A study and overview of Great Expectations

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

"Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation" (Charlotte Bronte). Charles Dickens Great Expectations, an unforgettable fiction, is a exciting and inspirational story of an orphan. Throughout the novel, Pip's expectations undergo some changes as he encounters many incidents that lead him to pursue a different expectation. This novel is about Philip Pirrip, or Pip, living with his sister and brother-in-law, who encounters an escaped convict who forces Pip to provide him with food. Soon after, Pip visit's Miss Havisham's mansion and falls in love with her daughter Estella. Pip is told that someone is providing him with money, and sent to London in order to prove himself a gentleman. Thinking that Miss Havisham is the benefactor, Pip is in shock when he finds out that Magwitch, the escaped convict who is still wanted by the police, is the actual benefactor. Magwitch visits Pip in London; Pip helps Magwitch escape England and go back to Australia, but Magwitch's enemy attacks and kills Magwitch. Pip learns his lesson, goes back home, and reunites with Estella. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens excels in creating a remarkable work through an exciting plot which helps to create an universal theme, authentic characterization, and numerous meaning-full symbols.

Dickens shows his writing ability as he develops a plot, filled with surprises and events, that contributes to the theme that humans are all connected in humanity. In the opening scene, on Christmas Eve, Pip encounters an escaped convict at a graveyard. Pip describes him as "a fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg" (2). Magwitch, the convict, had escaped from a prison ship. He threatens Pip and demands a file and some food, and frightened Pip brings them to him the next day. "You get me a file. And you get me wittles" (3). The convict and another fugitive are then arrested and sent back to the ship. Pip develops an human bond with the convict and identifies with him because he was a criminal for stealing and also because he had fed him. Pip calls him as "my fugitive friend" (18). At this stage in the novel, the plot of the novel relies on Pip's ability to restrain this early event. Also, a careful reader would notice that the plot never indicated that the convict had been taken out of the story. "The last I heard of him, I stopped in the mist to listen, and the file was still going" (18). The beginning of the plot proves the development of the theme of human link.

After the introduction, when the story starts to develop, Pip's uncle Pumblechook sends Pip to Miss Havisham's home, the Satis House. Miss Havisham is a strange and reserved woman who lives with her adopted daughter, Estella. The Satis House looks the same as it did many years ago, when, on her wedding day, Miss Havisham was abandoned at the altar by her lover. "But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost it lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes" (53). As he spends more time with these two characters, Pip starts to fall in love with Estella, who ridicules Pip for being a blacksmith's boy. Then comes along Miss Havisham's lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, who tells Pip that an unknown person is paying for Pip to go to London and live life as a gentleman. Pip assumes that the benefactor is Miss Havisham, and that she is trying to make him worthy of Estella. "Henceforth, I was for London and greatness--not for smith's work in general and for you! I made my exultant way to the old battery, and lying down there to consider the question whether Miss Havisham intended me for Estella" (138). In this part of the novel, "the characters in the novel recognize their human fellowship with all the people regardless of class or circumstances" (Glancy). The plot is successful to show us that regardless of social class humanity has a connection.

While living in London as a gentleman, Pip tries to keep distance from Joe and the other commoners. He does return to his home to attend his sister's funeral, but otherwise avoids Joe. As the ending of the second stage comes closer, Magwitch, the convict who met Pip at the marshes, returns to Pip's life. With his return, the theme of interrelatedness reappears. Mr. Jaggers then reveals to Pip that Magwitch is his real benefactor. "I have been informed by a person named Abel Magwitch that he is the benefactor so long unknown to me" (311). At first Pip is frightened, especially from the fact that Magwitch is a criminal and might be caught. As Pip starts caring for Magwitch and providing him with shelter and food, Pip develops an unidentified relationship with him. Pip also receives the information that Compeyson, Magwitch's enemy and once partner in crime, was the one who left Miss Havisham at the altar and that Molly, Mr. Jaggers's servant, and Magwitch are the parents of Estella. "And the man we have in hiding down the river is Estella's father" (379). The connection is once again seen through the relationships that have been revealed, whether it is an hardened criminal, a weak servant, a proud daughter, or a disloyal lover.

The plan to get Magwitch out of England almost gets ruined when Pip is nearly killed by Orlick. Fortunately, Pip is rescued by his friends. The plan finally tkes place as Pip and Herbert row Magwitch to a ship when Compeyson attacks them in a police boat. The two criminals wrestle and Compeyson falls and drowns. Magwitch is severely injured and sentenced to death. Unfortunately, he dies of his injuries.

After spending some years in Egypt, Pip returns home to Joe and Biddy, finding them happily married with a son, also named Pip. After, Pip visits the Satis House and wanders around. He then comes across a figure in the shadows, Estella. They begin a conversation, and Estella tells him that she would often think of him. When it was time to part, they agreed to remain friends. Pip put his hands in hers, and "saw no shadow of another parting from her" (451). Even though in the beginning Estella did not want to be a part of love, she later realizes that Pip and her were meant to be linked by love. The plot is successful in providing us with keys to understand the theme of human interconnectedness.

Dickens thoroughly develops his characters in an authentic manner, often times using well-rounded characters. "My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit that Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip" (1). Philip Pirrip, the main character, is an ordinary orphan living with his sister and her husband at the marshes. Philip, also known as Pip, easily relates to the readers because he comes from a poor home. He has a low self-esteem the reason being his abusive sister. His brother-in-law is a blacksmith and the provider for income in the house. Pip's actions make up the main plot of the novel.

