1. It was then I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago. I noticed that Miss Havisham put down the jewel exactly on the spot from which she had taken it up. As Estella dealt the cards, I glanced at the dressing-table again, and saw that the silk stocking on it once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without this arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud. (Dickens, Great Expectations 55)

For fifty-four years she will sit on a blue velvet chair before the window in an upper room — staring now straight before her down the cluttered thoroughfare of Water Street to the Ouse but it is doubtful whether she will see these things. She will retain the paradoxical pose of one who keeps watch — but over nothing. She will not lose her beauty. Her upright, forward-looking posture will convey an undeniable grace. Even in old age when her flesh has shrunk but the firm mould of her bones remains, she will preserve the sadly imperious demeanour of an exiled princess. (Swift, Waterland 78)

Both of these excerpts describe women who are relics of the past, of frozen time, their conditions caused by the actions of men whom they were going to marry/were married to. Both Miss Havisham and Sarah Atkinson live in the days of yesterday, yet maintain a hold over the lives of today. In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham maliciously encourages Estella in the breaking of Pip's heart. In Waterland, rumors abound of Sarah's communication with her sons and of her gift of prophecy in the town of Gildsey, and of her apparition seen after her death. In what other ways are Miss Havisham and Sarah Atkinson similar? In what ways are they different? In what ways do both still maintain a grasp over the present and the future from their “blue velvet chairs," unable to relinquish the past, and like Madame Defarge inexorably knitting in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities “sees nothing," yet sees everything? (Juliet Liu)

2. In Great Expectations, Pip describes his surroundings with the wide-eyed fascination of any young boy:

It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders' webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village--a direction which they never accepted, for they never came there--was invisible to me until I was quite close under it. Then, as I looked up at it, while it dripped it seemed to my oppressed conscience like a phantom devoting me to the Hulks. (17)

Pip's perceptions of his village are governed by youth and fear. The fear lying in the runaway prisoners threatening to eat him and from his sister, Mrs. Joe, who raised him “by hand." This technique of deep description can be taken from Wordsworth and Keats, but Dickens does so in prose. Therefore, the heavy description serves a double purpose--not only to provide an image for the reader but to show Pip's youthful depiction of the world around him. How are these two purposes balanced? How does Dickens's way of portraying nature compare and contrast to Wordsworth's and Keats's? How is Pip's youthfulness subdued by the dull environment around him?

3. Charles Dickens's Great Expectations makes much use of metaphor, intertwined with folk and religious parables, in order to create much of the imagery in the text. One particular passage is:

I struggled through the alphabet as if it had been a bramble-bush; gettingconsiderably worried and scratched by every letter. After that, I fell among those thieves, the nine figures, who seemed every evening to do something new to disguise themselves and baffle recognition. But at last I began, in a purblind groping way, to read, write, and cipher, on the very smallest scale. (Dickens 44)

Here, Pip's road to education is seen as a sort of archetypal journey. The allusion to brambles could not only be referring to several folk and fairy tales (the thorns covering the castle in Sleeping Beauty, the brambles that scratch out the Prince's eyes in Rapunzel, the briar patch), but also to Christ's crown of thorns. This is followed by the idea of Pip falling among thieves, which is noted as a reference to Christ's tale of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). Themes of disguise, stumbling, and youthful mistakes are evoked. How much of Dickens fairy tale imagery is intentional? How does this relate to the idea of Great Expectations as a Bildungsroman, with Pip on a road towards self-discover and moral redemption? Do the references transform this story beyond a merely personal level and into some greater significance? (lexi adams)

4. “I wonder who's put into prison-ships, and why they're put there?" said I, in a general way, and with quiet desperation.
It was to much for Mrs. Joe, who immediately rose. “I tell you what, young fellow," said she, “I didn't bring you up by hand to badger people's lives out. It would be blame to me, and not praise, I had. People are put in the hulks because they murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions. Now, you get along to bed!" (Charles Dickens' Great Expectations 14-15).

