“Great Expectations” could rightly be said to be Dickens’s magnum opus. By deeply exploring the love-hate relationships between different characters in the medieval Victorian era, Dickens has conjured a tale that is as humorous as it is realistic, as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
At one level, “Great Expectations” is about the barrenness of contemporaneous rich society, vindictiveness, and vendetta covered in a thick veneer of respectability and hauteur. At another, it is the apparent simplicity and naivety of poorer sections of society to eke out a living, as a blacksmith, a policeman, or even as a hardened criminal with a golden heart.
Finally, good triumphs over evil and the story end on a positive note, but not before the protagonist realizes that there is more inhuman living that meets the eye, or perhaps senses. He matures into a fine young man, ready to forgive and forget to attain his cherished objectives including his lady love, now only an object of contempt and ruination.
Strong characterizations play a crucial role in the unfolding of the plot in the novel “Great Expectations“ by the celebrated author, Charles Dickens.
“Great Expectations” is considered one of the most popular novels of Charles Dickens. Even though he had written several novels, it is this novel that has achieved great popularity. Many ideas are discussed in this novel. This novel cannot be considered fully as an autobiographical one, but it has an autobiographical touch as Charles Dickens discusses his own experience about society and life during the Victorian era.
The novel goes through the life of Pip from his childhood days to adulthood. Through this novel, Dickens discusses mainly social justice and the disparities among the people. During the period of colonialism and the industrial revolution there emerged a wide inequality between the upper and lower class community. In this novel, Dickens discusses the struggle between them for their survival. This is a story about great love, relationship, and the refusal of love in the life of a man. “The idea that one must search beyond material wealth and social standings and look within themselves for happiness becomes the major theme in Great Expectation” (Dickenson). The characters in this novel had a change in their attitude or lifestyle only to overcome the situations which they were forced to face.
Characterization of this novel
The novel moves on by focusing the central character named Pip and while the novel opens, one can see that the main character Pip, now an adult, as the narrator in the story, is looking back to his childhood and saying his own story.
When the story starts, Pip tells about the man whom he met at the church yard. Pip, the young child who is an orphan, within a short period of time became so attached with that escaped convict. Pip found that they both were facing some common problem. They both were feeling loneliness in the society and even though the young Pip seemed to be frightened of this convict, later he felt compassion towards this man. And between them a good relationship developed.
In this novel Dickens makes some amazing characters with the help of beautiful events. He describes about the ethical and holy behavior of the characters. He relates his characters with their mannerism of language and also with their actions. The major characters of this novel are Pip, Miss Havisham, Magwitch, Estella, Herbert, Joe, Mrs. Joe, Jaggers, Biddy, Wemmick, Compeyson, Molly and Older Pip.
The main character in this novel is Pip; an orphan. The story is mainly about his life and expectations. With the help of a sponsor he escapes from the fate as a village blacksmith to a gentleman. Pip’s awareness of his life and forecast with Estella change noticeably at the age of twenty-three, when he realizes that his sponsor is a convict.
Miss Havisham is a rich, haughty woman, who adopted Estella. She lies to Pip by telling that she’s his sponsor. She tries to make Estella as a cruel hearted one who doesn’t like men. At the end of the novel she understands cruelties that she had done are unjustifiable, but she did not live long after her recognition.
In this novel, Magwitch is a convict who escaped from a prison and his other names are Provis, Mr. Campbell and the shackled man. Magwitch and Pip initially met when Pip was a boy and Magwitch was an escaped convict. He was very much impressed with the kind character of Pip. So he helped Pip secretly. Finally, they became good friends. At last, police arrested him and he was punished to be hanged. But he dies before executing the punishment.
Estella, a beautiful girl is an adopted child of Miss Havisham. She always aims to harass men who got this character from Miss Havisham and Pip fell in love with her. At the end of the story Pip realize that Estella is the daughter of Magwitch.
Dickens’s mastery over the unfolding of events and characters
From the title of the novel itself, the reader can understand that the main theme of the novel is “Expectations” and through the protagonist Pip, the writer exemplifies this theme. Pip is full of hope about his future and it is evident in his each and every step, and it is this emotional mind-set which made him optimistic. “Pip’s expectations in the novel take three forms: social, moral and educational” (Preview: First 1100 characters of the theme of Expectations in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations).
When the story begins, Pip doesn’t know anything about his own identity. “Thus, loss of origin, misreading and the troubles of identity will be the themes governing the plot and explore later on” (Badulescu, 8). Later when he met Estella, she ill-treated him in an unfriendly manner. Then Pip imagined with great expectation that one day he can be a rich man when she will pay attention towards him. At last Estella understood that she mistreated him and she apologized for it. And with a great expectation he went to London.
