Great Expectations is one of Charles Dickens’ most successful and
sophisticated works, and it’s one of his most enduringly popular novels.
After Dickens has gone through abundant life of human world, he has had deep understanding of people, environment around and his own experience of life.
The novel tells a story of the orphan, Pip, writing his life from his early days of childhood until adulthood and trying his best to be a gentleman along the way. The story can also be considered as semi-autobiographical of his, similar to most of his works, drawing on his experiences of life and people.
On Christmas Eve, young Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister and her husband, encounters a convict escaping from a prison in the village churchyard. The man threatens Pip to steal food for him. It’s a
crucial incident. Firstly, it gives Pip the first chance to feel the guilt of stealing food from his sister’s house. Secondly, Pip’s kindness warms the
convict’s heart and he waits for many years to show his gratitude towards Pip.
At his sister’s home, Pip is a boy without expectations. His sister often beats him and insults him with harmful words. However, her husband, Joe, is a kind man, even if he’s only a blacksmith without much
ambition. Later, Pip is unexpectedly invited by an extremely wealthy old woman named Havisham, and then his sister holds out the hope for Pip’s success. Indeed, Pip’s visits to Miss Havisham change his life.
Havisham is an old woman abandoned on her wedding day and has, as a result, given up on life. Her only companion is Estella who is adopted by her. Estella is beautiful but naughty and Pip develops a strong sense of love as he grows older. But Miss Havisham makes Estella a cruel-hearted girl who should break men’s hearts to satisfy Miss Havisham.
From then on, Pip aspires to leave behind his simple life and be a gentleman. After years of companion to Miss Havisham and Estella, he spends more years as an apprentice to Joe so that he may grow up to have a bright future working as a blacksmith.
Pip’s life is suddenly turned upside down, when he is visited by a London lawyer, Mr Jaggers, who informs Pip that he’s to own a large
amount of property and be trained to be a gentleman. Upon arriving in London, he finds Herbert Pocket (a relative of Miss Havisham), who informs Pip of Miss Havisham’s past. There Pip receives an education
and tutoring in manners, fine clothing and cultured society.
Unfortunately, Pip changes a lot. He even feels ashamed of meeting Joe when he’s in London. Although he feels a strong sense of guilt, the changes of his living environment dominate his values and behavior. Anyhow, the happy life doesn’t last long. Magwitch tells him the truth
which gives Pip a big strike. His hope for better life s totally ruined and he’s guilty of getting money from a criminal. Finally, Pip comes back to reality after illness and lives a peaceful life.
The main themes of the novel include gratitude, criminality and social mobility. Pip appreciates the gentle Joe but treats him with indifference after leaving for London. However, Joe never complains about it while Mr. Pumblechook always criticizes Pip’s ingratitude. In the
novel, both Miss Havisham and Pip suffer a lot. Mr. Havisham was abandoned at the wedding party and was cheated by her brother. And Pip suffers by never gaining Estella’s love.
Revenge is another key theme. Late in the novel, the major adult characters who tried to seek revenge through others or have had serious problems in their youth regret their actions and try to make amends, suggesting that the events in a person’s life may be consuming to the
point of destruction. Guilt is also a theme in the novel. Pip feels guilty about a number of things, for example, his indifference to Joe and his attack on Mrs. Joe which he associates with the help he gave to the convict.
The story tells us the love between man and woman, love between Pip and Herbert which are both worth learning and appreciating.