Charles Dickens’s 13th novel, Great Expectations, is often considered one of his best. It has everything readers have come to expect from the great writer, including a charismatic orphan, a mysterious benefactor, and a stream of morally dubious members of the Victorian upper and lower classes. The complex plot involves a series of betrayals, revelations, and coincidences but, at its heart, it’s a story about a boy who is trying to improve himself. At various points, Pip wants to be better educated, be a better person, and find a better position in society. As he grows up, he slowly begins to learn which of these is most important.
With a title like Great Expectations, it is no surprise that the novel’s main theme is self-improvement and ambition. Pip has big plans for his future: despite being a blacksmith’s apprentice, he is desperate to become a gentleman and marry the wealthy Estella. What ambitions fuel our actions today?
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When Pip encounters the strange Miss Havisham at Satis House, he immediately wants to become a part of her elite class – and often treats his lower-class friends and family appallingly. But as Pip grows older and meets people from all walks of life, he realises that character and conscience are far more important.
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Pip is not perfect – he makes a lot of mistakes and is often consumed by guilt afterwards. He slowly earns forgiveness and learns to forgive others – including the noble-hearted convict Magwitch. It is a lesson that Miss Havisham, jilted and bitter, took decades to understand.
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Love and heartbreak go hand-in-hand throughout the novel. Miss Havisham never got over the day she was left at the altar, and she raises Estella to break the hearts of men – including Pip – in revenge. More than 150 years later, there is still no cure for a broken heart.
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All of the clocks in Satis House have been stopped. Years after her wedding day, Miss Havisham still wears the same dress. But time keeps moving on anyway – and it is only with time that Pip can fully understand the world he lives in.
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