This story is of a young boy, Pip, who accidentally stumbles into a jail convict and reroutes his life or rather tries to become an educated gentleman. The author shows through his work the significance of human life, associating it with material wealth. Anyone who has a glimpse of this story will have a clear understanding that wealth, without a sound and selfless mind will, in the end, only lead to doom and misery. The author speaks out in the form of Pip, the teenager and the main character in the story. This material reflects the characteristic traits of humans in every walk of life. The criminal in the story, Magwitch, reveals his true self by bequeathing a fortune to the lad who gives him food and also tries to save him from the police, who are on the look-out for him.
Thematic representations in this novel
There are many themes in the story. The most significant theme in the story is the craving of a young mind for better or for worse. The infatuation he has over the young girl, Estelle, has the transitional power of inspiring him to the limits of the rich and the powerful. The author shows here that an irrational mind is capable of anything, powerful enough to achieve anything; how else can a black-smith apprentice work himself into an educated gentleman, working in London. Only when he realized the true intentions of the girl he fell in love with, was he able to rationalize his thoughts and next course of action. Estelle also plays a main role in the story, even though she is just a puppet in the hands of her step-mother, Miss Havisham, one of the chief perpetrators of the story.
Another twist to this fact – a scrupulous mind – is how civilized a criminal mind works. Magwitch, a convicted jail inmate actually has a reformatory mind to bequeath his wealth to an unknown stranger who just helped him at the point of a dagger, which anyone would not shrink from. Knowing he was deprived of the good things in life, and does not have a second chance in life, he even helped Pip with money to help him be a gentleman.
It is proved in this story a devilish mind can also become saintly, and have a change of heart when, at the last moment of his death, Magwitch atones for his sins. The author also sees how different a mind is from another. Miss Havisham’s time-old grudge against her fiancée, Compeyson, who abandons her, never ends there. She pledges to break the hearts of every male citizen in town by dangling the beautiful Estelle under their noses.
Circumstances call for rationalizing each ones’ thoughts. Estelle behaves coldly and indifferently to the love-declaring and love-starved Pip. He also has to do menial jobs in the house-hold if he wants to see her. His only one thought is to attain the same social status as that of Ms Havishams, Estelle, and Drummics (the man Estelle marries later, and who is the sum of all evils) just in order to woo and win her.
Analysis of Dickens’ characterization of Pip
Coming to character analysis, the first character that needs to be analyzed is that of the protagonist, Pip. At the beginning, he is portrayed as a naïve and simple rustic boy, who is at first influenced by the criminal, Magwitch and later on by his lady love, Estelle. He is so blinded in his love, or infatuation for Estelle that he is not able to see the plot that has been set for him. Miss Havisham was actually using Estelle for satisfying her own wrath and seeking revenge for her lover’s betrayal. The boy’s innocence and good intentions is vividly portrayed by Dickens. Inspired by his newly found love, and knowing that she would reject him in his present condition, he resolves to go to London, get himself educated and become a true gentleman so that he would be accepted by his lady love. He even believes Miss Havisham, when she indirectly mentions that she is his secret benefactor, thinking that this was her plan of uniting the two lovers, Estelle and himself. In his utter simplicity and lack of guile, he is trapped in a world of youthful make belief, far away from the harsher and deeper realities of life.
At one level the characters of Havisham and Estelle bring forth the hypocrisy and double standards in contemporary Victorian society. Although the former is wealthy and of high society, the methods she adopts to wreck revenge for being jilted by her lover on her wedding hour would even put slum dwellers to shame. At another level, Dickens examines the complex relationships between people, Pip vis-à-vis Mrs. Joe and Mr. Joe, his guardians, Pip’s dealings with the criminal Magwitch, his nexus with Havisham and Estelle and finally his reunion with the latter at the end.
On her part, Estelle also carried out her part with conviction, but she was under pressure from her mistress, Havisham to act accordingly. Whether Estelle really loved Pip, despite her mistress, is also a matter of contemplation. However, towards the end, Estelle’s true character is revealed when now she is without her mistress, Havisham and all the wealth has been ruined, her husband is dead and, in her loneliness, she once again pines for her lover, Pip. The characterization of Pip at the beginning is as a humble and naïve village boy, dependent on his sister, Mrs. Joe and her husband Joe. However, his visits to London and attempts to become a gentleman, change it, although he is still good and helpful. The strong characterization of Pip is evident when he finally accepts Estelle, despite all that has occurred in their lives.
Charles Dickens portrays Magwitch as a golden hearted criminal. In the beginning he was brutal, cunning and ruthless enough to force a small boy to part with food and instruments to make good his escape from prison. However, he is caught and imprisoned. He knew that if Mrs. Joe (Pip’s sister) came to know that Pip had stolen goods for Magwitch, Pip would be severely punished. Therefore, he admitted having broken into Mrs. Joe’s house and stolen these items in order to protect the young boy. “I knew the boy was innocent.” (Dickens and West, 260).
This shows that his character, despite evil, was inherently good and well meaning. Magwitch’s character is further shown in good light by Dickens, when, out of gratitude towards the young boy, he secretly bequeaths a fortune to Pip without Pip’s knowledge. “I’ve made a gentleman out of you,” (Dickens) he says to Pip.
