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Essay on Great Expectations by Charles Dickens Summary

Essay on Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I am disgusted with my calling and with my life”, the ambition with which he so fervidly wishes to learn to read under Matthew Pocket, and to become “a gentleman” overtaking what he previously refers to as “a good-natured companionship” with Joe and a description of Biddy, just a few paragraphs previous to his outburst, as “so clever”. However, by the end of the novel, Pip’s idealism has been replaced to an extent with a grounded compassion for life, and a partial realisation that it is not a crime to say “I work pretty hard for a sufficient living, and therefore- Yes, I do well”- however like much of the sparse praise afforded to Pip by his adult self in the novel, it stems from painful and foolish experience and ideas, and the negative influence of “Great Expectations”.

However, Pip is not the only character upon whom the suffering of perceived “Great Expectations” falls, with the inextricably linked Estella and Miss Havisham providing another side to the idea of what constitutes “expectations” and how they are “great”. For Miss Havisham, her “Great Expectations” are great in the sense that they entirely consume her- Compeyson’s jilting of her leaves her in a static inversion of marital bliss, as she decays in her wedding dress- “I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white… was faded and yellow”, this directly describing Miss Havisham, but also serving as a metaphor for the perceptions of the good and the “white” of expectation, and how throughout the novel these expectations so often become “faded and yellow”.

In fact, Miss Havisham can be put on a par with Pip with her vehement idealism, yet hers is to “break their hearts”, and her lack of realisation as to the consequence of her actions is reflected at her outrage at Estella’s “Do you reproach me for being cold, you?” upon Estella’s return to Satis House, with “Look at her, so hard and thankless”- the image that Miss Havisham moulded Estella to embody. However, like Pip, she is seen to have a moment of realization upon the climax of her role- “What have I done! What have I done!” upon her realization that Pip was not her idealization of the men she thought of and sought so bitterly to crush, just as Pip sees that fortune and power are not all that one can desire or be happy from. Like Pip, however, her realization seems futile when put into context with events, as shortly after she is rendered an invalid from the fire.

In contrast to these grandiose expectations that lead to misfortune and only latent redemption, the other side of what can constitute a “Great Expectation” is how it is relevant to he or she who pursues it, and this interpretation of the title is embodied by the character of Joe. From the start of the novel he is seen as an uncompromising character, his job as blacksmith embodying this, but he is described as having “Herculean” solidarity in “strength and in weakness”, implying the later realization of his character as one, like many who belongs in one place and cannot fit in with another.

However, it is the treatment of this, and the contrast between it from Pip to Joe and Joe to Pip that really sets apart the two characters- they both struggle with identity, yet the other’s reaction to this struggle is very different. Pip states that he “Knew I was ashamed of him” when Joe comes to Satis House, and recognizes him by “his clumsy manner of coming upstairs”, rather than the sense of moral goodness and solidarity that Joe exudes throughout. This treatment he receives from Pip is antithetical almost entirely to that which he gives to Pip- “Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith.

Divisions among such must come. . . .”, Joe realizing before it is too late, unlike Pip that changes must happen and that identity must be accepted, alongside his moral goodness but possible naivety by not blaming Pip, as perhaps he ought to, but on the inherently infallible failure of the human condition. This is furthered by the ending, as his greatest expectation is realized in his marriage to Biddy and his remaining at the forge and his hope that Little Pip “might turn out a little bit like you Pip”. Here Dickens masterfully illustrates how expectations are only truly made relevant and understood by who they are intended for, illustrating how Pip was never made to be a gentleman, yet Joe was always made to be his own gentleman, rather than the socially idealized one that is scorned throughout the text.

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One of the pervading elements of the title in relation to the novel’s content is that of irony, and how the individual ironies of the plot shape the themes of the novel as a whole, and as a result shape the implications and meaning of the chosen title. One of the greatest of these stems from one of Pip’s guiding stars, his pursuit of the “very pretty and very proud” Estella. Pip’s agonies and moral naiveties over this subject are central to the novel as a whole, and this ironic naivety can be seen from the first time that they play cards. Estella describes him as a “common, labouring boy” and further on Pip states that he will “never cry for her again”, Dickens masterfully juxtaposing that childish outburst against the following adult line that is, of course, beneficial to hindsight, “Which was, I suppose, as false a declaration that was ever made”.

