In Great Expectations, Dickens tells the story of Pip’s journey through life, and the effects that society, Pip’s weaknesses, and his blind expectations have on the development of his character. At the start of his journey, Pip is an earnest young boy, content with his simple life living with Joe and Biddy, and expectations of a future as a blacksmith. As Pip’s journey continues, he meets Miss Havisham, a wealthy and bitter recluse, and Estella, her beautiful daughter. Pip reveres Miss Havisham because of her wealth and idolizes Estella. As a result of their influence, Pip becomes dissatisfied with his life and is consumed with the desire to become a gentleman, which he expects will bring him the happiness and contentment he longs for. When Pip’s desire to become a gentleman is met, through the generosity of an unnamed benefactor, Pip separates himself from those people he deems common and coarse, and becomes immersed in the meaningless and superficial life of high society. But contrary to his expectations, Pip remains dissatisfied with his life and ignored by Estella. Blinded by his expectations and weaknesses, he continues this way of life, surrounded by a society that poisons his character. During this time in the novel, Pip is proud, critical, and pretentious. When his true patron is revealed, Pip’s carefully constructed expectations are shattered and his fortune taken away. These events cause him to finally mature and as a result, he is able to see how his character has deteriorated. No longer enchanted by the members of society that he used to revere, or blinded by his weaknesses and expectations, Pip recognizes the value of Joe and Biddy’s unconditional love, and seeks their forgiveness. At the conclusion of the story, Pip lives a simple life as a humble and loving man; greatly changed, but not broken by the mistakes he made in his youth, and free of the discontentment that comes with “Great Expectations”.
In Great Expectations, Dickens forms an incredible array of memorable characters, from the comical Mr. Wopsle and “The Aged” to the cruel Miss Havisham and the villainous con-man Compeyson. Each carefully created and detailed character in the book represents qualities found in humanity. Because the reader can see their own faults in the characters of Great Expectations, Dickens’ characters connect to the reader, provoking emotion and thought.
Dickens uses situational irony to vividly illustrate fallacies in the structure of society during the Victorian Era. Pip’s benefactor, who Pip believed to be Miss Havisham, was actually the convict he saved when he was a boy. The money that allowed Pip to become a gentleman, a member of high society, came from the dregs of society. Even the convict’s qualities, when compared to Miss Havisham’s are ironic. Magwitch, the convict, is moral and has a strong sense of honor and gratitude, as demonstrated by his generosity towards Pip. In contrast, Miss Havisham is bitter, cold, and self-centered. She destroys the lives of those around her. Yet according to Victorian society she is a lady of class and refinement, and Magwitch dangerous scum.
Great Expectations is an extraordinary book whose characters and themes have the capacity to capture the interest of a wide variety of readers. The themes of maturation, expectations, loyalty, and self-improvement are relevant to all ages. Teenagers and adults alike will find value and enjoyment in reading Great Expectations. Dickens is a phenomenal author who explores deep and impactful topics in incredible detail. Every one, at some point in their life, should read Great Expectations, so they too can experience the wonderful plot and characters that Dickens so masterfully created. But be warned, Dickens’ books are challenging, and may cause you to doubt your grasp of the English language and send you running to the dictionary. Another fact to take into account: the plot of Great Expectations, while compelling, is not quick paced, and it is easy to lose your steam about half-way through the book. But I really do suggest you give it a try, at least so you can say you have read Dickens.