With this money, Pip was able to go to London, seek a good education and become rich and respectable. The final straw was when he atones for his sins and finally dies. It is only later on that Pip comes to know that his ladylove, Estelle is actually Magwitch’s daughter. By these characterization and events, Dickens wished to reinforce the fact that goodness, kindliness and altruistic attitude would not go unrewarded. Magwitch’s character has proved that in this novel. Although he appears to be a coarse, rough and villainous character, his sense of duty and gratitude to the people who have helped him, perhaps stands out as one of his redeeming traits.
Miss Havisham’s character
This character is that of a proud, haughty and arrogant lady, “immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house.” (Dickens, 48). She possesses negative traits which remain till the very end, until she is repentant for her evil deeds, gets burned in a fire, and eventually dies, perhaps despising herself and all she stands for. The fundamental evil in her is vividly portrayed by Dickens when she used a beautiful girl, Estelle, to wreck the lives of people, especially Pip, for the failure in her love life. Her fiancée, Compeyson, ditched her on her wedding day, and she nurses the grief with vindictive malice. She is always in her now-faded wedding gown, and has laid down the table with food to celebrate her wedding, a constant reminder for herself and others of what had transpired in her life. Since her own love had been spurned, she nurses a deep grievance for lovers and uses Estelle, her adopted daughter, to wreck vengeance on people. “Miss Havisham has raised Estella to be a cold and heartless woman who will avenge her adopted mother by breaking the hearts of men.” (Great Expectations Summary & Study Guide).
She had been successful to a large extent, but finally, when her wealth is dissipated and her mansion ruins, she realizes the folly of what she had been doing for the past many years. “Miss Havisham immediately begs Pip for forgiveness, reinforcing the novel’s theme that bad behavior can be redeemed by contrition and sympathy.” (Dickens). She is forgiven by Pip and is ultimately a part of the story’s history. The goodness and innocence of Pip is contrasted with the malice and evil intentions of Miss Havisham, and finally, good triumphs over evil.
Character of Estelle
Perhaps, one of the main characters in this novel is that of Estelle. Her capability to entice men without really liking them provides the desire and determination of the protagonist, Pip to seek success in order to gain her. While her initial interactions with Pip were to serve her mistress, Havisham’s interests, it could not be untrue to state that later Estelle began to like Pip and secretly liked him. “He loves her passionately, but, though she sometimes seems to consider him a friend, she is usually cold, cruel, and uninterested in him.” (Dickens).
This could also be seen in terms of the fact that, one of the positive aspects of the novel would be that the chance meeting between Pip and Estelle actually changed the character of Pip. He forgets his old ways and begins to want to attain the high status and wealth, which Miss Havisham and Estelle possessed, since he is now in love with her. But he also knows the class differences between the two would stand in the way of this union, and therefore he decides to change himself to suit Estelle. “Here he learns the bases of power and money, and wished to become a gentleman of the 19th century in order to be the equal of Estella.” (Professional written papers on this topic).
The positive aspect of Estelle‘s portrayal by Dickens is the reforms that she instituted on Pip, and the negative aspect is that she really did not love him but is herself just an instrument in the hands of her scheming and malicious mistress, Havisham.
It is evident that the characterization and plot of the novel, “Great Expectations” has been indeed remarkable and in sync with contemporaneous happenings in England. The characters, especially that of Mr. Joe and Pip stand out not only for their respectability and genuine human qualities but also in their firm determination to overcome all kinds of trials and tribulations to ultimately gain what they sought for.
“It was considered by contemporary critics to represent a return to Dickens at the peak of his powers, deftly mixing comedy and tragedy and with a rich brew of major and minor characters.” (Book Clubs/ Reading Guide). Like every good novel during that time, good triumphs over evil and sanity is restored.
To a very large extent, this novel also conjures up the life of Charles Dickens himself, especially his younger days, when he was struggling to educate himself and make an honest living. His early apprenticeship with blacksmith despite his yearnings to become educated and gentlemanly was a reminder of Dickens’ own struggles during that time.
What is most remarkable about this novel is perhaps the refreshing candor and vividness with which all characterization is unfolded and the tempo of the theme and plot is maintained well till its finale. Perhaps, this is the crowning glory of all works by this great English author.
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Dickens, Charles., and West, Keith. Great Expectations. Nelson Thorns. 2001.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Kessinger Publishing. 2004.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations: Analysis of Major Characters. Miss: Havisham. Spark notes. 2009.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations: Character List: Estella. Spark notes. 2009.
Dickenson, Charles. Great Expectations Study Guide; About Great Expectation. Grade Saver. 2009. Web.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations Study Guide: Short Summary. Grade Saver. 2009.
Great Expectations Summary & Study Guide: Great Expectations Summary: The First Stage of Pip’s Expectations. Enotes. 2009. Web.
Preview: First 1100 characters of the theme of Expectations in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. 123 Help me.com. 2009.
Professional written papers on this topic: Great Expectations- novel. Echeat. Web.