Everything about “Great Expectations”: Themes, Plot, and Characters

 

“Great Expectations” is one of Charles Dickens’ final novels, published in 1861. It is also one of his most popular works, having been staged numerous times in theaters and on movie screens. The text was written during Dickens’ “mature” years, when the author was criticizing the dishonest and lavish lifestyles of many gentlemen of the time. The plot is engaging, but the story is rather grey, sad, and does not end happily for the majority of its characters.

Dickens’ “Great Expectations” book contains many of his own experiences and sorrows. Initially, the writer intended to end the novel in a tragic manner, but Dickens had always been wary of sad endings—his audience preferred happy endings over philosophical misfortunes. That’s why he didn’t dare to end the story on a depressing note, despite the fact that the entire plot was heading for disaster.

“Great Expectations” is a complex literary piece, and if you find it difficult to read it but still need that essay, read on for a plot summary and themes, or simply use our “grade office” service.

“Great Expectations” Summary

“Great Expectations” is a story about the life of a simple little boy who grows from a poor childhood to a wealthy adulthood, learning many lessons along the way. The protagonist introduces himself at the start of the book:

Chapter I“With my father’s family name Pirrip and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make nothing longer or more explicit than Pip out of both names.” So I named myself Pip and became known as Pip.”

Pip is an honest and straightforward man who struggles to find a place in society. Even money and the life of a wealthy gentleman did not make him happy. At the end of the book, Pip realizes that his expectations and desires misled him and ruined his life: he loved a woman (Estella) who couldn’t return his feelings, and he was grateful to another woman (Miss Havisham) for becoming wealthy when Miss Havisham did nothing for Pip and only encouraged Estella to hurt him even more. But, for the time being, everything is set in the distant future, as the story is about to begin.

Pip is an orphan raised by his abusive sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who “had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself” (Chapter IV), and her husband, Joe Gargery, the blacksmith. Joe Gargery was a good simple man who took good care of Pip:

Chapter II“Joe was a fair man, with flaxen curls on each side of his smooth face and eyes of such an undetermined blue that they seemed to have mixed with their own whites. He was a gentle, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear man…”

Pip meets an escaped convict one day while visiting his parents’ grave and risks his own safety to bring him food and a saw to cut off the shackles.

After a while, Pip is invited to Miss Havisham’s house, which is also referred to in the book as “Satis House.” Miss Havisham is a wealthy and eccentric lady. She had become lost, dull, and constantly dissatisfied with everything since some man robbed her and then fled on the day of their supposed marriage. She continued to wear her wedding gown and kept everything in her run-down home exactly as it had been set up for the planned wedding. Miss Havisham invited Pip to her home in order to find a companion for her foster daughter Estella.

Estella is an orphan raised by Miss Havisham to despise and loathe all males who come into contact with her: “Break their hearts, my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!” (Chapter XII)—one of the most well-known quotes from “Great Expectations.” Estella was a lovely young lady raised to be a lady, but her heart was cold and her morals were rotten. From the first time she was asked to play with Pip, she humiliated him: “With this boy? He’s just a common laboring boy!” (Chapter VIII) and has used every opportunity since to show how much better she is than him.

Pip grows to like Estella, but the more time he spends with her, the more he hates himself – his low status, his simple clothes, his blacksmithing apprenticeship, which stained his face and made his hands coarse (and was paid for by Miss Havisham). Pip had high expectations of being a gentleman and being admired by this refined girl and her mother from the moment he met Estella. Pip discovers one day that someone has hit his sister so hard that her brain has been severely damaged. People discovered broken shackles near where she was attacked. Biddy, another orphan, later comes to live with Pip to care for Mrs. Joe. Pip describes Biddy as a “normal” girl:

Chapter VII“… Her hair was always in need of brushing, her hands were always in need of washing, and her shoes were always in need of mending and pulling up at the heel.”

One of the most exciting events in the summary of “Great Expectations” is when a well-known London attorney, Mr. Jaggers, informs Pip that he has inherited a fortune and that his life will change forever. Mr. Jaggers is your typical lawyer: obstinate, wealthy, arrogant, and shady. Surprisingly, he does not reveal who the generous person who has provided Pip with this fortune is:

Chapter XVIII“… Second, Mr. Pip, you must understand that the identity of your generous benefactor remains a closely guarded secret until that person chooses to reveal it.”

Pip, who is also shocked, does not even want to speculate because he has already made up his mind about the source of the inheritance:

Chapter XVIII“My wild fantasy had been surpassed by sober reality; Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale.”

Pip is warned not to try to guess or find out who his benefactor is—such was the condition of acquiring the inheritance.

Pip is happy: he remains convinced that his secret benefactor is Miss Havisham, which he interprets to mean that she is likely preparing him to be a suitable husband for Estella. The boy gets new fancy clothes, people start to treat him differently, he moves to London, where he shares an apartment with Herbert Pocket, Bentley Drummle, and Startop, and he takes classes to become a real gentleman. Pip makes quick progress and is soon able to behave just like other high-class people. Pip becomes increasingly ashamed of his past as he interacts with prestigious British society. The boy actively tries to avoid Joe when he comes to visit, but when the news of his sister’s death comes, Pip visits her funeral and begins to feel sorry for being so distant with Joe and Biddy. Pip continues to spend time with Estella when they are both in London; he loves her, but the only feeling she exhibits towards him is contempt and cruelty. After a while, Estella develops a relationship with Pip’s friend Bentley Drummle (which was more of a relationship with his money and status, to be precise), and they get married.

