Great Expectations Study Guide

Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations is a novel about a poor boy named Pip, who lives with his cruel sister and her blacksmith husband. After years of helping a wealthy reclusive woman named Miss Havisham, he receives a small fortune from an anonymous benefactor. After learning to live like a gentleman and many attempts to court Miss Havisham's daughter, Estella, Pip learns that his fortune was not from Miss Havisham, as he had assumed, but a convict he had helped save when he was a child.

The freshness of her beauty was indeed gone, but its indescribable majesty and it indescribable charm remained. Those attractions in it I had seen before; what I had never seen before was the saddened softened light of the once proud eyes; what I had never felt before was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand.

Pip comments on Estella's changed beauty and demeanor in Chapter 59, when they reunite in the garden of Satis House, now demolished, eleven years after their last encounter. Pip first falls victim's to Estella's heartless allure in part because of her immense--however coldbeauty. During her youth, when his love for her begins to flourish, Estella is a beautiful child, though her spirit is cold and cruel. When Estella returns from her travels, she has grown into a gorgeous young woman; Pip finds her more beautiful than ever, and his love for her intensifies. When Pip sees her as a young woman, even more beautiful than she was as a girl, his desire for her is stronger than ever before. It is then, however, when his passion is at its peak, that she treats him with the utmost cruelty, casting aside his passionate confession of love for her. It is only at the end of the novel, however, in the scene excerpted above, when Estella's beauty is somewhat diminished, that she is friendly. Having experienced her own heartache and suffering, Estella, as an older, less beautiful woman, understands Pip's suffering and passion, and treats him with tenderness.

Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's a whitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come.

Joe gives this explanation to Pip in Chapter 27, when he goes to visit him in London. Joe's speech emphasizes the divisions among social class so distinct in Victorian England and highlighted in the novel. Joe uses the different types of metals he works with as a blacksmith to represent the various levels of society. The meeting is extremely awkward for both Pip and Joe, as the division among them is now widened by Pip's new, elevated social status. Pip dreads Joe's visit as soon as he receives notification that he will be traveling to London; I should have liked to run away, he says. Pip thinks that if he could have, he would have paid Joe to keep away from him, emphasizing the powerfulness and superiority Pip feels over Joe now that he possesses wealth. Throughout Joe's visit, Pip treats him with thinly-veiled hostility. He is irritated and distant, paranoid that his association with Joe, a poor blacksmith, will tarnish his budding reputation as a gentleman. Joe, though he is never unkind, also holds Pip at a new distance, referring to him formally as Sir, a reference which further irritates Pip.

The moral of the novel, however, articulates that kindness, loyalty, and personal relationships are of far greater importance than social class or wealth.

The beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham's, and she's more beautiful than anybody ever was, and I want to be a gentleman on her account.

Pip divulges this to Biddy in Chapter 17, as they walk along, sharing intimate conversation, just prior to Pip's departure for London. Here he admits that the initial catalyst for his greatest expectations was not his desire for wealth or high social status, or even his eagerness to be a gentleman. Although all of these aspirations are indeed part of Pip's great expectations, all sprung from Pip's desire for Estella, and his determination to make himself worthy of her.Chapter 17

It seems, said Estella, very calmly, there are sentiments, fanciesI don't know how to call themwhich I am not able to comprehend. When you say you love me, I know what you mean, as a form of words; but nothing more. You address nothing in my breast, you touch nothing there. I don't care for what you say at all. I have tried to warn you of this; now, have I not?

Estella says this in Chapter 44, in response to Pip's heart-wrenching, passionate confession of his love for her. Estella sits by the fire, knitting, and expresses no emotion even when Pip at last passionately announces his love for her. Coldly, Estella replies that she does not share his feelings, and that she never gave him reason to believe so. But, as Estella says, she feels nothing in her heart. In one light, it is not entirely her fault that she has become a cold and heartless woman, for Miss Havisham has raised her to break men's hearts. After being jilted by her fianc, Compeyson , on their wedding day, Miss Havisham is determined to seek revenge on the hearts of men, and uses Estella as a weapon for her vengeance. Pip is overcome by passion, whereas Estella is incapable of emotional feeling.

Look'ee here, Pip. I'm your second father. You're my sonmore to me nor any son. I've put away money, only for you to spend. When I was a hired-out shepherd in a solitary hut, not seeing no faces but faces of sheep till I half-forgot wot men's and women's faces wos like, I see yourn. . . . I see you there a many times plain as ever I see you on them misty marshes. Lord strike me dead!' I says each timeand I goes out in the open air to say it under the open heavensbut wot, if I gets liberty and money, I'll make that boy a gentleman!' And I done it. Why, look at you, dear boy! Look at these here lodgings of yourn, fit for a lord! A lord? Ah! You shall show money with lords for wagers, and beat 'em!

Magwitch says this to Pip in Chapter 39, just after he has revealed himself as Pip's secret benefactor. Pip is stunned by this news, having believed all along that Miss Havisham was his benefactor. In learning that Magwitch, the lowly convict--not Miss Havisham, the wealthy spinster, is his true benefactor--Pip's belief in the class system is deconstructed. Pip realizes that the lowly convict who so terrified him in the marshes, and who haunted him long into his adulthood is solely responsible for his elevated status and fortune. This excerpt also reveals Magwitch as a sympathetic character. No longer is he the harsh, threatening convict who accosted Pip in the marshes, but a kind, caring man who has dedicated himself to Pip's success. He has never forgotten Pip's generosity, and is determined to thank him by providing him with opportunities that would have otherwise been unavailable to him.

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