between Light and Dark; in Romance, the forces of each are arrayed in terms of supernatural virtues and vices; in the High Mimetic, the same forces struggle with each other, often resulting in an overturning and the death of the protagonist; in Low Mimetic fiction, the poles are normally cleverly disguised but can still be detected, as we have seen. Following the logic of all this, in an Irony, the motion would be towards the darker pole and away from the light, probably in the form of some kind of subversion of the bright pole. In other words, whereas in another kind of story the protagonist might die but no one questions the value system or background order of the story world, in an Irony the story world itself is undermined as well.

Instead of a pull upwards, as we saw in Pride and Prejudice and as is common to 90% of the tales with which we are familiar, which show a general trend for things to go into orbit around a bright outcome (‘and they lived happily ever after’), as we enter the Ironic world the pull is downwards: the archetype of the Emerging Warrior King, whose destiny in another mode might have been to take up his crown, is in an Irony doomed to lose; the Submerging Female Companion, who otherwise might have been ‘rescued’ and end her days happily married, is here doomed to live a phantom life and eventually die horribly; Shadow Protagonists abound and get their way; and the Protagonist drifts towards orbiting the dark.

Protagonists in Ironies never have a happy time of it, even from the start, and Pip is no exception:

My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seem