Great Expectations themes

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Great Expectations Themes
Social Identity / bettering oneself
In the 19th century there was the industrial revolution and agriculture revolution
Lots of people getting rich quick and changing class ­ Dickens explores the idea of changing class through
Great Expectations
Mrs Joe tries to appear better than she actually is ­ at the Christmas dinner she `uncover[s] the little state
other time, but passed the rest of the year in a cool haze'
Mrs Joe feels that she has married below herself (only married a blacksmith) `Perhaps if I warn't a
blacksmith's wife
Mrs Joe always tries to please Uncle Pumplechook ­ thinking him better than her
Pip's first realisation of his class ­ Estella makes him feel a `dog in disgrace' and calls him a `stupid, clumsy
labouring boy' ­ `what course hands he has. And what thick boots' ­ Pip then remarks that he `never thought
of being ashamed of [his] hands before'
Pip wants to better himself to please Estella and is desperate to become a Gentleman - `I want to be a
gentleman on her account'
He starts not being able to separate person and their social status and becomes ashamed of Joe's `mere
blacksmith status' even though Joe himself is a kind and loyal person ­ Pip is `disgusted with my calling and my
`I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too' ­ not seeing
Joe as a man of worth in his kindness ­ ungrateful for his kindness ­ focusing on what he doesn't have ­ longs
to be part of Miss Havisham's world ­ even though Satis House is decaying
Pip is blind to the life that Miss Havisham and Estella live, an unhappy and lonely, spiteful one ­ in a decaying
old house, but still sees their lives as ones to aspire too ­ whereas Joe and Biddy are much more content and
happy with their status and roles in life but he doesn't see this as a life to live
The jewells that Miss Havisham has and puts on Estella disguise the horrid conditions in which she lives - Pip
only sees people from the surface and on a social scale ­ impressed by how much money people have and
not by who they are ­ looks no deeper than surface beauty and wealth
Pip describes Biddy as `not beautiful ­ she was common'
Pip feels that wealth is better than inner kindness and moral goodness ­ thinking Miss Havisham is better
than Joe ­ avoiding going to see Joe when back in town ­ he would rather hang out with Drummle (a nasty,
brutal aristocrat) than with Joe (a loyal, kind man)
Pip wants to pay for Joe to be `less ignorant and common, that he might be worthier of my society and less
open to Estella's reproach'
Pip learns that social and educational improvement is irrelevant to one's real worth and that conscience and
affection are to be valued above erudition and social standing.
Affection, loyalty, and conscience are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class. Dickens
establishes the theme and shows Pip learning this lesson, largely by exploring ideas of ambition and
What is Dickens trying portray in the characters about social class?
Happiest and kindest people in the book are Joe and Biddy ­ content with their lowly class ­ happy to be who
they are
Upper Class Characters:
o Miss Havisham is a monster who lives in a large house `uptown' ­ it is dismal and grey and in ruins ­
she represents the aristocracy who hasn't had to work a day in her life ­ her money and social has
brought her no happiness and she a sad pathetic character ­ a slave to the corruption that has gone
on in her life ­ Compeyson leaving her at the alter and only her money ­ she was only seen as a rich
lady ­ lonely and sad and vindictive ­ her family (her father and brother) were both very corrupt

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Estella ­ proud and haughty ­ insulting ­ snooty and snobby ­ crushes men ­ lonely ­ has no heart
o Compeyson ­ who is a gentleman ­ evil and corrupt ­ greedy and ends up as a criminal ­ "no varnish
can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express
itself.…read more

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Being a Gentleman
One idea in the novel, portrayed by the younger Pip, is that a gentleman has to have social status and this is
measured on his understanding of rules and social etiquettes, habits of dress and speech and the standing of
his family ­ also wealth is very important
However we get the sense, as readers, that a true gentleman is a matter of virtue and honesty ­ and also
having a station or occupation in life which one can fill with dignity…read more

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The Hulks (prison ship) loom over Pip's village as the theme of guilt looms over Pip ­ Pip lives in a guilt ridden
Mrs Joe says that people who go to prison `always begin by asking questions' ­ Pip feels it is in his nature to
end up in prison ­ `the Hulks were handy for me. I clearly on my way there.…read more

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However Miss Havishams's whole existence and life revolves around and is controlled by the
wrongdoings that Compeyson did to her when he left her at the alter ­ her pain drives her to be very
o This leaves her pathetic and lonely at the end ­ begging for forgiveness - left by Estella and Pip
Dickens portrayal of women is not positive for most of the women in the book ­ the more positive characters
are Joe, Magwitch and Mr Wemmick ­ they teach…read more

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At the end of the novel Pip and Joe are reconciled, when Joe nurses him back to health ­ Joe tries to
apologise to Pip as he blames himself for their estrangement ­ Joe feels guilty for not intervening when Mrs
Joe was beating up Pip ­ both forgive each other and Pip again depends on Joe like when he is younger ­
their relationship takes a cyclical journey
Pip's Relationship with Miss Havisham
Pip's first meeting with Miss Havisham, where he sees the horrors…read more


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