Great expectations was written by Charles Dickens not as a novel, but as episodes in a journal. Dickens himself was an entertainer and serious writer. He used his books to send across a message and campaign for social justice. His books contain autobiographical aspects as he spent time as a court reporter and saw severe punishments given to poor people. The rich were always lucky and got lesser harsh sentences and the poor got harsher ones and were sent away to colonies like Australia. Debts and debtors prisons were also present in his novels and it reflects on his past as when he was a child his father often got into debt and eventually his family was put into a debtor’s prison. As he was the eldest son he was sent out to work in a blacking factory at the age of 12 which he never forgot that experience. His other books showing hard Victorian lives were Oliver Twist and Bleak House, but unfortunately his work doesn’t last long and he dies in 1870.
The book is about a young boy whose life is changed by a mysterious run of events. He meets an escaped convict where he had several frightening and strange encounters, a life in the care of Mrs. Joe to which he quickly learns lessons with the tickler and an adulthood of strange circumstances.
Pip (Phillip Pirrip, if you want to go by his real names) is an orphan who is brought up by his sister Mrs. Joe, married to a caring blacksmith called Joe Gargery. Mrs. Joe is a very short tempered woman who Pip describes has “such a prevailing redness of skin” that he, Pip that is, “sometimes wondered if she washed herself with a nutmeg grater rather than some soap”. She always boasted that she had “brought him up by hand” and the ‘tickler’ which was a cane Mrs. Joe used on Pip, became a household name in the family. The description of Mrs. Joe has a very different contrast to that if her husband, Joe who was a fair man, mild, good natured, sweet tempered easy going and so many other good qualities. Joe, however will never lay a hand on any woman because when he was young he was abused and tortured by his father, who was very cruel to him.
Now Pip had very basic education as at the time education wasn’t free and families had to pay 2 tuppences a week (about 2p) for education in a village school which he was even fortunate to attend. He also gets more help from Biddy, who is the granddaughter of the owner of the school. Meanwhile Joe who is very impressed, beams out in pride “what a scholar you are! An’t you?” Most lower class people are illiterate, but with Biddy’s help Pip “struggles through the alphabet as if it had been a bramble bush.”
Soon after Uncle Pumblechook arrives visiting his sister and tells her that Pip has been selected to visit Miss Havisham and play with her since Uncle P is a tenant of Miss Havisham After a hearty meal with bits of wine Uncle Pumblechook takes Pip to see the famous Miss Havisham. When they arrive, there Pip meets Estella who lives with Miss Havisham, for the first time and to his surprise a girl of roughly the same age as him, addresses him as ‘Boy’ and she is also very scornful of him. He finally gets what he comes for and meets Miss Havisham, the legend and as he walks down the corridor he gets very afraid when Estella leaves him alone. He enters the ‘forbidden room’ and inevitably as children do takes an inquisitive look around;
“No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it”
And amidst the darkness, he finds “In an armchair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand” sat the strangest lady he had ever seen;
“She was dressed in rich materials-satins and lace, and silks- all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other bright jewels lay sparkled on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore and half-packed trunks were scattered out.”
Pip also notices that all that was white had “lost its luster, and was faded and yellow” and that her watch and the clock in the room all stopped at 20 minutes to nine. She has never seen the sun since Pip was born and doesn’t seem to care for anyone. This behavior might be linked to the fact that she had been jilted by a mysterious man years ago and since then she has never been the same. Miss Havisham then asks him some strange questions and when she asks him to play on of her “sich fancies” he doesn’t know what to do and she makes him get Estella.
As he calls Estella back in he feels alone and out of place and says;
“To stand in the dark of a mysterious passage of an unknown house, bawling Estella to a scornful young lady neither visible nor responsive, and feeling it a dreadful liberty so to war out her name, was almost as bad as playing to order. But, she answered at last, and her light came along the dark passage like a star.”
This is an interesting play on words as Estella’s name means star and Pip describes her as a star. Pip then gets his first experiences within the class system as when Miss Havisham asks Estella to play cards wit him she screams
“With this boy! Why he is a common labouring -boy!”
And Pip thinks he overhears Miss Havisham say ” Well? You can break his heart” to which he finds out later in the book that he has Estella, who speaks to Pip with the greatest disdain, has been brought up as her revenge on men.
Pip then, unknowingly makes a huge mistake and is heavily insulted by Estella;
‘He calls the knaves Jacks, this boy!” not taking any chances to feel sorry for him.
“And what coarse hands he has. And what thick boots!”
Estella won the game inevitably and Pip felt as if she was waiting for the least mistakes and then lash out at him. Miss Havisham also enjoys seeing him humiliated by Estella and uses her as bait to try and lure him back to Satis house.
After that Pip reflects on what happened with Miss Havisham and looked at his hands, which “had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now as vulgar appendages.” He then starts to blame his guardians and is “determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught mw to call those picture-cards, Jacks, which ought to be called knaves.” And he also wishes that his family were more “genteelly brought up.”
It is the beginning of his separation with his one and only Joe and there is more to come from Estella as “she gave me the bread and meat without looking at me, as insolently as if I were a dog in disgrace. I was so humiliated, hurt, offended, spurned, angry,” This shows that he feels worthless and is now forever drawn to Estella.
Pip then returns home to a curious welcome from his family and is bombarded by questions from everyone especially Uncle Pumblechook who firsts asks about the legendary Miss Havisham. Pip’s reply “Very tall and dark” is treated with great certainty by uncle Pumblechook and Pip spots that he hasn’t seen her before so he makes a story of her appearance and what he did with all believing it.
There are continued visits to Miss H and the final straw to Pips separation with Joe is when a lawyer called Mr.Jaggers strangely arrives at the forge and tells him that he has had a mysterious benefactor to which he must speak nothing of his whereabouts. He also said that Pip is to move to London and become a gentleman, surely then he is to be a man of great expectations with the “mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me.” Pip thinks though that his benefactor is Miss H but during the course of the play we find out that it actually is Magwitch, a convict whom he helped years ago but got deported to Australia
In the essay we can clearly see that it’s about the class systems in Victorian England where people were different differently according to their status. It was very rigid and there were little options between the classes. There was also a harsh penal system with people who did minor crimes e.g. Molly who was nearly sent away, transported to Australia in hulks which were old warships. The setting of the book also makes it perfect for Dickens to describe the class system as the Kent marshes were places were the lower class people were, taking in the fact that he had stayed there before and London, the obvious place for the gentlemen.
The word ‘gentleman’ is a key statement in the story as Magwitch is given a harsher sentence while his other prisoner,Compeyson, who is a gentleman, is given a much lesser one so Pip is brought up to be Magwitch’s revenge on society. On the other hand though, Miss Havisham who we find out later in the book has been jilted by the same Compeyson has brought up Estella to be her revenge on men. We also see the effects used by Dickens in terms of the language between the class system when his voice changes when he gets angry at Drummel and the expressions used by Joe in relation to the ones used by e.g. Herbert with characters also having very original names.