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Themes in Great Expectations

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Introduction

Themes in Great Expectations By a theme we mean an idea that runs through the text. A text may have one theme, or many. Understanding the themes makes the text more than 'just' a story - it becomes something more significant, because we're encouraged to think deeper about the story and work out what lies beyond the plot. Growing up (and growing wiser) * Great Expectations is a book about growing up. The reader meets Pip when he is seven, and follows his life until he meets Estella again (after 11 years apart) at the age of 35. * The proper term for this kind of story is the German word bildungsroman (meaning 'instruction novel'). * The fact that Pip is also the narrator of the story makes it more instructive, because he is able to interpret the meaning of what is happening, as well as see it through a child's eyes. * The reader lives Pip's life with him, and we see: o the way contact with rich people makes him dissatisfied. o how coming into money makes him shallow and selfish, and unhappy. o how trying to find love with a beautiful, yet cruel, girl makes him unhappy - the plain, good girl would have been better. ...read more.

Middle

* Biddy is happy with her lot. She cheerfully does the drudge's jobs, yet she catches education "like a cold" and becomes the village schoolteacher. * Herbert Pocket longs to make money in commerce, but is unable to do so until Pip buys him a job at Clarriker's. Having got the job, he goes out to Cairo, works hard, and makes a decent living. * Bentley Drummle is at the top of the social heap, but wastes his position and talents, and dies without accomplishing anything. * Mr Wopsle longs to act on the stage, pursues his dream and succeeds. Although he only has small parts in second-rate vaudeville, he is happy and fulfilled. * Wemmick strictly divides his working life from his personal life. Although his letterbox mouth betrays his unhappiness in his job, at home he is relaxed and happy. From the above, what do you make of Dickens' attitude to ambition versus accepting your lot? One conclusion is that Dickens felt illusions make you unhappy, and ambition does not bring success. What matters to Dickens is not what you achieve, but what kind of person you are. Love and loyalty Dickens explores love and loyalty in Great Expectations. He makes it clear that they underlie happiness (when things go well) ...read more.

Conclusion

This message would appeal to his middle class/upper working class readership. Crime and the law Dickens had a social conscience and was deeply critical of the existing system of law and justice. (Remember that his father was imprisoned for debt.) Issues relating to crime and the law run throughout Great Expectations. * The story starts with Pip meeting a 'fearful' criminal in a cemetery, who makes him steal a file and food. * Compeyson's crime destroys Miss Havisham psychologically. * Because Compeyson looks a 'gentleman', he manages to blame Magwitch, and receives a lighter sentence. * Orlick is a murderer. * Jaggers continually washes his hands with soap. Dickens makes it clear he is as guilty as the criminals he protects. * In Chapter 32, Wemmick and Pip visit Newgate prison. Pip finds it "much neglected". * Magwitch is transported to Australia. But although he has been "in jail and out of jail", he is a good and noble man. * It is Magwitch, not the law, who delivers justice to Compeyson. Dickens' shocking conclusion is that, in Victorian England, some criminals were good men trapped by an unfair system, that punishment missed the guilty, that lawyers were rotters, and that prison was an inhuman place - in short, that England's system of justice was wholly unjust. ...read more.

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