English Literature
Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

Discovering Great Expectations: A Timeless Tale by Charles Dickens

In 1860, Charles Dickens wrote a novel that would become a defining work in English literature. Great Expectations, first released in serial form in All the Year Around magazine and later published as three volumes by Chapman and Hall in 1861, has stood the test of time as a classic coming-of-age story.

The Historical Context of Great Expectations

Set in England's Victorian Era, Great Expectations provides a fascinating glimpse into a period of significant change. The Industrial Revolution brought about a transformation of the physical and social landscape, with rural areas giving way to urbanization and industrialization. This resulted in the rise of the upper-middle class, while the working class struggled to maintain their lower social status.

Dickens skillfully incorporates these societal shifts into the novel, using the main character Pip's journey to becoming a gentleman as a reflection of the changing times. With personal experiences of poverty and industrialization, Dickens crafts a compelling narrative that sheds light on the impact of these societal changes.

A Summary of the Tale of Great Expectations

The novel follows the story of Pip, an orphan living with his sister and her husband in Kent, England. The tale begins with a chance encounter with an escaped convict who demands food and a file from Pip. Despite Pip's cooperation, the convict is eventually captured.

Shortly after this incident, Pip is invited to play at Satis House, the home of the mysterious and wealthy Miss Havisham. It is here that he meets the beautiful but cold-hearted Estella, and Pip becomes infatuated with her. He dreams of using his newfound status as a gentleman to win her heart, but instead, Miss Havisham arranges for Pip to work at his family's business as a laborer.

As Pip grows older, he becomes an apprentice to his brother-in-law, the blacksmith Joe. However, Pip has no interest in this career path and instead chooses to educate himself, with the help of a kind young woman named Biddy. His life takes a tragic turn when Joe's ill-tempered laborer attacks Pip's sister, leaving her mute and paralyzed.

Despite these challenges, Pip's fortunes change when he is informed by a lawyer, Jaggers, that he has inherited a large sum of money from an unknown benefactor. Believing Miss Havisham to be the benefactor, Pip starts to believe that she intends for him to marry Estella. He moves to London to begin his education as a gentleman and befriends Herbert Pocket and Wemmick, Jaggers's law clerk.

With the help of Herbert's father, Pip strives to become a true gentleman. However, his privileged lifestyle is disrupted when he returns home to pay his respects after his sister's passing. While in London, Pip is visited by Magwitch, the convict from the beginning of the story. Magwitch reveals that he has made a fortune in Australia and wishes to use it to make Pip a gentleman.

Conflicted but grateful, Pip agrees to help Magwitch escape from his former partner and the police. Along the way, Pip discovers that Magwitch's former partner was the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar. In a dramatic and unexpected turn of events, Pip must choose where his loyalties truly lie.

In conclusion, Great Expectations is a captivating tale of ambition, love, and social status during a time of great change. Charles Dickens's masterful storytelling and unique perspective make this novel a timeless literary masterpiece that continues to be cherished by generations.

The Intricate Relationships in Great Expectations

As Pip learns the truth about Estella's parentage and upbringing, his situation becomes more complex. Estella was raised by Miss Havisham, who trained her to break the hearts of men as revenge. Sadly, Pip becomes one of Estella's first victims. While Estella marries an upperclassman named Bentley Drummle, Pip's feelings towards Magwitch start to shift. During a visit to Satis House, Miss Havisham asks for Pip's forgiveness. However, a tragic accident leaves her invalid and consumed by guilt, seeking forgiveness from Pip. Meanwhile, Magwitch's escape becomes imminent, and Pip is lured to the marshes for a mysterious meeting.

In Great Expectations, Pip's journey of self-discovery and growth is filled with surprising twists and turns. When he is attacked by Orlick, his loyal friend Herbert and others come to his rescue, and they continue on their journey to help the escaped convict Magwitch flee. However, their plans are thwarted when Magwitch is discovered by the police and Compeyson, his former partner in crime. A struggle ensues, resulting in Compeyson's death at the hands of Magwitch. Sadly, Magwitch is sentenced to death for his actions, leaving Pip without the promised fortune. As he faces his punishment, Magwitch finds solace in the belief that it is a form of forgiveness from God.

After falling ill, Pip is taken care of by his kind brother-in-law Joe, who has some unexpected news. Uncle Pumblechook is in jail, Miss Havisham has passed away and left her fortune to the Pocket family, and Joe has married Biddy after learning to read and write from her. Despite his shattered plans to marry Biddy, Pip and Herbert set off to work as merchants abroad, returning years later. To their surprise, they find Estella in the garden of Satis House, now a widow who was mistreated by her late husband. Pip is amazed to see that she is no longer cold and unfeeling, but rather sad and gentle. They walk hand in hand out of the garden, and Pip vows to never leave her side. This happy ending is a deviation from Charles Dickens's original one.

Main Characters in Great Expectations

Let's take a closer look at the main characters of the novel:

  • Pip: the protagonist whose experiences shape his growth and development throughout the story.
  • Estella: the daughter of Magwitch and adopted by Miss Havisham, she is taught to break the hearts of men.
  • Miss Havisham: a wealthy woman who was betrayed at the altar and seeks revenge on all men.
  • Magwitch: an escaped convict who becomes Pip's hidden benefactor.
  • Joe: Pip's kind and simple brother-in-law who takes care of him during his illness.
  • Herbert: Pip's friend who aids him on his journey to becoming a gentleman.
  • Orlick: Joe's resentful and vengeful journeyman who poses a threat to Pip's safety.

