Major Themes in Great Expectations by Andrea Gray


About the Author
Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He was the second child and eldest son of eight children. In 1822 the family moved to London and soon found itself in financial crisis. One of the most traumatic periods of his life began in February 1824, when his father was sent to debtors’ prison. Dickens became a reporter in 1832, and in 1833 he began publishing short stories and essays. In 1836 he married Catherine Hogarth. The couple had ten children, but their marriage was unhappy and ended in 1858. His successful career as a novelist began in 1837 with the publication of "The Pickwick Papers". Dickens at the time of writing the "Great Expectations" was rather depressed and harbored vague feelings of guilt. This emotional state may have influenced the concern with guilt in the novel, and the general tone of the book. He made readers laugh, cry, and confront social evils and institutions of his day. On his death in 1870, a London Times article praised Dickens for displaying "an extraordinary combination of intellectual and moral qualities".


When Dickens started his thirteenth novel, Great Expectations, in 1860, he was already a national hero. Sometime in 1860, Dickens had started a piece that he found funny and truthful and thought it might do better as a novel: " so opens out before me that I can see the whole of a serial revolving on it, in a most singular and comic manner," he wrote. Dickens had told friends that he had gone back and read David Copperfield and was quite struck by the story now that he looked back upon it. Though not considered as autobiographical as David Copperfield which he had published some ten years earlier, the character of Pip represented a Dickens who had learned some hard lessons in his later life. Especially strong throughout the novel are the concepts of fraternal and romantic love, how society thwarts them, how a man should find them. Though a dark novel, Great Expectations was deliberately more humorous than his book A Tale of Two Cities. All in all, Great Expectations is considered the best balanced of all Dickens' novels, though a controversy still persists over the ending. Dickens had originally written an ending where Pip and Estella never get back together. Many critics, including George Bernard Shaw, believe that this rather depressing ending was more consistent with the overall theme and tone of the novel, which began, continued, and perhaps should have finished with a serious, unhappy note. Nevertheless, Dickens published the ending where all is forgiven and Estella and Pip walk out of Satis House garden together. It was, perhaps, and ending that Dickens would have liked to have had for his own life.

Brief Summary

Great Expectations is a story of a boy who is an orphan who is being raised at this time by his sister and her husband. One Christmas Eve he comes face to face with a convict who Pip is terrified by. A while later after this incident a woman invites Pip to her house to play. There Pip falls in love with a young girl, Estella, even though she makes fun of him every day. He continues to visit them until her reaches an age that he is able to work with his sister's husband Joe. Pip unexpected, received a visit from a lawyer named Jaggers and told Pip that someone has paid for him to receive a gentleman's education in London. Pip jumps at his chance to impress Estella, and he is convinced that Miss Havisham has paid for his chance. When being in London Pip becomes depressed and guilty of leaving Joe behind. Pip becomes in debt because he starts to live the life of a real gentleman. Later Pip finds out that Estella is in London and after he sees her again he falls deep in love with her. Pip returns home shortly after that for the funeral of his sisters. Pip finds that Estella is marrying a former fellow student who Pip thinks is snobby and uptight. He tries to convince Estella to do otherwise but she just brushes him off. When visiting Miss Havisham she apologizes to Pip how she has taught Estella to torture him. She becomes so upset that she sets herself on fire but Pip manages to save her. Magwitch, the convict Pip runs into at the beginning, reveals himself to Pip that he is the one paying for his education. Pip and Herbert try to hide Magwitch but he is betrayed by an old friend and is caught by the police and sentenced to death. When Magwitch dies his property is turned over and Pip is left without any money to pursue his education. Pip becomes very sick because he is so upset about Magwitch's death, but Joe helps Pip to recover and to pay some of his debts. Pip returns home so that he is able to thank Joe for everything that he had done and finds out that Joe has married Pip's old teacher and friend Biddy. Pip has plans to join Herbert's firm where he would have to move to Cairo for several years. While visiting Joe he also goes to visit Miss Havisham and see Estella there, and he learns that Estella has been through a bad marriage and death of husband. Pip and her end up talking, catching up, and fall in love together.

Major Themes

When Dickens is writing his book his themes are very noticeable to the reader and very specific. Dickens tries to show through the themes in his book on how they relate to parts of his own personal life. There are many themes in Great Expectations but there are only a few that are major ones that stick out the most in his book.

Loneliness- Throughout his book Dickens shows a lot of this through the main character Pip. Dickens shows how Pip visits his parent's graves often to show that he is lonely without them being around for him. Also Miss Havisham shows to be lonely at times as well, especially since Estella is getting married and she never seems to be happy around Pip or anyone.

Obsession- This theme is not used in different scenarios but used quite often throughout the book. The reason this is placed under a major theme because of how often it is used and who it is used between. Dickens shows how Pip is obsessed with Estella and that he never gives up on her. Even though she makes fun of him since the first day that they have met he keeps on going until he gets what he wants at the end of the book.

Greed- This is shown often through the main character Pip, and he shows it through the second half of the book after he receives his gentleman's education. He shows how he only wants to heighten his social and economic status and that is why he does everything. Especially jumping at the chance to receive a better education and why he wants to be with Estella because she is already high up in social status.

Gratitude- Pip does not show any gratitude towards anyone that has got him through his whole life. Joe who gave him a job when he became of age and help raised him. Magwitch who has given him the chance of a real education in life so that he would be able to succeed and receive bigger and better thing. Both of these people Pip has not shown gratitude towards and he just turns his back on them.

Suffering- There are two scenarios where there occurs suffering and is also considered to be major parts of the book. Pip suffers from the death of Magwitch and shortly after falls greatly ill and Joe has to take care of him and pays off some of his debts. The reason I think he acts this way is because he receives all the debt and he can no longer continue his education. Another one is how Miss Havisham suffers her whole life it seems and how she lives in the past and not what could happen in the future.

Works Cited