1. What are these “great expectations" that young Pip has? He tells us:

In the little world in which children have their existence whosover brings them up, there is nothing so finely percieved and finely felt as injustice It may be only a small injustice that the child can be exposed to, but the child is small, and its world is small. (Penguin edition, p. 63]

What is Dickens trying to do as he clearly establishes Pip as a charcter with a high level of moral consciousness and insight? Is this injustice that Pip understands from his sister (and now Estella) an indication of Dicken's feelings toward the world at large? And are these “expectations" a reaction to the hardship has endured? (Molly Rosen)

2. In Great Expectations Pips's desire to better himself, to become a gentleman is born of some inate stirring. Rather he finds himself wanting to get out of the world in which he has lived since birth only after his encounters with Estella and Miss Havisham. He recognizes that what these encounters have instilled in him is more self-hatred and discontentment than anything else. At theoutset he also feels that he might have been better off never to have met them, and thus have been able to accept his life at the forge. He says to Biddy:"see how I am going on. Dissatisfied, and uncomfortable, and - what would it signify to me, being coarse and coomon if no nobody had told me so!"(128). However ill-begun his motivation may be, knowing what we do about his life in the marshes, it seems that he isn't entirely wrong to want to make a life for himself elsewhere. It seems that ambition has its advantages, no matter what form in comes in. Are the discomforts and feels of self-hatred seen as too much of a price to pay, or a necessary step to get Pip on his path? (Kieran Heffernan)

3. From the very beginning of this novel there is no distinction between victims of society and society's criminals. They relate to each other almost by instinct, because, although Pip has plenty of reason (such as fear of being considered a traitor) to hope that, while he is searching for the convicts with the officers, the convicts have escaped, Joe really has none, yet he still says, “I'd give a shilling if they had cut and run, Pip" (41).

By creating this allegiance, Dickens characterizes society into two simple fractions, those who are “poor" and “wretched" (words Dickens uses throughout the novel, mostly in dialogue) and those who are “given to government," so to speak (58). The group with which Dickens does not sympathize is discernible in his characterizations of them through their dialogue. At the Christmas dinner in the beginning of the novel, for example, the dialogue involving people such as Uncle Pumblechook, and the other adults (except Joe, who then again, is thought of as an overgrown child) is usually ambiguous in its meaning:

"Good stuff, eh, sergeant?" said Mr. Pumblechook. "I'll tell you something," returned the sergeant; “I suspect that stuff's of your providing."

Mr. Pumblechook, with a fat sort of laugh, said, “Aye, aye? Why?" "Because," returned the sergeant, clapping him on the shoulder, “you're a man that knows what's what."

"D'ye think so?'" said Mr. Pumblechook, with his former laugh. “Have another glass!"

"With you. Hob and nob . . . May you live a thousand years, and never be a worse judge of the right sort than you are at the present moment of your life." (40)

Although I don't believe that the sergeant is actually making fun of Pumblechook by claiming him to be a man of exquisite style and taste when he obviously isn't, Dickens is making fun of him. Making fun of both of them. It is extremely reminiscent of the satire Austen uses in describing Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine DeBourgh. But why does Dickens create such a strong and clear cut boundary between those that are good in the sense of being wretched and taken advantage of (whatever their faults may be) and those that run the show, those who take advantage? Why does he create such a tight allegiance among each group so that a criminal is willing to protect a little boy he's just met, and a blacksmith is willing to hope that a frightening criminal escapes successfully from prison, without even knowing him? (Melissa Rodriguez)

4. As a product of a particular time, a novel becomes a kind of historical landmark in itself. Yet as the novel occupies a particular space in history, it also contributes to a chain of literary influences whose links can be traced up to postmodernism. Both Graham Swift and Charles Dickens have produced novels that are specific to the particular era during which they were written. Further, their novels attempt to diagram the discourse of time. Swift focuses on the events of history, while Dickens explores the life of a man. The discourses of theme that navigate their way through these novels are time conscious. Swift asserts the cyclical nature of time as his narrator states, “How it repeats itself, how it goes back on itself, no matter how we try to straighten it out" (142). Dickens maintains that an event influences one's fate as that event becomes the first link to a long chain of events. He writes,

Think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold...that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. (p. 72)

Perhaps as Dickens assembles and disassembles the experiences of one man, he is presenting more than a chain, but a series of links that connect from beginning to end--and around again. Perhaps Swift's affirmations are a link to the chain of a Dickensian theory of time. Compare the two authors' notions of time as distinct entities that exist with their respective novels, as well as connected links of a chain that extend far beyond both novels. Good luck. (Kristen Dodge)

