Great Expectations

Examines Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations as a novel about the formation of the self in relation to childhood.

In this tale, we are met by Pip, first a young boy taken under the wing of a felon who places him with a delusional old maid, then a snobbish young man with expectations of being a member of the aristocracy and finally as a humbled man who has learned the lesson of humility. Childhood is a time in which what we are and do then determines in great part who we will become. Dickens, clearly, employs a significant amount of his own past and dreams for this novel. The themes of good and evil, of right and wrong, of sadness and happiness are all played right along side of each other in a demonstration that life rarely follows a straight and narrow path, that it is important to experience a fall from grace, or to lose one’s great expectations, in order to fully own one’s life. The hard-working humble man that Pip becomes by the end of the book would have been an insufferable immature boor had a change not taken place. For children, disappointment is indeed a bitter teacher. But, it is a necessary one as well. For it is in later childhood and adolescence that we can begin to fully understand that life will not always go our way. Unfortunately, there are many with lives that protect them from such knowledge. For them, perhaps, connecting with Pip is impossible. For the rest of us, however, we can truly understand what it is to have great expectations and to see them disappear, only to find that we are indeed the better for it. The exploration of childhood, and the symbolic nature of young development, is absolutely essential to this book. We are able to watch as Pip’s infantile dreams of greatness, riches and power turn him into a monster, for no one actually gets what they want simply because they want it. Only the fact that he is a child redeems him.