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Themes in Charles Dickens’ Novel “Great Expectations”

‘Great Expectations’ is considered as one of the most sophisticated novels of Charles Dickens, the great Victorian writer. Critics rightly comment that this is a semi-autobiographical work by Dickens decorated with harsh life realities, a tremendous experiment in theme and treatment. The novelist has presented the theme of the novels in various levels which offers the opportunity for the reader to enjoy it from various levels. After the reading of the novel, one feels it as a story that has prominence in all ages. The various themes of the novel are included with Crime, guilt, and innocence, Insurrection of gender identity, social class, alienation and loneliness, Search of identity or self, Victim and victimization, guilt and innocence, etc. they have contributed much in increasing the aesthetic appreciation of the novel and enables the reader to enjoy it in multiple levels. Through his novel, ‘Great Expectations’ Dickens tries to convey the moral message, that is love, loyalty, and conscience are more significant than wealth, social status, and class. Pip, the protagonist follows some ideologies in his life and he has been trying the realization those ideologies.

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The title, “Great Expectations” itself reveals the importance and it is closely related to Pip’s earnest desires. Throughout the novel, he tries to conceive something that is better than what he already acquired. The novelist establishes the theme and presents the protagonist learning the lesson, by searching the thoughts of desire and self-improvement. Even though he realizes that he cannot read and write, he wishes to learn to read and write. Therefore he has great expectations about his life. Pip reveals his expectations through different ways like moral, social, and educational. When he behaves badly to others, his guilt feelings tempt him to act better in the future. For acquiring the attention of Estella, he wishes to reach the level of her social status. Even the case of his sister Pip was more conscious and his moral anxiety has been expressed through his words when he says: “My sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, was more than twenty years older than I, and had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbors because she had brought me up ’by hand’.” (Material provided by the customer). It reveals Pip was not satisfied with his present status. The real consciousness can be seen in his words. The novel ends with the revelation that Pip understands that social and educational improvement is absolutely unimportant to a person’s wrathfulness.

Crime, guilt, and innocence play a vital role in Dickens’s novel Great expectations. The institutional justice system. The image of crime and the criminal procedure becomes the Signe of Pip’s inner struggles. At first, Pip handled the man Magwitch’s fearfulness, cause of his criminal background. He feels guilty for helping the convict. But at the end of the novel, Pip’s conscious mind receives the fact that Magwitch is a nobleman. Here is Pip’s case, the procedures of the criminal justice system including police, courts, and jail become the apparent standard of morality.

The insurrection of gender identity is another conquering theme in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations. Dickens’s characters in this novel try to maintain their gendered identities and they live within the prearranged social status suitable to each sex. Female characters in this novel are presented the domestic area. One can easily prove it through the example of the character of Ms. Havinsham. The given statement rightly comments on Dickens’s treat6ments about the gender status of Victorians. Here Alexa Van Brunt says: “Females in the novel are indubitably confined to the domestic realm throughout the book. Ms. Havisham is an extreme example of this reality, as she has not left Satis House since the morning when she was abandoned by her callous, pilfering fiancé.” (Brunt).

Ms. Havisham never left Satis’s house since late at night when she was discarded by her fiancé. Victorian women were laid the shadow of the male. Men have enjoyed limitless freedom to come and go as they wish.

Another major theme of Dickens’ work is social class. Great Expectation portrays the dark side of the class system of Victorian England. The real state of English social life has been expressed in the novel. Dickens had kept a different approach in writing his novels and when “England was growing rich and powerful in the era of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, Dickens saw the injustice that ran rampant among the working and lower classes.” (Dickens).

Dickens gave prominence to the lower class people that the growth and the power of colonialism. Each and every character of Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’ reveals a particular social class. Magwitch, Pumblechook, Miss Havisham represent various social layers. Poor peasants, middle-class people, the richest people, and the wretched criminals are absolutely helpful for the smooth running of the novel. The hero Pip is also the victim of post-industrial revolution England. Dickens harshly humiliates the Victorian aristocracy and the snobbery of English people.

