The meaning of “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens Essay

Great Expectations was a novel written by Charles Dickens during the Victorian era. It was a time when people were divided into classes based on wealth. Poor people were looked down upon by the rich people. People of the higher class thought they were superior to the poor.

The main character of Great Expectation is Philip Pirrip, commonly known as ‘Pips’. His name itself is a symbol. Pip means seed. Dickens specifically took this name because it symbolises the potential to grow into something bigger.

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“As I never saw my father or my mother”, the parentless Pip is kind of childish since he thinks that “the shape of the letters on my father’s grave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man”. Dickens made him orphan so that he could be lost in his ways of life and then brought back to his sense. If Pip had parents, the readers might not have felt pity. The area were he lives; the marshes itself symbolises his bleak prospects.

He was brought up by his “more than 20 year’s old” sister “by hand” whom he dislikes a lot. He even thinks that his brother in law; Joe might have got trapped in the clutches of Mrs.Joe. On the other hand he likes and respects Joe a lot. He thinks of him as a “good natured, sweet tempered, easy going” man. It might be his respect for Joe that made Pip feels guilty for stealing Joe’s pork pie. “The cattle came upon me with suddenness, staring out their eyes and steaming out of their nostrils, “Hello, young thief!”. Yet again Pip portrays his childish innocent mind by stealing flood for the man “with a great iron on his leg”. When Pip meets Magwitch for the first time, we cans he that he is terrified of the man “who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled”.

His terror grew even more when Magwitch linked his lips and said, “What fat cheeks ha’got”. He must have said to scare and bully Pip by implying that he would eat Pip, which was obviously scary for Pip since he was only a child.

Magwitch had a rough and aggressive accent, “And you know what wittles is?” Posh people during those days didn’t say word like wittles.This showed that he was a lower class and questionable character. This novel is set during the Victorian times. Society in those days depended wholly on status. Higher class people felt that the poor people were not worthy and that it was their fault they were born poor. They thought that they were superior to the poor people. This also shows Dickens skill and talent as a writer. He can portray how the lower class people speak with the right accent.

During the first meeting between Magwitch and Pip, Magwitch seems to be in control. We can understand this by the way he threatens Pip and bully’s him to bring food. But slowly Magwitch attitude towards Pip change when Pip shows kindness.

“Pitying his desolation and watching him as he gradually settled down upon the pie, I made bold to say,

“I am glad you enjoy it”

“Did you speak?”

“I said I was glad you enjoyed it”

“Thankee, my boy I do”

From this quote we can understand that Pip was getting more casual and confident around Magwitch. Magwitch also felt a touch of humanity which he hadn’t felt for years since he was in prison where people were treated horribly. It is this touch that sets the whole story in motion. We can also see how hungry Magwitch was because when Pip asks the first question, he uses present tense and when he repeats the question second time, he uses a past tense which tells us that Magwitch finished the pie within seconds.

Later on while Magwitch gets arrested in the presence of Pip a different situation arises. “For he gave me a look that I did not understand, and it all passed in a moment. But if he had looked at me for an hour or for a day, I could not have remembered his face even afterwards, as having been more attentive”. Pip was trying to get the message through that he was innocent and that he was not the one who led the soldiers to Magwitch. Pip was out of his misery when Magwitch said “I took some wittles, up at the village over yonder”. This shows that Magwitch knew that Pip was innocent.

By contrast, while Magwitch was affected by Pip’s kindness, Miss Havisham was not. The aristocratic and rich Miss Havisham’s house portrayed her attitude. “Satis” house symbolised the word “enough”. “The cold wind seemed to blow colder there than outside the gate; and it made a shrill noise in howling”. The atmosphere inside Satis House symbolised depression and unhappiness. When Pip first sees Miss Havisham; “she was dressed in rich materials-satins, and lace”. Her dress symbolises her of her condition and of her hatred for men. Dickens described the scene magnificently. He portrayed her character; the rudeness and the aristocratic behaviour, “I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress”.

Dickens made Pip’s first meeting with Miss Havisham as scary one. This can be seen when he is forced to a lie a “no” to the question, “You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?”

Pip was treated badly by Miss Havisham and Estella; “they considered him as a common labouring boy”. Estella in particular was very rude to the way Pip looked, “And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!”. He was humiliated by Estella when she treated him like “a dog in disgrace”. Miss Havisham rudeness and coldness to Pip connects to the wealth and class during those times. Dickens shows hoe wealth produces the unpleasant rude behaviour in people. Miss Havisham is characterised as the miserable, cold hearted higher class woman with no space left in her “broken heart” for warmth and affection.

Over the years Pip grows into adulthood and becomes a gentleman through his great expectations. Dickens shows how the same kind and innocent Pip changes into a snob. This is shown on several occasions. When Pip’s surrogate father Joe comes to meet him in London, Pip acts rather unfriendly. “I feel impatient of him and out of temper with him”. Joe is been despised by Pip as clumsy and ignorant.

Dickens shows the new rich Pip in a different situation. A situation when Magwitch returns back. Magwitch’s kindness for Pip was shown when he said “Noble, Pip! And I have never forgot it”. Magwitch still remembered the young boy who helped him a long time back.

