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What is the importance of fairytale mode in Great Expectations?

What is the importance of fairytale mode in Great Expectations?

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Fairytale mode is employed by Charles Dickens to challenge and subvert a multitude of elements within the narrative of Great Expectations (1861). Firstly, it challenges the moral simplicity of traditional fairytales by questioning the very fabric of society and character of the individual, noting that there are costs that emerge out of the absence of a societal whole (Ostry, 2013). Pip is a prime example of this. His journey from a poor orphan who is ashamed of his social class to an esteemed gentleman occurs as a result of his kindness to convict Abel Magwitch (Dickens, 2007) but he loses his self identity and his sense of morality along the way. Although Pip comes to the realisation that social elevation does not create a gentleman but rather personal character does, the use of fairytale mode emphasises the blurring of the parameters of good and evil and demonstrates the human capacity for making mistakes (Moretti & Sbragia, 2000). In effect, fairytale mode is important because it highlights human frailties and therefore challenges traditional fairytale tropes and formulaic structures. However, Sen (2007, p. xxxi) also notes that there is a further function of fairytale mode and it heightens its importance. He argues that it subverts systems of secondary meanings and therefore "...destroys realism's propensity to naturalize what it represents as one unalterable truth." In effect, the fairytale mode lends Dickens a degree of narrative flexibility and allows him to explore alternative realities for the characters. Although Dickens presents the realism of Victorian life, he also offers the perspective that fairytales are not applicable for those that experienced it and identifies the sometimes hard prospects they face. The fairytale mode is particularly important for this reason.


Dickens, C., (2007). Great Expectations. London: Longman.
Moretti, F. & Sbragia, A., (2000). The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. London: Verso.
Ostry, E., (2013). Social Dreaming: Dickens and the Fairy Tale. Abingdon: Routledge.
Sen, S., (2007). Introduction. In C. Dickens. Great Expectations. London: Longman.