In the beginning of the novel, Pip was an humble boy who looked up to Joe, but when Miss Havisham and Estella entered his life, they changed him completely. They teach him to be ashamed of his coarse and common life. "Why, he is a common labouring-boy!" (54). When he moves to London, he completely ignores his family back home, wanting to get out of his old boring life and enter a sophisticated one. "Let me confess exactly with what feelings I looked forward to Joe's coming. Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity" (203). He does not value his once great influence Joe. Pip starts to change but not for the better.

After a long time, Pip finally starts feeling compassion for someone such as Magwitch. After turning Pip's life upside down, Magwitch starts becoming closer to Pip, and Pip began realizing the mistakes he had made. Pip gives him a place to live and even decides to help him get out of England. "And you have, and are bound to have, that tenderness for the life he has risked on your account, that you must save him, if possible, from throwing it away. Then you must get him out of England before you stir a finger to extricate yourself" (318). In the end of the novel, Pip realizes his immaturity and begins living a responsible and sensible life.

Dickens gives the story a variety of characters, and one of the most dynamic characters he creates is Estella. Dickens also characterizes Estella in a different manner to make her stand out. Estella, Miss Havisham's daughter, is introduced as haughty and arrogant of her wealth. She serves as a criticism against working class. Estella is cold, skeptical, and manipulative. Although being so disrespectful, Pip still falls in love with Estella. Estella, though, could never express her emotions since her mother destroyed her ability to interact normally with the world. She is taught to break Pip's heart and to never love him. "Well, you can break his heart" (54). Through out the novel, Estella's attitude towards Pip remains unchanged and her warnings to Pip not to care for her continue. Estella is used by her mother to seek revenge on men. "I saw in this that Estella was set to wreak Miss Havisham's revenge on men, and that she was not to be given to me until she had gratified it for a term" (282). Later on, Estella decides to get married to Drummle, truly showing that she was never touched by Pip's love. Estella is not seen until the last chapter when she meets Pip at the Satis House. He went to the Satis House just for her sake because he still loved her. Pip had heard about her abusive married life and the death of her husband. When he met Estella though, he knew that she had changed and wanted to receive his love in her life. Estella had learned to love.

Finally, Dickens gives the story Miss Havisham, the most eccentric character of Dickens book. Her character is successful to draw the reader in. Miss Havisham, a wealthy old woman who lives in her mansion, is the most strangest and unbelievable characters in the story. She serves to be a wicked witch of the story. Deeply affected by her sorrowful past of her fiancé leaving her at the altar on her wedding day, Miss Havisham still wears her wedding gown, a veil, one shoe, and her stockings. "I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes" (53). Pip describes her as a living corpse whose ghostly presence scared many. Miss Havisham lives with her daughter, who she seeks to protect from the sorrow and pain she had once suffered, the pain of lost love. Miss Havisham never taught her daughter how to love. She instead used her daughter to have revenge on men and break their heart. "Sending her out to attract and torment and do mischief, Miss Havisham sent her with the malicious assurance that she was beyond the reach of all admirers, and that all who staked upon the cast were secured to lose" (282). She uses her money as a weapon of power and trains her daughter to succeed where she had failed.

Unfortunately, Miss Havisham suffers the consequences. Estella is not only unable to love men, but also Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham realizes her big mistake when she sees Pip's deep love for Estella. "The spectral figure of Miss Havisham, her hand still covering her heart, seemed all resolved into a ghastly stare of pity and remorse" (339). Since it is too late for her to solve the problem, the only thing she can do is take responsibility for her actions. She asks Pip for forgiveness and leaves some money for Herbert's father. "She turned her face to me for the first time, dropped on her knees at my feet, with her folded arms raised to me in the manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole, they must often have been raised to Heaven from her mother's side" (370). She dies soon, but after doing what she could do to make other's life better.

Great Expectations is abundant in symbol. From the many, the two most important symbols are the Satis House and the mists on the marshes. The Satis House represents wealth and royalty. It represents the higher class of the class system In a discussion between Pip and Estella, Estella explains that the word Satis in Latin means enough. "It meant, when it was given, that whoever had this house would want nothing else" (51). The house also symbolizes a prison. It's dark and bleak, and contains many barred windows. "Miss Havisham's house, which was of old brick and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred" (50). The house not only symbolizes wealth and prison, but also Miss Havisham. "It was spacious and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mold, and dropping to pieces" (77). The house and it's rooms are symbolic of Miss Havisham because, just like the house, Miss Havisham is dreary on the outside and filthy in the inside.

Similarly, the mists on the marshes symbolizes danger and uncertainty. The mist is seen first when Pip brings the convict some food and a file. "The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me" (14). The mist is also present when Pip watches the convict run away, letting the readers know that something is going to happen in the future. "The last I heard of him, I stopped in the mist to listen, and the file was still going" (18). Later in the story, when Pip is kidnapped and almost murdered by Orlick, Pip again encounters the mist. "In a few minutes she (moon) had ascended out of that clear field, in among the piled mountains of cloud. There was a melancholy wind, and the marshes were very dismal" (392). Lastly, the mist played it's role when he was leaving town to go to London after receiving his fortune. "And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me" (149). The reader might notice that this positive journey in his life has dangerous consequences.

After noting the details in plot and theme, characterization, and symbols, the reader leaves Great Expectations with great respect for Charles Dickens as a writer of fictional literature. Early in the novel, Pip develops expectations to be worthy of Estella, but when those start to fade away, Pip's expectation is to get Magwitch safely out of England. When that is unsuccessful, Pip goes to Joe and Biddy to ask for forgiveness and receives what he wanted. In the end, though, Pip realizes that true love and companionship are beyond expectations.