Simultaneously, a re-introduction from the past occurs – the convict Pip met in the graveyard years ago, whose name is Abel Magwitch. Magwitch, it turns out, was the secret benefactor who made Pip wealthy – after the incident in the graveyard, he fled to Australia, made a fortune, and asked Jaggers to look after the boy as a sign of gratitude. Magwitch is a complex character who got into trouble due to bad company and was then set up by a cunning companion. His character exemplifies how inhumane laws and unjust rules imposed by a cynical society gradually degrade a man. Magwitch informs Pip that he is being pursued by another convicted felon, his ex-partner Compeyson, who was notorious for many illegal transactions:

Chapter XLII“… He’d attended a public boarding school and had learned there. He had a smooth demeanor and was well-versed in the ways of gentlefolk. He was also attractive.”

By hearing his life story, the reader realizes that Magwitch is Estella’s true father (her mother is Mr. Jaggers’ housekeeper), and Compeyson is the man who duped Miss Havisham so many years ago.

Pip devises a plan to assist Magwitch in fleeing the country, and Compeyson drowns while attempting to apprehend Magwitch. Magwitch is injured and apprehended. He is then imprisoned and dies as a result of his injuries. Pip had stopped accepting Magwitch’s money a long time ago, and it has now all gone to the benefit of the state. Pip has accumulated debt and finds himself in trouble because he is unable to repay it. When Pip’s health deteriorates, Joe arrives to care for him and even pays off his debts. After recovering, Pip goes to work at the Clarriner’s office in Cairo (Egypt) with his friend Herbert and Herbert’s wife Clara—Pip was the one who got Herbert a job with the company back when he had money.

Pip returns after an 11-year absence to pay a visit to Joe. Joe had married Biddy, and their son was named after Pip.:

Chapter LIX“We named him Pip for your sake, dear old chap… and we hoped he’d grow up to be a little bit like you, which we believe he is.”

Pip meets widowed Estella while walking around the ruins of the Satis House, and the two set out on a new adventure…

Great Expectations Themes and Motives

Social class is a critical factor in determining one’s position in the book. Estella and Pip were both orphans, but the girl was brought up to praise her status and humiliate anyone who didn’t share her status. Estella is a victim of class inequality; she has been taught to dislike people and even things:

Chapter VIIis a critical factor in determining one’s position in the book. Estella and Pip were both orphans, but the girl was brought up to praise her status and humiliate anyone who didn’t share her status. Estella is a victim of class inequality; she has been taught to dislike people and even things:

At the same time, the author demonstrates how some people were fated to live and die in the lower classes, with no chance of moving up the social ladder because others would never accept them:

Chapter IV“In his working clothes, Joe was a well-knit, distinctive-looking blacksmith; in his holiday clothes, he resembled a scarecrow in good circumstances more than anything else.”

Ambition and self-improvement: Charles Dickens mocks the shallow ambitions that many people have, as seen in the characters in “Great Expectations” – they are ordinary, and many of them are financially and/or emotionally poor. Pip’s greatest desire is to be a gentleman, but he does not value himself because of his background:

Chapter VIII“I was a common laboring-boy; my hands were coarse; my boots were thick; I had developed a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks; I was much more ignorant than I had thought myself last night; and I was generally in a low-lived bad way.”

The young boy does not seek genuine self-improvement; instead, he desires the image, the looks, and the respect—all of the superficial things.

Integrity and reputation: Being truthful and sincere wasn’t worth much back then. The characters were doing everything wrong, but no one was stopping them. Miss Havisham, for example, gladly accepts Pip’s gratitude despite the fact that she isn’t the benefactor who paid for his lavish life in London. She later confesses that she pretended to be the one who gave Pip money in order to annoy her family.

Parents in the novel are nothing more than empty vessels – they are absent from the lives of the majority of the characters, and those who take on parental responsibilities fail miserably. “My sister… had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbors because she had brought me up “by hand,” for example” (Chapter II). Pip’s parents were supposed to enroll him in school and teach him to respect himself and others, but no one was there to look after him. Given that Dickens wrote many children’s stories, you’d think that in “Great Expectations,” the author would try to uncover the roots and causes of many childhood misfortunes and broken children’s lives..

Justice is not obvious, but it is an important theme in this book. What is the plot of “Great Expectations?” – It is simply a matter of getting what one deserves. True, the plot is a shambles. However, the characters’ desires and actions are shallow and unjust. Finally, each of them has the opportunity to change their lives, but they choose to behave the way society expects them to.

Generosity: Pip’s life was devoid of acts of kindness or generosity. The only person who treated him with dignity was his sister’s husband, Joe Gargery, whom he later begins to avoid once Pip matures into a gentleman. Magwitch makes Pip a gentleman in order to repay the boy’s “generosity” out of sheer fear for his life; and Pip doesn’t even appreciate Magwitch’s generosity. Miss Havisham believed in him and sponsored him to become a gentleman, which made the boy very happy. When Pip discovers that she did not invest in his education and thus did not intend for Estella to marry him, he panics:

Chapter XXXIX“Miss Havisham’s intentions towards me were all a dream; Estella was not created for me; I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience, a sting for the greedy relations, a model with a mechanical heart to practice on when no other practice was available.”

His entire world crumbles, he feels humiliated, and he decides to flee abroad.