Great Expectations

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.