Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Some years ago, I read Great Expectations in an abridged form with my fourth-grader, and we watched an old film version of it.  But I had forgotten about that until I had opened my copy of Great Expectations for Fanda’s February Birthday Celebration.  The first scene came back to me again, and I remembered that I was familiar with the story.  Of course, this time I had to read it with completely different discernment.  

Social Classes

What I love about Dickens is that he fills his stories with concepts that are important and replicate human nature.  For example, he reflects on the impropriety of societal classes by demonstrating that a man can be a gentleman through his goodness and virtue, just as a man of noble birth can be a scoundrel.


Another theme is wealth: In many cases, wealth made people absolutely miserable, including Pip, while those who made an honest living were quite content with their lives, such as Joe, Biddy, and Herbert.

Pip and Estella - Charles Green, 1897
Expectation of Love

I also like the idea of the expectation of love.  Pip had many expectations in his life, especially concerning Estella; but he did not know her at all and continued to dwell on her, even as she crudely mistreated him.  He expected her to be something he created in his mind, which she was not.  The expectation of love is a presumption of an idea without any reasonable understanding of that person.  The person, then, is only a creation, and the love is not true.


Finally, a very important idea in the story is forgiveness or redemption.  One of the most likable characters is Joe, Pip’s brother-in-law, who cared for Pip as a son.  He was loyal to Pip to the end, even when Pip shunned him.  Pip’s guilty conscience allowed him to ask Joe for forgiveness.  Pip also rejected his benefactor after discovering that a criminal  provided his wealth; but he redeemed himself by caring for his convict and loving him as a father. 

Miss Havisham also sought Pip’s forgiveness, once she realized that her plan to avenge her own pain had only caused more pain in others.  And finally, Estella, who was burdened by her own bad relationship with someone else, learned through her suffering that she had hurt Pip.  She also sought his forgiveness. 

Pip and Miss Havisham - F.A. Fraser, 1877
My Expectations

With anticipation, I looked forward to embracing another Dickens novel; but regretfully, I admit, this is not going to be remembered as one of my favorites.  However, I still whole-heartedly appreciate Dickens exceptional ability to cultivate characters, although they may seem unrealistic or unbelievable.   And I especially love his earnest setting of essential qualities that make people human - that we are sometimes selfishly expectant; guilty of unkindness; need to seek forgiveness; need to be willing to forgive others; need redemption; and need to love and be loved by others.


  1. Very interesting. Great Expectations was the first Dickens book I ever read and I was pleasantly surprised that I loved it. Years later and after other Dickens books, it's still one of my favorites!

    By the way, I found your blog through a comment you posted elsewhere about the Wind in the Willows. I'd encourage you to check out my website as I just had a guest post on that book. I'd really appreciate it if you read it and left a comment on what you thought about it! Thanks for your input :)

  2. I think Great Expectations' characters are still more natural than in other books. At least they have 'character', unlike Lucy in Tale of Two Cities, Agnes in David Copperfield, Little Nell in Old Curiosity Shop, and Amy Dorrit, who are 'too perfect', almost angelic. I think Dickens began to understand about women in his later years.

    1. I found Lucy hard to accept as a real character because of her complete and utter goodness, yet I really liked Agnes. I found her not so much perfect, as patient, loyal, and someone who accepts the position life has given her with good grace. I haven't read Dorrit yet or The Old Curiosity Shop.

  3. By the way, I love your new header... ;)

  4. I have four other Dickens to read before I get to Great Expectations, and I'm looking forward to it. I've always expected it to be a somewhat "weird" novel, but it's because I watched a movie based on it long ago and the only impression left from it, is that it was strange. Bleak House is up next for me and I can't wait.

    1. I think my next Dickens will be Bleak House, too. But it will have to be when I am ready to read another epic.

  5. This is not my favorite Dickens either, not even close, but I still enjoyed it very much on a recent reread. Nice review. Yeah...Joe's a prince.