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Crime, guilt, and innocence are play a vital role in Dickens‘s novel Great expectations. The institutional justice system.The image of crime and criminal procedure becomes the Signe of Pip’s inner struggles.

‘Great Expectations’ stands aloof from the other novels of Dickens in the presentation of characters and themes. It is especially notable for the character formation and in the use of symbolisms. Among the themes discussed in the novel, alienation and loneliness deserves a prominent role in molding the novel to the present stature, though the major theme generally found in Dickens is connected with and fate. Almost all the major characters of the novel are either alienated or feel loneliness, affected with their own deeds or by the after effect of others deeds. The four major characters, the orphans – Mrs. Joe, Magwitch, Estella, and Pip himself- suffers from the loneliness, and they react differently to it. The protagonist of the novel, Pip’s story of life begins in a very pathetic state of affairs and by hinting about the tragedy related to his family. The threat of isolation continues to haunt Pip through his sister when she is threatened with death and later from the convict, Magwith. Even the town ruffian, Orlick tries to assault the adult Pip. When Pip is introduced to the city life friends, then also he is not well accepted and isolation haunts him. Estella’s childhood was affected with the bitterness of loneliness as it was spent with an old woman with a twisted mind. It makes her more conservative and the same later lead her to play cat and mouse on Pip. She never regards Pip equal to her against Miss Havisham’s intention. The escaped convict, Magwitch reveals his life story to Pip, which helps one to understand of his childhood days that have been spent in the dark streets of London. He was also felt alienation during those days and it may have led him to be a criminal. Mrs. Joe is the other character who likes to lead a secluded life, away from the sophisticated and lives with the rough working class men without friends except Joe. As she is the wife of Joe and the guardian of Pip, she becomes rude, antagonistic and violent against those who try to keep a warm relation with her. Jogger is the other character who likes to keep away from the forefront of the society but he admires the wealthy. Pip is the one character who tries to escape from the alienation and the loneliness by being active in the social life and in the company of his friends. He devotes himself to achieve the desired goal or his “expectations.” He realizes that to have wealth is the easiest way to achieve the desired goals of his life.

Search of identity or self is another important theme that has expressed through different characters. When Pip becomes suddenly rich, it naturally creates some problems in his social and moral life. Dickens has been attempted well to study deeply of the social situations of England and he was well versed in the studies of the human mind. He has presented clear reasons for the sudden riches of Pip and he had strongly believed that scientific capitalism will hinder the smooth functioning of social life. “Charles Dickens was one of the first and most astute critics of the ways in which the then new regimens of scientific capitalism could imperil the rhythms of domestic life; and nowhere are both the dangers and adaptive responses more entertainingly drawn than in Great Expectations when the orphan Pip, suddenly and mysteriously made rich, is brought to London.” (Furrow).

This identical crisis is clearly brought out through the protagonist of the novel, Pip. Very often he feels that his personality is being suppressed before others during his attempts to make more wealth and lead a luxurious life. Pip is physically and temperamentally weak and even then he is not ready to give up his dreams of great wealth. His sister always scolds him and he is subjected for the insults of Mrs. Joe, Uncle Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle, Estella and Miss Havisham’s relatives. He is so weak that he cannot engage in any games. It is to escape from such kind of insult; he goes to the city and tries to build up a good personality. In the first day of his appearance he is treated well and even addressed as “Mr. Pip.” While he is staying in the city he feels that he gets back the reputation expect the case with the money. When Joe comes to the town to meet him, he addresses him as ‘sir’ though he was not comfortable with the appearance of Joe’s speech and appearance in the ordinary dress of a villager. Pip was not willing to recognize Magwitch- the convict, though he knows well that it was he who helped him for all his success to be wealthy. Magwitch takes risk to come back to England to meet with Pip. But Pip does not want to see the old man because he thinks that the old man does not fit to his new identity and he now thinks to get rid of the old man as early as possible. Pip is interested to visit the village of Miss Havisham and Estella frequently but he never visits Joe or keeps in touch with him. Later he is ashamed of his activity and apologizes to Magwitch and Havisham and forgives to Miss Havisham for arrogance. Finally Pip apologizes to Joe for everything he did against him. Towards the concluding part of the novel, Pip realizes his real position that it lies in finding out true satisfaction and self-esteem

