Free Study Guide for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Book Summary
At times, actual characters seem menacing or dangerous, qualities usually associated with antagonists. Orlick, for example, is Pip’s first enemy. He resents Pip and seriously wounds Mrs. Joe. Later, he tries to kill Pip. Drummle, for his part, is known as the “Spider.” He baits Pip continually and steals Estella away as his wife, only to abuse her. Compeyson haunts Pip and Magwitch, eventually causing Magwitch serious wounds and successfully aiding the police in capturing him. These three, more than any other characters, provide the texture of the dramatic tension in the novel.
Estella and Miss Havisham occupy a special place in the dramatic breakdown of the novel as well. For some time, both are mildly threatening characters; Estella with her alternating cruelty and kindness and Miss Havisham with her morbid dress and rotten cake. Bitterness has led Miss Havisham to train Estella in coldness. And Estella herself warns Pip with certainty that she can only hurt him and that she is not capable of returning his love. In the end, Miss Havisham repents of her bitterness and Estella and Pip part as friends, but roles of these two women in sustaining the dramatic tension of the novel cannot be ignored.
The climax occurs when Pip learns the identity of his benefactor. In that moment, all his great expectations dissolve into shame of the convict and disgust with himself for his gradual change. He knows now that he is not destined to marry Estella, nor is he any less common than he was as a blacksmith’s apprentice. As well, he is obligated to protect his benefactor out of loyalty and gratitude. The foundation of assumptions and expectations on which he has built his life is completely shaken.
Pip lays aside his expectations of greatness. He protects his benefactor
and realizes that this convict has been more loyal to him than he has
been to Joe. He makes sure he will not have access to any more of the
convict’s money and acknowledges the dignity of laboring for his own keep.
He apologizes to Joe and Biddy for his lack of loyalty to them. Finally,
eleven years later, he meets Estella and is able to part from her as friends.
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. 11 May 2008