Questions for study with ideas for answers.
Q: Dickens draws from personal experiences when writing his novels.
What examples are evident in Great Expectations?
Ideas: In poor families children were sent out at an early age to work in
order to help support the family. This meant that children were poorly educated and had no prospects of progress when they reached adulthood.
Dickens worked in a blacking warehouse, pasting labels to bottles in order to support his mother and seven brothers and sisters while their father was in debtors’ prison.
Dickens/Pip realized that the only escape from a life of poverty was to
obtain an education. Both were determined to better themselves for the only way they could have control over their own lives was to achieve a good position in the social structure.
Dickens was a lonely child, and many of the characters in his novels are
either orphans, do not know their own parents, or their parents are dependant on the child.
Q: Great Expectations is essentially a dark tale with even the main
character developing from a heroic boy to an obnoxious young gentleman, a snob. How does Dickens bring light into his story?
Ideas: The plot is dotted with colorful eccentric characters and Dickens
humorously describes the description of their behavior and appearance. He uses amusing character tags to highlight this.
There are also classic scenes that bring light relief to the plot e.g.
Herbert’s instruction of Pip regarding his table manners; Wemmick’s wedding day, which Pip thinks is going to be a fishing trip (Wemmick has certainly made a good catch); and the bequests left by Miss Havisham to
her various relatives.
Q: Great Expectations was originally written in serial form.
What method did Dickens use to enable the reader to easily identify with the characters?
Ideas: The vast majority of characters have odd names, which aid the
memory. To supplement this, Dickens also used character tags, which enabled the reader to obtain a clear image of the player e.g. ‘the soap-scented man’ refers to Jaggers; the pale, young gentleman
refers to Herbert Pocket; ‘the small bundle of shivers’ refers to Pip as a boy; ‘letterbox mouth’ refers to Wemmick; ‘being brought up by hand’ was Mrs. Joe’s constant reminder to Pip; ‘old
chap’ the way Joe refers to Pip; ‘the walnut shell countenance’ of Miss Sarah Pocket; and ‘hair rumpling’ by Pumblechook.
Q: Great Expectations is the title of this novel.
How does this relate to the story itself?
Pip makes the assumption that his windfall has come from Miss Havisham, and therefore, his expectations include getting an education, becoming a gentleman, receiving an income, living in the city, and most importantly, marrying Estella. He, therefore, concludes that he is being groomed to be Estella’s husband. Miss Havisham goes along with this situation on two counts, firstly she wishes to antagonize her parasitical relatives, and secondly, to draw Pip into the web of deceit and then crush all his hopes for Estella.
Pip learns quickly how to be a gentleman and his plans for marrying Estella
and being an established member of the ruling class seem on course, until the true identity of his benefactor is revealed.
Magwitch wishes to flaunt his prot'g' in public, thus obtaining some sort of revenge on the society that has wronged him.
Pip considers that his position is tainted, even though the money he has
spent was honestly acquired by Magwitch, thus ruining his expectations.