Great Expectations

LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON

Realism in Dickens’ novels

  • The cruel life of poor children in workhouses and orphanages;
  • The injustices of the legal system;
  • The ruthless materialism of the industrial age;
  • The living conditions of the poor people living in urban areas;
  • Varieties of human character;
  • Characters portrayed with irony – caricatures;
  • Objective narrations;
  • The actual speech of individuals belonging to certain social groups is reproduced.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (published 1861)

LITERARY GENRE

  • Autobiographical novel (Bildungsroman)

SETTING

  • Early Victorian England;
  • London and the surrounding marshlands.

THEMES

Main theme: The self-improvement of an individual is more important than social advancement. This is more easily achieved through affection, loyalty, and conscience and prevails ambition, wealth, and class in the development of a person. 

Secondary themes:

  • Crime and guilt;
  • Social class;
  • Money and the value of work;
  • Morality.

CONFLICT

The novel tells the story of Pip, a poor boy who struggles to overcome the limitations of his social environment and become a rich and respected gentleman.

CHARACTERS

Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.

The characters are depicted realistically, presented with all their faces, grimaces, gestures, and obsessions.

Characterisation techniques:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Physical description (use of the physical traits of the character to convey information about the identity)
  • Grotesque caricatures: exaggerated physical traits that reveal personality traits.
  • Pip (Philip Pirrip)  –  he is a new type of character, one that transcends social barriers. He rises from country boy to city gentleman, being forced to move from one social extreme to another, while facing the strict rules and expectations of Victorian England. As he is both protagonist and narrator and the two instances are separated by many years, there are two instances of Pip in the novel (the character and the narrator). Pip the character’s development and the differences between the two representations are the most important aspects of the novel.
  • Estella – she is considered Dickens’ first convincing female character. She is cold, cynical, manipulative, and unable to express feelings. Lower-born than Pip, she is raised not by her father, but by Miss Havisham and taught to torment men. As she poses belonging to the upper classes, she will marry a nobleman who will make her life miserable. She is an ironic creation, that undermines the notion of romantic love and serves as criticism against the class system. 
  • Miss Havisham – a wealthy old woman who lives in a rotting mansion and is mad with the pain of having been left at the altar many years ago. She refuses to move beyond her betrayal, stops the clocks in the mansion, and wears her wedding dress every day. Mad, she adopts Estella and raises her to achieve her revenge. She is not a believable character, but a memorable one.

POINT OF VIEW

  • First-person point of view.
  • Limited first-person narrator; the mature Pip tells the story of young Pip and judges him.
  • When other characters narrate the missing parts, or when Pip witnesses certain events the narrative, the perspective becomes wider and the reader understands a lot more about the characters and their actions.

TONE

  • The narrator is emotionally involved in the story, the tone is often regretful and wistful;
  • Other times, the tone is resigned to the fact that one cannot change the past.

STYLE

  • Humorous style;
  • Tragic events are described in a way that relies on dark humor;
  • The narrator doesn’t rely on pity from his readers. Thus, Pip tries to avoid being vulnerable;
  • Realistic style combined with the narrator’s impressions and judgments;
  • Long, wordy descriptive passages that are vividly presented and paint a picture that unveils in front of the reader’s eyes.