Analysis of Great Expectations

Through the characters and their journeys, Charles Dickens conveys various themes and messages in his novel.

Genre and Writing Style

Great Expectations falls within the Bildungsroman genre, which follows the physical and psychological development of the main character through their life experiences. Pip's journey from childhood to adulthood is a prime example, as he learns valuable lessons and evolves in his understanding of the world around him.

Dickens uses a first-person point of view to provide readers with a firsthand account of Pip's growth. Through his character's evolution, we witness changes in his reactions and beliefs. Irony is also prevalent throughout the novel, as events often defy expectations. For example, when Pip discovers that his mysterious benefactor is not Miss Havisham, but rather the convict Magwitch. Dickens's writing style is characterized by eloquent and descriptive language, which effectively conveys the complexities of his characters.

Here is an excerpt from the novel that showcases Dickens's style:

"So she sat, like a corpse, as we played at cards; the frills and trimmings on her bridal dress, appearing like earthy paper."

An effective way to analyze a Bildungsroman novel like Great Expectations is to create a timeline of the character's growth and development. This helps identify significant plot points and themes within the story.

Understanding Characterization in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

In Chapter 8, Pip provides a detailed description of Miss Havisham, who spends her days in her dilapidated home, still dressed in her torn wedding gown after being abandoned at the altar. Through Pip's observations and impressions, it is evident that Miss Havisham is a solitary and melancholic figure, never stepping foot outside.

Throughout the novel, Dickens skillfully uses descriptive language to reveal the personalities of his characters. Can you identify other examples of this technique in the text?

The Major Themes of Great Expectations

One of the main themes of the novel is Pip's relentless pursuit of social and moral elevation in society.

The Journey to True Happiness in Great Expectations

In Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, the protagonist Pip believes that by becoming educated and a gentleman, he will gain respect and admiration from others, and win the heart of his love interest, Estella. With the guidance of his tutor Biddy and a mysterious benefactor, Pip sets out to London to fulfill his ambition.

However, as Pip's social status rises, he learns that genuine happiness and morality do not come from external factors, but from within. Characters like Joe, a humble laborer, prove that one's worth and morality cannot be determined by their social standing.

Set in Victorian England, Great Expectations highlights the prevalent theme of social class. Through characters such as the criminal Magwitch, the laborer Joe, the middle-class Uncle Pumblechook, and the wealthy Miss Havisham, the novel showcases the stark differences between the different social classes.

As Pip embarks on his journey of self-improvement, he realizes that true morality and happiness cannot be achieved through societal standards alone. Rather, it comes from genuine kindness, compassion, and good deeds, regardless of one's social standing.

The Impact of Social Class on Characters in Great Expectations

In Chapter 19, Pip visits the tailor Mr. Trabb, who treats him kindly upon learning of his newfound wealth. However, his treatment towards his assistant reveals that those motivated by social class and wealth may lack true morality.

Throughout the novel, there are other instances that demonstrate the influence of social class on characters and their actions. These actions contribute to the overall message of the novel, emphasizing the superficiality of societal standards and the importance of inner values.

The Power of Personal Growth in Great Expectations

In his defining novel, Dickens sends a powerful message about morality and society. As Pip matures, his perspective on these topics evolves, and he learns that true happiness and morality cannot be obtained through material wealth or societal standing. It is a continuous journey of personal growth and treating others with kindness and compassion.

Lessons to be Learned from Great Expectations

Great Expectations is a bildungsroman that follows the story of an orphan boy named Pip as he navigates through the complexities of societal expectations and moral growth. Inspired by Dickens' own experiences of coming from a poor background, the novel delves deeply into themes of self-improvement and social class. Written in a first-person perspective with a bleak tone and irony, Great Expectations captivates readers with its powerful message about the importance of inner values and treating others with compassion and kindness.

Great Expectations: A Timeless Tale of Moral Growth

In conclusion, Great Expectations is a novel that continues to stand the test of time due to its profound exploration of the human condition. Through the journey of Pip, Dickens conveys the important lesson that true happiness lies in treating others with kindness and compassion, rather than external factors such as social class or wealth. This message rings just as true today as it did over 150 years ago when the novel was first published, solidifying its status as a timeless masterpiece.

The Power of Kindness and Compassion

As human beings, we are often bombarded with messages and images that suggest true happiness and fulfillment can only be attained through wealth, success, and material possessions. However, there is a timeless truth that often gets overlooked in the pursuit of societal expectations - the power of kindness and compassion towards others. It is a simple yet profound concept that has the potential to bring us genuine happiness and contentment.

When we prioritize treating others with kindness and compassion, we create a ripple effect that not only impacts those around us, but also ourselves. By choosing to act with empathy and understanding, we foster a positive and supportive environment that allows people to thrive and be their authentic selves.

It is easy to get caught up in the rat race of trying to fit into society's standards and expectations. However, it is important to remember that true happiness and fulfillment cannot be found in conforming to these ideals. Our relationships and connections with others are what truly matter in life. By showing genuine care and concern for others, we build meaningful and lasting bonds that bring true joy and fulfillment.

In a world that often glorifies individual achievement and competition, it can be easy to overlook the power of kindness and compassion. But ultimately, it is these qualities that make us human and bring out the best in us. So let us make a conscious effort to prioritize treating others with kindness and compassion, and in doing so, create a better world for ourselves and those around us. Remember, the greatest fulfillment and happiness comes from spreading love and positivity, not conforming to societal expectations.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime