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Great Expectations Summary, Themes, and Characterization

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Great Expectations Summary, Themes, and Characterization

“Great Expectations” is Charles Dickens’s novel, initially published in serials in All the Year Round between 1860 and 1861 before being assembled into a book in the latter year. The classic work was among Dickens’s most significant popular and critical successes. The novel tells the story of one Pip, an orphaned character, and how he comes of age in his encounters with the world around him. Additionally, the novelist address salient themes, including human worth and social class. This essay presents an analysis of Dickens’s work, focusing primarily on the plot development, thematic concerns, and characterization.

A Plot Summary of “Great Expectations”

Readers are introduced to Pip, a young, orphaned person who lives with his sister and brother-in-law in Kent. One evening, as Pip sits in a cemetery guessing at his parent’s graves, a ran-away convict emerges from behind one tombstone and grabs Pip. He orders that Pip brings a file to do his leg irons and some food. The younger character obeys and brings the items demanded of him but the convict is soon recaptured. He chooses to protect Pip by insisting that he had stolen the items on his own, and that Pip was never involved.

One day, Pumblechook, Pip’s uncle, takes him to Satis House to play. Satis House, readers discover, belongs to the affluent Miss Havisham, an extremely eccentric person. Havisham is seen wearing the same old wedding dress in all occasions she attends and everywhere she goes and stops all the clocks in house at the same time. Pip meets Estella, a beautiful young girl. Estella treats Pip contemptuously and coldly but he falls in love with her, hoping that he would grow rich one day and become worthy of her affection. Pip even hopes that Havisham would help him by making him a gentleman and convince Estella to marry him. However, Miss Havisham dashes Pip’s hopes when he decides to make him a common laborer in her family business after a period of regular visits to the Satis House. Miss Havisham guides Pip to apprenticeship under Joe, his brother-in-law and the village blacksmith. Pip unhappily works in the forge, striving to improve his education with the aid of the kind and plan Biddy, as he encounters Orlick, Joe’s malicious daytime laborer. Mrs. Joe, Pip’s sister, is viciously attacked one night following an altercation with Orlick, making her a mute invalid. Pip suspects from his sister’s sign language that Orlick had perpetrated the attacks.

One day, Jaggers, a practicing lawyer, appears bearing strange news suggesting that Pip must come with him to London to start his gentleman education because a secrete benefactor has awarded him an immense fortune. Naively, Pip agrees and presumes that his initial dream has become true—that Miss Havisham wants Estella to marry him, which is why she is the secrete benefactor. While in London, Pip becomes friends with Wemmick, Jaggers’s clerk, and Herbert Pocket, a young gentleman. Pip often expresses his dislike for his former loved ones and friends, particularly Joe, but he keeps pining after Estella. He manages to further his education under the tutorship of his friend’s father, Mathew Pocket. Herbert instrumentally aids Pip to learn how one behaves like a gentleman. Pip will help his friend, Herbert, to purchase his way into a business of his choice once he is twenty-one and illegible to begin receiving an income from the mysterious fortune. However, at the moment, the two lead an undisciplined lifestyle in London, where they run into debts, as they enjoy life.

At one time, Orlick reappears in Pip’s life, this time working as Miss Havisham’s porter. However, Jaggers promptly fires him when Pip tells about his unsavory history. Later on, Mrs. Joe dies, forcing Pip to go back home for the funeral, feeling tremendously aggrieved and remorseful. A few years pass by, until a familiar figure, Magwitch, the convict barges into Pip’s room one night. Magwitch stuns Pip when he reveals that it was him, not Miss Havisham, who was the source of the large fortune. Magwitch further informs Pip that he had been touched by Pip’s childhood kindness at the cemetery, opting to dedicate his life to transforming Pip into a gentleman by setting out to make the fortune in Australia. Much as Pip is appalled, he feels the moral obligation to assist Magwitch flee from London because he is running away from both the police and from his former accomplice, Compeyson. A complex mystery begins to unfold after Pip discovers that Compeyson had once abandoned Miss Havisham right at the altar and that Magwitch was Estella’s father. He also learns that Miss Havisham has taught her daughter to break men’s hearts as revenge for what she underwent one time. At this moment, readers learn that Miss Havisham was moved by her daughter’s ability to toy around with Pip’s affections because he was merely a boy, not the right subject to practice the revenge.

The passage of time allows Pip to begin seeing the good in Magwitch, prompting him to a deeper sense of concern and care. Estella marries Bentley Drummle, a lout from the upper class before Magwitch attempts to escape from London. Pip visits Satis House and Miss Havisham asks for his forgiveness for her past treatment of him, which he accepts. Later the same day, as she busies herself at the fireplace, Miss Havisham’s cloth catches fires, setting her aflame. Much as she survives, she becomes an invalid, spending the rest of her days repenting her misdoings towards Pip and relentlessly asking for forgiveness.

The moment comes when Pip has to sneak out of London Magwitch with the help of his friends. However, just before he does so, he is summoned to a shadowy meeting somewhere in the marshes. While there, Pip meets the evil, vengeful Orlick. Herbert arrives in the nick of time to save Pip from Orlick who was on the verge of killing him. Herbert and Pip rush back to orchestrate Magwitch’s escape, attempting to boat him downstream only to be discovered by the police who have useful tips from Compeyson. Compeyson fights Magwitch in the river, leading to the former’s death by drowning. The incident causes authorities to sentence Magwitch to death and Pip to lose the fortune. Readers feel Magwitch’s pleasure that the sentence was a relief from God because he dies peacefully.

Joe reconciles with Pip when he comes to London to nurse him (Pip) after he falls seek. While there, Joe tells Pip of many things that have been happening back home. He informs Pip that Orlick is now in prison after robbing Pumblechook, that Miss Havisham is now dead and has left much of her inheritance to the Pockets, and that Joe has learned to read and write from Biddy. Pip decides to hurry back home to marry Biddy after Joe leaves, arriving only to find her already married to Joe. Pip decides to accompany Herbert abroad to labor in the mercantile trade. He returns many years thereafter to find Estella living in the now ruined gardens of Satis House. He also learns that Drummle, Estella’s husband, had treated her badly before his death and that a sad kindness has now replaced her initial cruelty and coldness.

The Major Themes in “Great Expectations”

  • Social Class

Social class is a critical determinant of everyone’s position in Dickens’s “Great Expectations.” Readers find that both Pip and Estella are orphans but Estella was raised to humiliate others while she praises her status, particularly when she interacts with those belong to lower social classes. In some way, Estella is a victim of social class inequality, considering that she is trained to despise just about anything, from people to things, such as when she throws cards on the table after winning a game against Pip. Furthermore, Dickens depicts how individuals were doomed to lead life in the lower social class and even die as such because others do not give them the chance to climb the social class ladder, such as Joe, who despite his skillfulness as a blacksmith, could never change his status.

  • Ambition and Self-Improvement

The novel’s moral lesson is easy to understand” conscience, loyalty, and affection are more significant in one’s life than social progression, class, and wealth. The author sets the lesson and demonstrates how Pip learns it throughout the book. The character majorly does this through his exploration of ideas of self-improvement and ambition—the perspectives that rapidly become the thematic foundation of “Great Expectations” as well as the psychological mechanism which motivates much of his development. Pip is idealistic at heart, considering that quickly desires to improve himself every time he conceives of something that is better than what he has. For instance, Pip immediately desires to improve himself when he encounters Satis House when he longs to become a wealthy gentleman. Furthermore, the character longs to become good when he meditates on his moral shortcomings and longs to learn reading when he realizes that he cannot do so initially. The character’s longing for improvement is foundational to the novel’s title, considering that he believes that he could advance his life, the great expectations he holds about the future.

  • Crime, Guilt and Innocence

The novel explores crime, guilt, and innocence using the criminal lawyer, Jaggers, and the convicts. From the gallows of the London prison to the handcuffs that Joe repairs at the smithy, the imagery of criminal justice and crime pervades the novel, becoming a significant symbolism of Pip’s inner efforts to reconcile his moral consciousness with the justice system. The external criminal justice trapping, represented as courts, jails, and others, gradually become the superficial moral standard, which Pip must overcome to begin trusting his inner conscience in the same way he overcomes the temptation to continually seek better life. For instance, at first, Pip is afraid of Magwitch because he was a runaway convict, which drives a deep sense of guilt after he offers his help, considering that Pip was afraid of being arrested by the police. Nonetheless, Pip discovers Magwitch’s hidden nobility towards the end of the novel, allowing him (Pip) to avoid treating Magwitch as a criminal. Therefore, Pip replaces a superficial standard of value with the innermost feelings towards Magwitch.

Major Characters and Characterization in “Great Expectations”

  • Pip

Pip is the narrator and protagonist in “Great Expectations.” The character starts the novel’s storyline as a young and orphaned boy living with his sister and brother-in-law. Readers note that the character is passionate and somehow unrealistic at heart, considering that he appears to expect more towards himself than the reasonable. The narrator also has a powerful conscience, which drives him to eagerly want self-improvement, both socially and morally. Since he narrates the story several years after the novel’s events occur, Pip presents himself dually in “Great Expectations,” as the character and the narrator. The novelist is sure to distinguish his two Pips, where he imbues the narrator’s voice with maturity and perspective, as he imparts how the Pip the character feels concerning what he experiences as such happenings unfold.

  • Estella

            Estella, like Pip, is an orphan and somewhat a victim of parental manipulation, particularly from her surrogate mother, Miss Havisham. Estella is honest, not an evil character, which is what Miss Havisham has always trained and wanted her to be in life. Character cannot love either Miss Havisham or Pip, considering that she was never taught love, something she says honestly. In this sense, readers discover that Estella does not state so out of manipulation, and that she exhibits high-level frankness. Estella also depicts a sense of loyalty to Pip when she assures him that she was ready to toy with all men except him. She acknowledges Pip’s love for her although she cannot reciprocate the feeling, drawing her into concluding that she cannot be with a man who will soon discover that she had nothing to offer in return.

  • Miss Havisham

            Miss Havisham is among the strangest and grotesque characters in “Great Expectations,” one that readers can identify as the “wicked witch” common in fairy tales. When she adopts Estella, she is hopeful that she will protect her from the pain she suffered herself. Nonetheless, the intention culminates in her training of Estella not to love anyone and revenge against any man with whom she makes contact. The character is proud, headstrong, passionate and beautiful, the attributes that Compeyson used against her. She chooses to forge her lifestyle after she feels deeply hurt by Compeyson. She decides to use her money as a power weapon and trains her foster daughter to be successful where she had previously failed. However, the plan backfires because Estella ends up not loving Miss Havisham in the same way she does to men. She ends up living miserably, depicted by the numerous occasions she asks for Pip’s forgiveness for all the she had caused him.

  • Magwitch

As a young person, Magwitch is what Joe would have become if Joe has been controlled by his passions and failed to take responsibility for his decisions. Readers find that Magwitch is another father figure to Pip, helping to demonstrate what can happen when one makes bad choices and how they can overcome them. Magwitch kept reacting to life during his childhood, plunging into ever criminal activity. However, he rises to the occasion when he moves from England, becoming what he was capable of doing the best. He becomes remorseful and generous, remembering the good he received from a small boy, Pip. Magwitch recommits himself to conscious choices, doing well, and being generous. He works as hard as he can to ensure that Pip lives easy. However, his main misdoing in the process is when he comes back to showcase what he had done to Pip, a decision that leads him back to prison when he is rearrested as he attempts to flee from London.

  • Mrs. Joe

Mrs. Joe is abusive besides feeling self-important, attributes that drive readers to think of her as a total evil. Nonetheless, some of her conduct is excusable. For instance, when she was only twenty, before the start of the story, she was abandoned with an infant brother who had not even been weaned. By the time of her introduction to the reader, Mrs. Joe has already buried five brothers, two parents, and did not have a husband for support and care. Joe intervenes into the situation and marries her. However, she chooses survival because she fears abandonment after all that she has been through previously. He approach is to find wealth and power, a greedy aspect, which she lets Pip know. She suggests that she does not want Joe to improve himself because that would take the power of handling the most important matters in their relationship, allowing Joe to leave her. Therefore, she is a reflection of the pain that most characters in the novel are forced to undergo by others and the future lives they lead trying to prevent further harm.

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