5. In chapter 17, Pip spends an afternoon with Biddy, divulges some of his innermost secrets and thoughts with her, and reflects upon his experiences with Miss Havisham and Estella. In doing so, ends up comparing Bibby to Estella and, in the process, seems to be comparing the solidity of common life with the tempting yet elusive world of wealth. On pp. 130-131, Pip says:

Biddy was never insulting, or capricious, or Biddy to-day — and somebody else to-morrow; she would have derived only pain, and no pleasure, from giving me pain; she would far rather have wounded her own breast than mine. How could it be, then, that I did not like her the much better of the two?

Pip seems to have mixed emotions. He knows that he should desire Bibby's company more, for she is a true friend and is, more importantly, someone he can trust. Nevertheless, he is greatly attracted to the gorgeous, yet rude and conceited Estella — a girl whose presence ultimateley gives him more pain than pleasure. What does this passage indicate about Pip's satisfaction with his own life? Has Pip been corrupted in any way by beauty? Has Pip's strict ubringing prepared him or made him more immune to the rigors of Estella's insults? In what way does this moral quandary compare to some of the other moral questions Pip has had to confront? (John Rosenblatt)

6. Joe and Pip have obvious and innumerable links, both are respressed by Mrs. Joe, both male, and both are in an uncertain space between childhood and adulthood. Pip refers to Joe “in our already-mentioned free masonry as fellow sufferers", and that he “always treated him as a larger species of child, and as no more than my equal." Though Pip is plagued by the guilty conscience of a child, in the first few chapters, he speaks with the words of an adult, drawing parallels between house cleaning and religion. In this way, has Dickens empowered Pip with the support of a man, so that Pip might have the courage to venture out on his own? (Julianna Sassaman)

7. In Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, Pip experiences two distinct and profound types of self-loathing. The first arises from his meeting Estella, and is a rejection of his home, family, and all that is innate about him:

I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider thema very indifferent pair. Her contempt was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it, (60)

The second type is a more mature form. Once Pip has become a gentleman, he regrets his rejection of Joe's simple goodness and begins to consider himself hopelessly immoral and artificial:

Ah! Had I given Joe no reason to doubt my constancy, and to think that in prosperity I should grow cold to him and cast him off? Had I given Joe's innocent heart no cause to feel instinctively that as I got stronger, his hold upon me would be weaker, and that he had better loosen it in time and let me go, before I plucked myself away? (470)

Pip's self-loathing is essentially the same feeling in each case, but the causes are different. What are the distinct causes in each case, and how do they tie into the thematic pattern of innocence, experience, and regret? (Megan Lynch)

8. Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus ("The Tailor Retailored") is in part a result of the author's own horror at at the philosophical doctrine of determinism, in which every state of being is precisely caused by its immediately preceding state, and of utilitarianism, under which there is one goal of obtaining happiness, and every action should be weighed to see sort of how much happiness is obtained from doing that action.

"Doubt has darkened into Unbelief," says he; “shade after shade goes grimly over your soul, till you have the fixed, starless, Tartaren black." To such readers have reflected, what can be called reflecting, on man's life, and happily discovered, in contradiction to much Profit-and-loss Philosophy, that Soul is not synonymous with Stomach . . .

In what does Carlyle find hope? Does he make a positive suggestion for what people should believe, or the philosophy that should govern their lives? What is the role of religion in that doctrine? (Geoffrey Litwack)

9. Since Pip met Estella as a young boy, he has gone through conflicting emotions of love, desire, hatred and anguish. Estella treats him cruelly one day, while on another allows Pip to kiss her cold cheek, which he compares to a statue. Yet, while she puts him through this anguish, Pip continues to want her. When Pip moves to London, to become a gentleman, he begins to realize the extent of which he wants Estella to love him:

I loved Estella with the love of the man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to me sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness...I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had to be more influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection (253-54).