The idea of financial expectations and their outcomes (or lack of them) is one that is consistently referenced alongside those described in the title, and these manifest throughout the novel through many characters, most notably, of course, the eminently mediocre protagonist, Pip. The course of his transition from the na�vely sympathetic boy on the misty Kent marshes of Chapters 1-3, where he talks of his “good-natured companionship” with Joe, to the moment of social mortification upon Joe’s appearance in at Satis House in Chapter 13 “I know I was ashamed of him – when I saw that Estella stood at the back of Miss Havisham’s chair and that her eyes laughed mischievously”, highlights the profound impact that his exposure to the festering grandeur of Satis House and the subsequent expectation of wealth has had on him- he is moved to caring more for what is unfulfilled than what is enough, than what is satisfactory. This is highlighted by his sheer dismay when he learns that Miss Havisham had no intention of raising him to be a gentleman, “She seemed to prefer my being ignorant”, and is one of the first hints of the aforementioned ironic quality in the title “Great Expectations”.

Love as an idea is one that like many of the themes of “Great Expectations”, has two sides to it caused by the ambiguity of the title, the skillful opposition of character and the reflective nature of the narrative. The first is that driven by these “Great Expectations”, the side that prompts Pip to fall in love with Estella, despite her continual “insulting” and cruelty, and the side that prompts Miss Havisham to regress into a state of vengeful decay, and mould Estella to “break their hearts”.

This reflective side to the novel can be seen in full when it comes to a close, as the two most morally sympathetic characters in Joe and Biddy finally get the affection that they truly deserved, Biddy having previously been only a confidante to Pip, and Joe having been paired with the fearsomely masculine Mrs. Joe- to the extent that Dickens does not even grant her a female name. It is interesting also to note that the more minor characters of the book, those less affected by the tantalizing distortion of “Great Expectations” are those who find love the most successfully- Wemmick and his beloved Miss Skiffins being a prime example. However, love in “Great Expectations” can be summarised as above- the ideas surrounding it are frequently misplaced by the characters of the novel, with Pip and Miss Havisham being prime examples, and it is only through suffering their evils or remaining true to their nature (with the exception of Miss Havisham) that can see them gain love- Dickens’ sense of social justice and commentary running through the plot more strongly through love than other aspects.

However, the sense of love in “Great Expectations” is fully epitomized within the ending of the novel, and more specifically the initial ending that Dickens wished to publish. Within this, Pip merely shakes hands with Estella, but this is enough for him to realize that “She gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching, and had given her the heart to understand what my heart used to be”, in contrast to “I saw no shadow of another parting from her”.

Great Expectations Summary The Ending

The change in ending’s impact on the title of the story and its continuity has a definite effect- the first ending presents the idea that Estella has to herself remained cold, but to Pip has not, yet the alternative implies a realization in herself that she has become a better person, that she is now “a better shape”. Meisel puts this secondary ending to be a “disembodied contemplation of life by those who have left it forever,” and this interpretation, in my opinion, is accurate- the secondary and published ending removes Pip from the all that he has suffered for through these “Great Expectations” and leaves him almost immunized from the suffering that he has caused and went through, an unsuitable and idealistic ending to a novel that is in its very being a challenge to social ideals.

A final concept and intrigue relating to the title can be drawn from the meaning of the word “great” in terms of something of power, something that can force events and drive other people through things that are cruel and unwanted, but equally good and pure. One of these examples can be seen in Estella- the influence of Miss Havisham on her causes to treat Pip with utmost cruelty, but she also consistently tells him “I have no heart”, as if encouraging his refraining from coming near her.

This is epitomized at the close of the novel, with the phrase “Now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teachings… I have been bent and broken-but, I hope- into a better shape”, highlighting how the power of Miss Havisham’s expectations moulded her into the “very pretty, very proud and very insulting” character that Pip came to adore, but also showing her sense of inner struggle and depth of character that renders her as ultimately a sympathetic character of the novel, .

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