Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

Pip, our protagonist, perceives that his social condition dooms him to be stuck in one place all of his life. That is quite understandable, as he has to put up with a dimwitted uncle and a domineering sister. For reasons he does not understand until much later, he is given a chance to better himself.

Pip’s earliest “acquaintance of some advantage” is the reclusive Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham reminds one of some bizarre character from a Faulkner novel. It is worth noting Miss Havisham’s view of “love.” Because Miss Havisham was spurned as a young lady, she defines love in terms of jealousy and fear. Pip never goes to her extreme, but his fascination with Estella, even after Pip matures, is never quite healthy. By contrast, in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, the loveable rascal Jones understands love as a “rational passion.” That is much closer to the biblical truth.


In several areas Dickens moves too quickly for the reader. For example, it is implied that Pip bettered himself through education, but we never see him actually do that. There are a few scenes where he and Joe are doing lessons, but it is not clear why Joe, an adult and blacksmith, would need to be doing lessons. Adult education is a real thing, but it usually does not happen at the same time and place with young people.

Pip’s struggle is one with which we can sympathize with at some level. We all want more money. Few of us, however, have the wisdom or virtue to manage it. Pip certainly does not, least not at first. What I do not understand is Pip’s fascination with Estella. Estella makes it clear to him at their first meeting that she is not interested in him. In fact, she tells him she does not have a heart for love. Most guys, even beta males, can see red flags at that point. Pip cannot.

The ending of the novel is quite excellent, as Dickens allows the reader to shore up some conclusions. I was able to anticipate some, and others were certainly a pleasant surprise.


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