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Free Study Guide for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens-Book Summary

 

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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

Charles Dickens is said to have explored a new ground in his novel, Great Expectations. The theme of self-knowledge explored in the novel expresses in part Dickensí own search for a sense of self. May readers and historians have suggested that Pip has a touch of Dickens in him, making the fictional book feel almost autobiographical.

Structurally, the novel is a narration by a mature and retrospective Pip. It is divided into three distinct ďstages,Ē each labeled as a specific ďstage of Pipís expectations.Ē In chronological fashion, these chapters trace Pipís progress from industrious obscurity as a child through willful idleness as an adolescent and young adult, to a resigned and modest acceptance of his true place in society. This is an obvious variation on the picaresque theme and carries with it many of the significant overtones of earlier picaresque novels.

The first stage introduces all the major characters and sets the plot in motion. Pipís situation is developed fully, including the first seeds of his desire to be ďuncommon.Ē It leads to the revelation by Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, that Pip is to inherit a huge fortune and become a gentleman. It is something Pip considers as miraculous, though mysterious, as his patronís identity is not to be revealed for the time being. Mr. Jaggers only imparts to him that his benefactor has great expectations from him and so with the support of his anonymous provider, Pipís expectations of himself also rise, and the action shifts to London.

The second stage of Pipís expectations, therefore, has a change of setting. In this section, Pipís development into a ďgentlemanĒ is explored. It describes the spendthrift and idle way Pip squanders wealth and what kind of person he has become. On the surface of things, Pip believes that he is living up to his great expectations. He also expects to have Estellaís hand in marriage. But this stage of his expectations is brutally shattered when Magwitch discloses his identity to Pip.

The third stage of Pipís expectations explores the complete collapse of Pipís great expectations, which are replaced by a more mature sense of life and respectability. This section primarily constitutes his transformation, which has been at the heart of the novel. Such a pattern of growth, development and re-education reflects the Bildungsroman tradition of Great Expectations.


The novel, though divided into these three stages, is further divided into episodic chapters due to the publication of the novel serially. Each chapter must necessarily have a complete movement as well as some sort of trigger that will induce the reader to buy the magazine the following week in order to see what will happen next.


THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Pipís great expectations are a dramatized exploration of human growth and the pressures that distort the potential of an ordinary individual, especially in the process of growing up. Pip is a simple blacksmithís boy who aspires to cross social boundaries when he realizes his own upbringing is common; however, he has no means to change. Mysteriously, he is given the means, but wealth only brings with it idleness. He learns that happiness in life can be achieved only by hard work and that great expectations not grounded in reality can only lead to tragedy and heartache.

Part of this theme is an exploration of the dignity of labor. Pip initially feels ashamed to associate himself with Joe but later realizes that hard work brings honor to a man. As for honor, Pip realizes the importance of traits like loyalty and kindness, and eventually understands that no amount of money can make up for the lack of those traits. Supplementary to this theme is the sharp juxtaposition of appearance and reality, as well as the traditional notion that pride comes before a fall. Pip learns valuable lessons from his misguided assumptions. And his pride causes him to do things he is later ashamed of. A final thematic consideration is the belief that goodness is always able to supplant evil, even in characters like Miss Havisham. Mrs. Joe, Magwitch, Estella, and Pip are further examples of characters whose inherent goodness is apparent despite their wrongdoings.

Essentially, it is a novel about contentment and humility, as well as honor. The thematic notion of great expectations touches on every aspect of common emotions like pride, ambition, envy, greed, and arrogance. The lesson Pip learns is that one should never presume he is better than another. As Joe tells him, it is far better to be uncommon on the inside than the outside. A personís possessions do not matter as much as a personís actions.


AUTHOR'S STYLE

Dickens has shaped Great Expectations on the lines of the Bildungsroman genre, which closely follows the inner growth of a protagonist from his childhood to middle age. In many respects, it contains themes and emotions directly related to the authorís experience. However, the fictional nature of the story allows Pip to relate incidents and events that are similar to sensitive spots in Dickensí own life without becoming too deeply involved in the narration himself. For instance, the description of Pipís childhood has some affinity with Dickens own life. Also, Estella seems directly inspired from Maria Beadwell, a lady whom Dickens loved; Beadwell snubbed him coldly because of his low social status.

Great Expectations boasts a carefully designed structure in three emergent stages. The simplicity of childhood memories in stage one is reflected in the generally direct narrative style. In contrast, the texture of stage three is much more complex, because as the action accelerates, substantial information about the histories of Magwitch, Compeyson, Miss Havisham and Estella are revealed.

Great Expectations is a rich text illustrative of Dickensí gift for realistic and dramatic speech. The author carefully studied the mannerisms of people and reported them in the depictions of his characters. Joe is a good example. The speech patterns he uses characterize him well and endear him to the reader much more than mere incidents or descriptions that describe him to be soft hearted.

A novel with a vast range of subject and incident like that in Great Expectations has to be written carefully, paying great attention to unity and detail. Of all Dickensí works, this one is generally thought to be the best. The fine tapestry of the novel is woven with vivid scenes of London as well as misty recollections of the marshlands. The haunted stagnancy of Satis House is an ever-present character in and of itself. In the midst of all this graphic description and palpable action, there is also an internal transformation taking place, one in which Pip learns to appreciate his true self and position in society. The varied texture of the novel in all these aspects sustains and maintains the interest of the reader, highlighting the completely balanced style of Dickens as a master craftsman.


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