Background.

Great Expectations
  • He took us home and hammered us. Which, you see, … were a drawback on my learning‘ is a quotation from Great Expectations (Chapter 7).

Context.

Quotation said by the character Joe Gargery, who is explaining to Pip that he didn’t receive an education during his childhood because of domestic violence in his home environment.

Like Joe, his father was a blacksmith by trade. Pip asks Joe ‘why didn’t you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as me?‘, to which he replies by talking about his abusive father, who would beat his wife and Joe when he was drunk, describing ‘when he were overtook with drink, he hammered away at my mother, most onmerciful … and he hammered at me with a wigor only to be equalled by the wigor with which he didn’t hammer at his anwil. The deliberate misspelling of words such as onmerciful [unmerciful], wigor [vigour] and anwil [anvil] in the passage emphasise Joe’s lack of education.

Joe then goes on to tell Pip that his mother did make several attempts to leave his father, and when this happened she would put him into a school. But her father would find them both and force them to return home, saying ‘and then he took us home and hammered us. Which, you see, Pip, were a drawback on my learning‘.

Magwitch suprises Pip in the churchyard.
The escaped convict Abel Magwitch startles a young Pip during a visit to his family grave in a Kent churchyard.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 7 of Great Expectations:

“On-common. Give me,” said Joe, “a good book, or a good newspaper, and sit me down afore a good fire, and I ask no better. Lord!” he continued, after rubbing his knees a little, “when you do come to a J and a O, and says you, ‘Here, at last, is a J-O, Joe,’ how interesting reading is!”

I derived from this, that Joe’s education, like Steam, was yet in its infancy. Pursuing the subject, I inquired,—

“Didn’t you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as me?”

“No, Pip.”

“Why didn’t you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as me?”

“Well, Pip,” said Joe, taking up the poker, and settling himself to his usual occupation when he was thoughtful, of slowly raking the fire between the lower bars; “I’ll tell you. My father, Pip, he were given to drink, and when he were overtook with drink, he hammered away at my mother, most onmerciful. It were a’most the only hammering he did, indeed, ‘xcepting at myself. And he hammered at me with a wigor only to be equalled by the wigor with which he didn’t hammer at his anwil.—You’re a listening and understanding, Pip?”

“Yes, Joe.”

“‘Consequence, my mother and me we ran away from my father several times; and then my mother she’d go out to work, and she’d say, “Joe,” she’d say, “now, please God, you shall have some schooling, child,” and she’d put me to school. But my father were that good in his hart that he couldn’t abear to be without us. So, he’d come with a most tremenjous crowd and make such a row at the doors of the houses where we was, that they used to be obligated to have no more to do with us and to give us up to him. And then he took us home and hammered us. Which, you see, Pip,” said Joe, pausing in his meditative raking of the fire, and looking at me, “were a drawback on my learning.”

“Certainly, poor Joe!”

“Though mind you, Pip,” said Joe, with a judicial touch or two of the poker on the top bar, “rendering unto all their doo, and maintaining equal justice betwixt man and man, my father were that good in his hart, don’t you see?”

I didn’t see; but I didn’t say so.

Characters.

Joe Gargery.

Joe is Pip’s brother-in-law and the village blacksmith. He lives with his abusive and overbearing, abusive wife, simply known as ‘Mrs. Joe‘. Pip describes Joe as ‘a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue that they seemed to have somehow got mixed with their own whites. He was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow,—a sort of Hercules in strength, and also in weakness‘.

The brawny smith, who could break a stone with his fist, and whose heart could not harm a fly, is a creation upon which Mr. Dickens has lingered with a loving hand. To set such figures before ten thousand thousand readers, is to do more good in the world than the world is apt to acknowledge.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper. Sunday, 21 July 1861. Comment on the character Joe Gargery.
  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Joe Gargery has been played by such actors as Bernard Miles (1946 film), Joss Ackland (1974 TV movie), John Rhys-Davies (1989 TV mini-series), Clive Russell (1999 TV movie), Shaun Dooley (2011 TV mini-series), and Jason Flemyng (2012 movie).

Philip Pirrip (Pip).

Philip Pirrip, called Pip, is the protagonist and narrator in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations. He is amongst the most popular characters in English literature. Pip narrates his story many years after the events of the novel take place, starting as a young orphan boy being raised by his sister and brother-in-law in the marshes of north Kent. The novel follows Pip’s progress from childhood innocence to adulthood, where we see a financial and social rise. But these fortunes are offset by an emotional and moral deterioration, which forces Pip to recognise his negative expectations in a new self-awareness.

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Opening lines of Great Expectations.
  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Pip has been played by such actors as Jack Pickford (1917 film), John Mills (1946 film), Michael York (1974 TV movie), and Ioan Gruffudd (1999 TV movie).

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He took us home and hammered us. Which, you see, ... were a drawback on my learning.