Pip on the other hand, acted like a snob. “Stay!” said I “Keep off! If you are grateful to me for what I did when I was a little child, I hope you have shown your gratitude by mending your ways of life”. This shows that Pip doesn’t like to share company with anyone below the higher class. He gave the hint to Magwitch again when he said, “You are wet, and you look weary. Will you drink something before you go?” Pip implies that Magwitch should just go with or without having a drink because he was feeling uncomfortable and impatient talking to Magwitch. Dickens implies that people from a humble family who gets money and get rich are better than people who are born rich. Pip felt even more uncomfortable when Magwitch was trying to tell Pip that he was his benefactor. “All the trust of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds rushed in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had a struggle for every breath I drew”. Pip felt in a difficult situation when he slowly realised what Magwitch was trying to say.

On the other hand, Magwitch enjoys this discussion with Pip for he thinks that Pip is happy to know that he is the benefactor. He is proud to have made Pip who helped him years ago into a rich gentleman; “Yes, Pip, dear boy I’ve made a gentleman on you!” However, Pip doesn’t feel that way. “The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast”. This was the sensation when Pip found out that the convict whom he had called “my convict” and now just a man not worthy of his attention; was his benefactor. He even implies by saying this line that if Magwitch had been a monster, his distaste of him at that moment could not have been higher.

While this was going on, Pip’s mind clicked to Miss Havisham and Estella. “Oh, Estella, Estella!” Exclamation marks are used because he realized that it was the convict and not Miss Havisham who gave him the money. He was scared of what she will say when she finds out. All his hope for having Estella vanished. He was upset that it was a convict who was his benefactor.

When Pip goes to meet Miss Havisham a different situation arises. “I am unhappy as you can ever have meant me to be”. This shows that pip was still upset when he realised that Miss Havisham was not his benefactor. “I have found out who my patron is. It is not a fortunate discovery, and is not likely ever to enrich me in reputation, station, fortune, anything”. This shows that ever since the day he wanted Estella, he wanted to be a gentleman, wanted to be someone who had wealth like Miss Havisham. He says it’s not a fortune because he works all the way to become a gentleman and suddenly he realises his money payer who is “not worthy”.

“When I belonged to the village over yonder, that I wish I had never left”. This shows that he is sad, depressed and embarrassed. He felt that he should have never left the village. He self pities himself when he realised he can’t ever have Estella.

Miss Havisham attitude on the other hand is still every mean and she deliberately led Pip to think that she is her benefactor. This is shown when Miss Havisham answers to Pip’s question; “Who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?”.

Pip knows how Miss Havisham feels. “But I think she did not. I think that in the endurance of her own trial, she forgot mine, Estella”. Pip realised that Miss Havisham was wrapped up in her own world; a world of depression and misery to realise what she was doing to Pip.

“I saw Miss Havisham put her hand to her heart”. The things that pip said touched her heart and she felt her own pain. This takes Pip back to their first meeting when she had put her hand to her heart and said that it was “Broken”.

“The spectral figure of Miss Havisham, her hand covering her heart, seemed all resolved into a ghastly stare of pity and remorse”. Miss Havisham’s attitude towards Pip changed. She felt pity for him and felt sad that she was so horrible to him.

Miss Havisham expresses her feelings to him when she meets him for the final time. “And to show you that I am not all stone”. This is the changing state of her mind after Pip confesses his feelings to Estella. “But perhaps you can believe, now, that there is anything human in my heart”. She believes that she can’t ever tell him how guilty and horrible she feels. She thinks that Pip would never realize why she was like this. Only Pip has moved her heart for her to ask forgiveness to the boy who was once a common labouring boy for her. This is when Miss Havisham says, “My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name, ‘I forgive her,’ though ever so long after my broken heart is dust-pray do it!”.

Miss Havisham’s guilt conscience grows even bigger when she says “What have I done! What have I done!” Miss Havisham says this when she feels guilty of all the things that she has done over the years. After Pip had confessed about Estella, she felt depressed to have hurt Pip because she had felt the same way once.

Pip, however doesn’t feel any pity for Miss Havisham. Pip knows that Miss Havisham is so badly hurt about what happened on the last happy day in Satis house. After the incident she forgot all happiness. “I knew full well. But that, in shutting the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences.”

He knows she has always been wrapped up in her insane world. This is when he thinks that, “the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world?” Pip knows that her depression had grown so much that she created an insane world for the hatred of men.

Great expectations is a novel that shows Pip’s journey through life. It shows his development from a common labouring boy to a rich and powerful man. Dickens wrote this novel to make people realise that the poor people were more humble than the rich people. He wants everyone to know that the rich and powerful are not necessarily good people. This is shown through the characters; Miss Havisham and Magwitch. Miss Havisham was the unpleasant aristocratic character of the novel whereas Magwitch the convict was one of the kindest and the most admirable character in the novel.

Dickens wrote this novel during the Victorian era. It was a time when people didn’t care about the poor. Dickens is trying to change people’s attitude towards social classes. He made Pip as an example of the rich people in society. Pip used to be a kind boy, who respected everyone. But when his great expectations came, his attitude changed. He thought he was superior to everyone. He thought that people less wealthy than his were not worthy. The novel shows how his good nature changes into snobbery, only to return when circumstances force him to realise where his fortune has come from.

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