Great Expectations — The epitome of a bildungsroman — presents the growth and development of Philip Pirrip. An older, significantly more mature Philip, narrates the opening pages, which convey his younger self's immaturity through his “infant tongue" (3). He called himself Pip, a rather sweet sounding name, and this innocent nickname parallels Philips' ignorant view of life at the start of the novel. Although he initially lacks worldly understanding, be becomes aware of society's moral, social, and educational divisions. The more he learns about other classes, including those of Miss Havisham and Estella, the more he wants to become like them.

The distinction between social class becomes clear through Pip's attitude towards the wealthy. The narrator even notes, “Miss Havisham and Estella and the strange house and the strange life appeared to have something to do with everything that was picturesque" (110). Such a “strange life," subsequently foreign to Pip, starts off being somewhat of the intrigue, but, however, quickly transforms into the goal. The boy, now becoming a man then confesses to the caretaker, in Chapter 17,

"I want to be a gentleman. . . . I am not at all happy as I am. I am disgusted with my calling and with my life. I have never taken to either, since I was bound. Don't be absurd."

"Was I absurd?" said Biddy, quietly raising her eyebrows, “I am sorry for that; I didn't mean to be. I only want you to do well, and to be comfortable."

"Well then, understand once for all that I never shall or can be comfortable — or anything but miserable — there, Biddy! Unless I can lead a very different sort of life from the life I lead now"' (127,128; place within the complete text of the novel]

A page later, Pip discloses his motives for advancement being less about his own angst and more in regards to winning the attention of others, including the attention of a love interest: “The beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham's, and she's more beautiful than anybody ever was, and I admire her dreadfully, and I want to be a gentleman on her account"' (129).

The affection of a girl of Estella's higher status comes with the achievement of a certain social and educational level. Such a realization rather confirms Pips increasing awareness of his current, lowly state. The child Pip knows as long as he is an ignorant country boy, he has no hope of social improvement. It is only through a progressive life ridden by unfulfilled ambition that Pip eventually learns the insignificance of social status in regards to one's real worth.

Questions

1. At the start of the novel, Dickens repetitiously uses “great" preceding the words “depression" (8), “punishment" (13), and “convenience" (15). Seeing that “great" is also in the title, Dickens purposefully emphasizes its powerful qualifying function. Why would the usage of such a simplistic adjective be repeatedly used? Also, what are other instances of its similar usage (Alexander the Great, etc)? What is the affect of its usage there? Does its usage support the quote “less is more?"

2. Throughout the novel, Pip and simultaneously Dickens addresses the reader. An example of this is when Miss Havisham desires for Pip to play at her home. The narrator interjects, “ I think it will be conceded by my most disputatious reader, that she could hardly have directed an unfortunate boy to do anything in the wide world more difficult to be done under the circumstances" (59). How does Dickens address the reader much like Brontë does in Jane Eyre? How are the addresses different?

3. The Victorian Era withheld the standard that women will work. Despite a definite divide between what occupation is generally accepted, women did work outside of the home. In the novel it is the workingwoman, Biddy, to whom Pip confesses. Why would Dickens choose to have Pip confess to Biddy instead of another character? Is the answer deeper then just an account of the friendship they share? What can be said about Pip confessing to a workingwoman rather than someone else?

4. In the quoted selection above Pip has a catharsis. Dickens, who typically writes long discussions and lengthy conversations, changes his syntax of writing here through Pip's over use of “I," making the readers feel Pip's impatience and secret longing. Is this over usage purposefully supposed to stand out, being that it is the first time Pip declares he wants to be a gentleman?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 18 February 2008