Pip becomes ashamed with his past and his relationship with Joe, and is also embaressed of himself. Is Estella worth this pain; does Pip really love her? I feel as if Estella represents everything that Pip desires: beauty, wealth, and the ability to be part of the upper class in England. Pip gives up himself and sacrifices everything — including the people that truly love him - to chase after Estella. Yet his love is an infatuation, and an impossible one at that. He loves Estella not for who she is, but for what she represents. (Kate Edwards)

10. I am interested in why Pip blatantly states to Biddy: “If I could only get myself to fall in love with you...If I could only get myself to do it, that would be the thing for me" (131). What does this say about Pip's view of love? After he comes into money, does he ever consider Biddy in this way again? Or was this just a fleeting thing, and he just wanted to be able to settle for Biddy because he knew he could never have Estella? What would it say about the legitimacy of Pip and Estella's love if he only got her because he was suddenly rich?

I think that Pip over analyzes here. He is immature to think that you could ever make yourself fall in love with someone, just because it would be convenient. However, it is a sign of the time that Dickens was writing in, that people only married within their class, and a girl like Estella would never marry Pip (before his money). So, this unromantic view of marriage was more accepted at this time period. I feel that his love for Biddy is legitimate, but that it is not romantic love. Once he gets the money, he sets his sights on Estella. (Erin Emlock)

11. How does Pip's perspective as a man looking back on his childhood permit humor in Great Expectations? It removes Pip from the moment of the event and allows him to tell the story in good-natured retrospect. At his first encounter with the convict, the convict terrifies Pip, but by the time he tells the story to the reader, Pip realizes that the convict is not inherently terrible; he is a man presenting himself as such to a small boy whom he wishes to terrify. Knowing this at the time of the storytelling, Pip comments, “After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger." (Chapter 1) How does this perspective add to the humor of Pip's situation? (Lily Huang)

12. Like Waterland, Great Expectations is told in the first-person narrative in which the protagonist tells a story of his life, of his past. So far (up to Volume II at least), the story is in chronological order -- unlike Waterland, the narrative's focus immediately switching to the past. What's interesting is narrative started out as a confident story-telling of a grown-up turns into an uneasy, almost fearful ongoing-experience of a child.

first most vivid and borad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening.

After darkly looking at his leg and at me several times, he came closer to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.

Judging purely on this comparable difference between the present Pip and the past one, is Dickens' technique a simple juxtaposition of the adult and the child, or is it a subtle version of interplay between the two demonstrated by Waterland's Tom? (Hyun Kim)

13. In the beginning of Dickens's Great Expectations we as readers are greeted with an unreliable narrator: a man remembering his life as a small boy, frightened of both strangers and his closest family. How are we to perceive the story he relates? Dickens makes the reader aware of this problem in the second chapter through the voice of Pip's sister, Mrs. Joe: "'Drat that boy,' interposed my sister, frowning at me over her work, 'what a questioner he is. Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies,'" (14). The fact that Mrs. Joe may lie a few lines later, “'Lord bless the boy!', makes space for us to question her judgement; we must ask questions of Pip's story, because by the nature of this narrative we encounter certain untruths or distortions. In particular, the influence of fearful people over Pip's life calls into question what he says they feel. (Kate Williamson)

14. Great Expectations opens immediately with the use of puns, or at least Pip's humorous misinterpretations of his parents' tombstone and of the religious instruction he has received. The narrator continues to play around with the meanings of words: “They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation to me, every now and then, and stick the point into me" (25). This seems to indicate that the narrator has had a relatively good education, especially considering his upbringing and the fact that we know he is to be apprenticed to Joe. Can we infer simply from these first few chapters that Pip is to undergo some rise in fortune or social status that will provide him with the education he clearly has by the time he narrates the story? Can we assume education and learning are highly valued by Dickens? (Devin McIntyre)

15. Dickens's style is a far cry from Austen's. Reading Pride and Prejudice, its style suggests its seriousness, its pretentions, if you will. But after reading the first three chapters of Dickens' novel, its style seems to suggest only good story-telling; it does not reveal the Victorian aspiration of a high art with mass appeal. Rather, only the mass appeal is, so far, apparent. (Wes Hamrick)

16. In creating the characters of Pumblechook and Wopsle, Dickens appears to be making some comment on the middle class. The two businessmen are, after all, the primary source of Pip's torment and provide him with an overall sense of worthlessness be! fore he gains his benefactor and after he loses his money. Evidence of such is apparent in his humiliation of Pip within chapter four when he takes Pip to be bound as Joe's apprentice. However, when Pip is with money, Pumblechook brags of raising hi! m to his position and is almost completely responsible for turning Pip into the pretentious young man he becomes. What then, does Dickens perceive the existence of such people within the middle class to represent? He seems to make them out to be infectious exceptions to an otherwise noble class. (Dan Shindell)


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last Modified 23 October 2002