The novel Great Expectations is written by a prominent English writer Charles Dickens. Many critics acknowledge that this novel is autobiographic as the main character’s life is very similar to Dickens’s destiny. Dickens was born in a poor family and all his childhood he spent working hard. At the same time he knew that such labor and such life were not for him and he was worth something more. Having read the novel, we make sure that Pip experiences the same and dreams to have better life and to become a member of the upper class.
Charles Dickens became famous when he was only twenty-five. However, he experienced different times and ironically the book Great Expectations was written in order to earn some money and to keep the success. In his novel, Dickens described Victorian England of the nineteenth century. This time was characterized by drastic social changes. Due to the Industrial Revolution a large number of manufactures could get large sums of money, which wiped out the stereotype of difference of people by birth. Still, the abyss between classes remained and the difference between the poor and the rich was enormous. Many people moved to cities in search of better life and fortune. The main character of the novel represents one of such people who dreamt of a higher status.
Pip is an orphan who belongs to the class of laborers but dreams to become a gentleman. His love to a young girl Estella from upper classes becomes the reason of his longing to enter the high society. He might have always stayed among laborers if once his unexpected benefactor Miss Havisham did not give him a large fortune. Thus, Pip gets a chance to make his dream come true and he manages to occupy a place among gentlemen. By such sudden change of Pip’s status, Dickens presents the readers a number of themes, including the place of ambitions and aspirations in a person’s life, the importance of being true to oneself and to one’s principles in spite of any position in society, the difference between social classes. Moreover, Charles Dickens shows the process of Pip’s maturing as he goes through all the hardships of life and as he tries to adjust to the new environment. The plot of the novel is intricate and many-sided; it is the masterpiece of Dickens’s thought. “”¦a quadripartite scheme of plots, organized into two pairs, each with an “official”ť plot, or interpretation of plot, standing over a repressed plot”ť (Bloom 19).
The analysis of the main themes of the book helps us better understand the title of the novel. On the one hand, Pip’s great expectations induce him to constant growth, self-improvement and maturity; on the other hand, they change him and his behavior as he achieves his aim. Being a generous and kind-hearted person, Pip is bounded by his rather naĂŻf and narrow views of the world. He tries to become more educated and to improve himself in order to fit the society of gentlemen. However, because of his immaturity and naivety, he begins to behavior arrogantly towards those who care about him, just because he thinks this kind of behavior pertains to a gentleman.
Pip is not prepared to the fulfillment of his dream. He is a reserved and shy young man. “If a dread of not being understood be hidden in the breasts of other young people to anything like the extent to which it used to be hidden in mine”¦it is the key to many reservations”ť (Dickens 26). Â Because of his romantic idealism he does not see any difficulties on his way to becoming a gentleman. His obsession with a status does not let him to appreciate the significance of his own inner world. His good qualities are oppressed by his desire to become better and to reach a high position. However, when because of his immaturity Pip loses dear people, particularly Estella, he realizes the true values of life and becomes an adult person. He tells his story not as that young boy, who desperately wanted to become a gentleman, but as a mature man who can criticize his deeds and analyze his mistakes. “We were not in a grand way of business, but we had a good name, and worked for our profits, and did very well”ť(Dickens 389).
Estella’s story emphasizes the stereotypes existing in the society in that time. Telling Estella’s destiny, Dickens shows how social status could oppress a person. Estella is from a lower class of society than Pip. Being raised by a wealthy woman from the upper milieu Miss Havisham, she is taught to hide her true feelings. Her cruelty and coldness are her defense reaction to the world around her. “You must know,”ť said Estella, “that I have no heart ”“ if that has anything to do with my memory”ť(Dickens 217). Instead of being saved from shame, she is a victim of the circumstances. She has to act superficially and to marry a noble but heartless man. The upper society has ruined her and has broken even what once was considered good. “”¦what I had never seen before, was the saddened softened light of the once proud eyes”ť (Dickens 395).
Portraying different characters Dickens aims to show that social position does not bring happiness, if people forget about their inner world and their principles. What is particular about Dickens’s writing is that his books are never boring. Though he discusses crucial themes in his novel, he does it with a considerable portion of irony. Showing false values of the upper class, he mocks at its artificial nobility. Using a sharp pen of satirist, Dickens draws images very characteristic of the rotten upper classes. He criticizes their falseness and hypocrisy, smugness and complacency.
Dickens gains expressiveness of the images due to symbols, which are an essential part of the novel. One of the most important symbols is Satis House. It is the house where lives Miss Havishem. It is the symbol of all Pip’s dreams and his perception of high society, whereas the readers see that this house is old and neglected. Certainly Pip also notices it and it oppresses him. “I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience, a sting for the greedy relations, a model with a mechanical heart to practise on when no other practice was at hand”ť (Dickens 118). All clocks in the house are stopped as a symbol of Miss Havishem’s wish to stop the time and her ageing. In this context, her wedding dress is an ironic allusion that she is decaying in spite of all her attempts. “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”ť (Dickens 254). Ramshackle and dusty Satis House is the representation of the whole upper class and its gradual destruction. “There was no house now, no brewery, no building whatever left, but the wall of the old garden”ť (Dickens 399)
One of secondary but significant characters, Bentley Drummle, is the representative of high society and the symbol of all the vices of the upper class. He is absolutely opposite to Pip and displaying absence of morality he helps Pip to find the right way. “”¦he was idle, proud, niggardly, reserved, and suspicious. He came of rich people down in Somersetshire, who had nursed this combination of qualities until they made the discovery that it was just of age and a blockhead”ť (Dickens 110).
Besides abundance of symbols, the novel is rich in foreshadowing. All the events are connected with each other and all details are skillfully interwoven into the plot. Thus, for example, Pip’s feeling that Estella reminds him someone foreshadows the unveiling of the truth about Estella’s origin. The wedding dress and the setting of Miss Havinshem’s house foreshadow the discovery of her past and of her relations with Estella. Besides, within the novel the weather always foreshadows the future events and conveys the characters’ mood. “It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an Eternity of cloud and wind”ť (Dickens 68).
To make a conclusion, having analyzed the novel Great Expectations, we see that Charles Dickens’s novel is one of the most prominent works in literature, which is famous till nowadays. Due to fascinating plot and discussion of crucial issues, Charles Dickens managed to touch many people on the raw as the importance of social position has always been an acute question. His diction in the novel might be either ironic and critical or sentimental and sympathetic, whereas it always attracts readers. In his novel Dickens told many facts from his life and expressed his own point of view at the difference between social classes and the importance of social status in our life.