Mrs. Joe explains to Pip why people are put on prison ships: “People are put in the hulks because they murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions." Pip's encounter with the convict did, indeed, whet his curiosity and inspire him to ask questions. Further, he finds himself boxed into stealing for the convict, and thus presumes himself to be on the path to prison: “I was clearly on my way there. I had begun by asking questions, and I was going to rob Mrs. Joe" (15). Pips's concerns represent a process of definition by projection; that is, Pip thinks himself a budding convict because he has followed the earlier stages of Mrs. Joe's description of the path to incarceration. What is faulty about his logic? Indeed, in the context of the book's mechanisms of reality, is his logic faulty at all? Consider the fact that when the convict conjures up the story of a fierce young man on page 6, a mysterious, bruised young man does appear out of the mist on page 17. (Darren Smith)

5. I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog's way of eating and the man's. The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger in every direction of somebody's coming to take the pie away. (16)

Charles Dickens' Great Expectations is packed with similes at every turn. Described by the narrator, Pip, elements of comparison are ostensibly drawn from Pip's life. His comparison of the convict to the dog is very much a young boy's observation. His description also, on the other hand, suggests to the reader perceptions of which Pip himself is not aware. Thus Dickens is constantly present within the text as a source of authorial perspective. This is true throughout his use of similes as well as in his ways of naming characters such as Pip, Joe, Mrs. Joe, Also Georgiana, and Estella.

How is the voice of the narrator in Great Expectations related to both Pip and Dickens? What is Dickens' purpose in using Pip's observations to describe people and events? What sort of hierarchy is thus established? Is Dickens more or less realistic as a result? (Wendy Eberhart)

6.My sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, was more than twenty years older than I, and had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbours because she had brought me up “by hand." Having at that find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand.

In Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, the narrator, Pip, describes his sister as raising him “by hand" and he tells the reader that the neighbors and people surrounding him admire that about her. We also learn that Pip's sister Mrs. Joe Gargery is the wife of a blacksmith (Mr. Joe Gargery). Already, there seems to be an emphasis on hands. A denotation, in Pip's community, of hands on work and physcial labor. Is this an symbol of the class Pip lives in? Does the stratification of class coincide with a gap between the physical, tangible and the indirect or distant. Will later reading of the novel provide a contrast to the qualities of Pip's social class that seem to be presented in the first chapters regarding Pip's background? (Ama Codjoe)

7. As I passed the church, I felt (as I had felt during service in the morning) a sublime compassion for the poor creatures who were destined to go there, Sunday after Sunday, all their lives through, and to lie obscurely among the low green mounds (147)

Pip's description of the peasants' lifestyle in this passage from Great Expectations is reminiscent of Tom Crick's description of the uneventful, phlegmatic lifestyle of the fenlanders. Pip, like Tom, feels painfully different, separate from them, but instead of envying them their peace (as does Tom) he pities them. The notion of “sublime" is also brought up in this passage; the pain of sublimity seems to hold more value for Pip than does peacefulness of ignorance. Is this a carryover of Romanticism? Also (though it's a bit early to ask) what side do you feel Dickens is on? Does he sympathize with Pip's sentiments, or is he ridiculing them? (Erin Suzuki)

8. Joe had sanctified it [home], and I had believed in it. I had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; I had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State...I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year, all this was changed. Now it was coarse and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account." (107)

When Pip was young, he did not have an ideal life. His life was one of contrasts: Mrs. Joe was mean, strict, and strong-willed while Joe was kind and generous. Pip preferred Joe, of course, and Pip and Joe being the best of friends, Pip often sat on Joe's lap and told him all sorts of interesting observations. Thus, from when he was young, Pip knew how to distinguish goodness from mean-spiritedness, generosity from selfishness. He admired Joe's virtues, and those virtues enobled their modest home and Joe's trade of the blacksmith.

Later, in his life, in the hopes of being given great fortune, he is sent regularly to Miss Havisham's house. At her house, he meets snobby, cruel Estella and Miss Havisham dressed in a yellowed, frayed bridal gown. Miss Havisham's house's buildings are deserted, the garden in a tangly mess of weeds, her old wedding cake is rotting. This should have been repulsive. Yet, Pip is captivated by the gentlewoman-ness of Miss Havisham, the beauty of Estella, and the dress and manner of Miss Havihsam's other guests. Soon, he wants to climb the ladder to the social class of gentlemen and gentlewomen. All that is below this ladder, including his own modest home and Joe's trade as a blacksmith becomes "coarse and common".

Having grown up knowing what good virtues are because of Joe's example, virtues such as kindness and generosity, why does Pip want to join a social class of gentlmen and gentlewomen, whose example, so far, such as Estella's snobbery, are so oppposing to those virtues? (Juliet Liu)


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last Modified 23 October 2002