“I’m wrong in these clothes, Pip” is the unashamedly tactful realisation that Joe imparts upon Pip towards the close of Chapter 27 of “Great Expectations”, and echoes the train of theme of the chapter and indeed the novel of what identity truly means, and how for Joe at least, true identity will rise above the divisions between “the blacksmith” and “the goldsmith”.
Dickens narration of the chapter, and indeed the entire novel also carries the weight of realisation through its structure, as Pip’s past experiences are narrated to present omniscience in their factual content but to the subjectively negative, ironic tone of the latent reflector that is Pip himself- “I had begun to be decorating the chambers in some quite unnecessary and inappropriate way”.
This allows the realisation on Joe’s part to carry even more understated emotional gravity, his false, yet entirely gentlemanly “if there’s any fault today, it’s mine” carries intense personal and universal depth- it challenges his perceptions of himself as “old Joe” for leaving his own surroundings, and also challenges the theme of gentlemanliness and its meaning as a whole, but his character does not require an ironically knowledgeable secondary perspective to reach this simple false, yet hugely important fact.
This contrast in intelligence and perceived “intelligence” is one made more evident by the opening of the chapter, which also serves to introduce the idea of order and disorder that underlies the chapter as a whole. The letter, much that like that which Pip receives upon the death of Mrs Joe, carries both the weight of information that throws him back towards his past, but also the weight of detachment that further distances him from it- especially since Joe asks if he “were allowed” to see Pip, as reported by Biddy’s own hand.
This contrast in what might be seen as literal intelligence and wisdom in thought that so overshadows Pip’s “present honour” sets him apart from the man, but also from his own identity- this is echoed by the conversation that Pip has on the doorstep of Estella’s temporary Richmond residence later in the novel, where he is “told she had gone out to the country”, as the physical distance between them and also the distance in the simple concept of direct speech ally to further the sense of detachment between the two, as the letter does in equal measure in this case.
However, almost paradoxically the letter also reaffirms in the reader and Pip’s mind his closeness to Joe and his true “home”, as the phrase “what larks” inextricably ties Pip into Joe and the “awful dull… forge window”, which despite metaphorically excluding himself from through this window, no amount of “cravats” or “hats” will shield Pip from what he is truly “meant” to be- a fact that “the Hercules in strength and weakness” realises, but Pip cannot.
The cyclical form of the chapter also echoes the character of the forge and the idea that Joe’s order is there- order that opens the chapter with him safely there, a sheet of paper between them, and ends there, as he evades Pip both in sight and in mind, “I hurried out after him… but he was gone”. Between the detached opening and close, Dickens makes use of recurring imagery in the chapter to illustrate the chasm between the two, specifically the image of Joe’s hat.
Alongside the “insoluble mysteries” of his shirt and coat collar, much like the much more contextually important but for the chapter, equally important “insoluble mystery” that Pip’s entire lifestyle is to Joe, the “play”, the masquerade with the hat reflects the flimsy charade that Joe merely places upon his head, but that Pip places upon his entire character, which is also reflected in the rather “pettish”, as Pip describes it, issue of “Sir”, and the rather childish conversation that takes place over the “universal struggle” that takes place between the two due to “Estella being home”- in fact making the scene almost synonymous with that in front of the fire between Pip and Drummle further on in the novel- showing how Estella is a much greater influence than possibly perceived, driving a wedge between adversaries but also between two characters who are to the depth of sensibility, true friends, yet shaped into mental adversaries by the “very pretty, very proud, and very insulting” nature that Dickens creates for the idealised “gentleman”.
This is further reflected in the link between the “clumsy manner” that reveals Joe to Pip as he ascends the stairs, and the “coarse hands” that reveal Pip to Estella in their first encounter at Satis House, as Dickens cleverly creates parallels between the two, showing how far Pip has come, or in the sense of the novel, regressed.
Yet, with the close of the chapter, he also creates that the division between the two runs deeper than class but to that of common wisdom, that as “all the Sir melted from his manly heart”, poor, illiterate Joe had the nous to realise that he was “wrong in these clothes”, as in a microcosm of the entire narrative Joe grows in stature from the illiterate fool to the anti hero of convention and the book, but an anti-hero that actually represents the positive side of an issue, as he “beat out something nigh the rights of this at last”- his own veritable wisdom is present in both environments, despite the fact that this simple wisdom is so often overshadowed by the “clothes” that shroud true identity in those who do not fit in.
The significance of the surrounding chapters is especially evident in the succeeding chapter, as Pip seeks a similar epiphany of his proper place, to “stay at Joe’s”, but comes to reside at “The Blue Boar”, Dickens exemplifying the differences between Pip and Joe that were so clearly revealed in the previous chapter. The preceding chapter is also important, as it closes with Pip’s condemnation of the later described “compound of pride, avarice, brutality and meanness”, a condemnation that Joe could have so easily applied to Pip in the succeeding chapter, but of course did not, heightening the sense of morality that Dickens presents throughout the novel. Pip also sees Jaggers “already at it, washing his hands of them”, a technique that Pip would so clearly like to employ of Joe before his arrival in London, that he felt of it “mortification”.
However, the fact that Pip cannot employ this technique leads to the small nuggets of appreciation that Dickens performs upon his nature, as if despite all that is seen to be wrong with him, he will never truly be part of that sector, of the “compounds of pride, avarice, brutality and meanness” that are the class that he aspires to, presenting both a view of positivity in his nature and negativity in his naivety on the subject, that in fact Pip is “wrong in these clothes” just as much as Joe, and that just as “an angel could not have concealed the fact that Barnard was crying sooty tears”, no “coat-collar”, no “decorations”, will be able to conceal the pervading sense of questions of identity which permeate the chapter and indeed the entire theme of the differences, and also the underlying similarities, between the main opposition of “blacksmith” and “goldsmith” that Pip and Joe embody.