Victim and victimization are also have been used in the novel with other themes. When one is looking forward to heap more and more wealth, generally it is seen the person will neglect his own surroundings and he will not give any kind human considerations and behaves like devil. But they do not know that the power they gained is equal to the strength of being true to one’s convictions. The main character of the novel Pip learns this lesson and becomes ready to imprint it into the rest of his life. Some of the characters of the novels are made victims or they are victimized by the others or by the circumstances. The protagonist of the novel, Pip acts himself as a victim or it can be inferred that he was victimized by his friends and others in his attempt to make much money to maintain a good relation with Estella. The social conditions victimize the convict Magwitch, who fights against it as Pip before him to protect him from being arrested. Estella often insults Pip, for not having the appearance matching to hers. But finally she was ready to give him the equal status with her. Pip’s doubts regarding wealth, is one among the causes for his victimization.

A deep reading of the novel brings to the readers mind the thought about guilt and innocence, which has been presented as one of the themes. As he was helping the convict, Pip has had a guilt feeling but he thinks that some great powers are waiting to catch and prosecute the convict. After reading the novel it is seen that all the guilty are properly punished and it is done by some who is more powerful than a king. The evil doers of the novel have been suffered in the novel and they either feel repentance over their deeds or they beg pardon. Examples are spotted from Pip and Miss Havisham, who feel great remorse of their deeds and apologizes. Pip has the final realization and he admits all his faults.

After analyzing the various themes presented in the novel, one can infer that each theme stands different but are linked in some other way. Charles Dickens has been succeeded in his attempt to present these themes Crime, guilt, and innocence, Insurrection of gender identity, social class, alienation and loneliness, Search of identity or self, Victim and victimization, guilt and innocence etc. His craftsmanship as a novelist has been well expressed through this novel and most of the critics are of the view that it the novel has the autobiographical elements which makes the reader feels more intensity towards it. The problem of a person to identify himself with the rich and his search of his lost identity are the serious themes discussed in the novel. Alienation is intolerable to him and he is ready to move at any extent to regain his lost identity. Though he is often insulted and abused by others he suffers everything patiently and finally wins in his attempt to turn them in favor of him. The novelist has succeeded in portraying the different social classes. He makes it clear through the life of Pip, who at the beginning of the novel a very poor boy becomes rich and sophisticated towards the end, with the help of the escaped convict. Victim and victimization was the other important theme that discussed in the novel. Pip, the protagonist of the novel has been made a victim of the upper and lower class divisions and it is the same that tempts him to be wealthy. It is this suppressive mentality of the rich affected him too much. Later he becomes courageous enough to retaliate against this type of social injustice by becoming one among them. To conclude one can infer that the different themes presented in the novel have been created a special attraction by maintaining the thread of the novel. Though there are different themes in the novel, one will not feel the excess of it and feel that they are necessary to maintain the free flow of it.

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Works Cited

Brunt, Van Alexa. Subversion of Gender Identity in Great Expectation. The Victorian Web.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Shmoop. 2008. Web.

Furrow, Dwight. Moral Soundings: Readings on the Crisis of Values in Contemporary Life. 2004. Rowman & Littlefield.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 26). Themes in Charles Dickens’ Novel “Great Expectations”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/themes-in-charles-dickens-novel-great-expectations/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 26). Themes in Charles Dickens’ Novel “Great Expectations”. https://studycorgi.com/themes-in-charles-dickens-novel-great-expectations/

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"Themes in Charles Dickens’ Novel “Great Expectations”." StudyCorgi, 26 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/themes-in-charles-dickens-novel-great-expectations/.

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StudyCorgi. "Themes in Charles Dickens’ Novel “Great Expectations”." November 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/themes-in-charles-dickens-novel-great-expectations/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Themes in Charles Dickens’ Novel “Great Expectations”." November 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/themes-in-charles-dickens-novel-great-expectations/.

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