Book #61

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Pip doesn't expect much from life...His sister makes it clear that her orphaned little brother is nothing but a burden on her. But suddenly things begin to change. Pip's narrow existence is blown apart when he finds an escaped criminal, is summoned to visit a mysterious old woman and meets the icy beauty Estella. Most astoundingly of all, an anonymous person gives him money to begin a new life in London.
Are these events as random as they seem? Or does Pip's fate hang on a series of coincidences he could never have expected?



Oh, Pip. Poor, poor Pip; the boy who got exactly what he wanted.

Growing up an orphan, reared ‘by hand’ by his brutish sister, and loved unconditionally by her big-hearted husband Joe, Pip dreams only of becoming a gentleman, of having wealth and expectations. When a mysterious benefactor fulfils Pip’s wishes, he is catapulted into an entirely new world, one of luxury, wild expense, prospects, and learning.

Dickens is heavy on the social commentary here, showing us how Victorian England defined a gentleman, and allowing us to interpret exactly what should really merit the name. Is it a well-dressed dandy with masses of wealth who will stop at nothing to increase or maintain that wealth? Or is it someone who loves his fellow man, and has a golden heart? Dickens uses various characters to show us examples of both types of gentleman, both large and small hearted, and this really reinforces his message on social class.

Pip’s character itself is an interesting one. He is constantly examining himself to ensure he’s living up to his great expectations, to understand his own actions and behaviours and whether or not they are fitting of a gentleman. We see Pip’s growth as he begins to understand the origins of his windfall, and to analyse his previous feelings on class. Initially turning his nose up at those who were the same as him previously, feeling a sense of superiority that he has escaped a dull life as a blacksmith’s apprentice, he ultimately comes to the realisation that he is in fact no better, and actually arguably worse, than those he has left behind.

Each of Dickens’ characters here are wonderful, vivid, and have a role to play in driving the plot along. All were incredibly well-crafted, engaging in their own histories, and wonderfully entertaining by their own little quirks and flaws. 

I believe the story of Miss Havisham doesn’t particularly have to be told here, but I want to acknowledge the utter perfection of her character. She’s mad, she’s melancholy. She’s stopped all the clocks at the time she was ditched by her fiance, her wedding meal still rots on the table it was set on. She raises her adopted daughter to scorn the male population, and to tease and cajole them into falling in love with her, before cruelly disposing of them. She is bitter as hell, and yet there is something deep inside her which pities, which loves, and which seeks human comfort. She’s such a sad depiction, and so perfect.

We’re given a very important ending to Great Expectations, and it truly was one which resonated with me in its muteness. Pip ultimately repents his behaviour towards others, forgives those who ask him of it, and generally puts all of his affairs in order. Yet, he still does not achieve everything his heart desires, not a great deal changes, and still he remains crippled in memory of his horrible actions. It’s a good lesson to us that some damage simply cannot be repaired; you can be forgiven and yet be unable to forgive yourself, and some dreams (no matter our aspirations) can simply never be attained, whether you feel you deserve them or not.