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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Great Expectations how does Pip's uncertainty in Chapter 1 connect to his feelings of guilt in Chapters 3 and 6?

Pip's uncertainty and his guilt are closely linked. In Chapter 1 Pip feels uncertain because he fears the convict's companion might cut his liver out. To prevent the possibility of being killed, Pip decides to steal the items for the convict. However, he feels guilty about doing this act because he knows he is breaking the law. Also Pip steals from his friend Joe, who trusts him. In Chapter 3 when Pip takes the stolen goods to the convict, he states, "This was very disagreeable to a guilty mind." In Chapter 6 Pip feels guilty about not telling Joe he stole his file and is ashamed of his cowardice. Pip states, "I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong."

In Chapter 1 of Great Expectations, why does Dickens combine humor and terror?

Dickens combines humor and terror to provide comic relief in a tense situation. For instance, a terrifying man threatens to cut Pip's throat. However, during this encounter Dickens interjects elements of physical humor. The man turns Pip upside down and shakes him. Pip states, "When the church came to itself,—for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet." The image is humorous despite the frightening situation, thereby relieving the terror. Also Dickens uses humor to make the man seem more human. For example, the man asks where Pip's mother is. Pip points to a grave and says, "There, sir!" But the man thinks Pip is indicating his living mother standing nearby. The man finds this misunderstanding funny, showing he is not a monster but a human being with a sense of humor.

In Chapters 1 to 5 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens build a connection between Pip and Magwitch?

Both Pip and Magwitch are frightened, desperate people who engage in illegal activities. Magwitch is a frightened escaped convict, desperate for food and freedom. Pip states, "His eyes looked so awfully hungry too, that when I handed him the file and he laid it down on the grass, it occurred to me he would have tried to eat it, if he had not seen my bundle." Because he is a convict, Magwitch has been found guilty of breaking the law. Also when he fights with the other convict, Magwitch seems intent on killing him. Pip is scared about being killed by Magwitch's companion and, as a result, becomes desperate enough to steal food and a file, which binds him to Magwitch through the illegality of the actions. In addition after Magwitch is captured, he and Pip share a silent communication, suggesting an intuitive bond between them.

In Chapter 7 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens use Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook to convey the theme of ambition?

When Mrs. Joe breaks the news about Miss Havisham wanting Pip to play for her, she states that "this boy's [Pip's] fortune may be made by his going to Miss Havisham's." Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook see Miss Havisham's request as a chance for upward social mobility for Pip and thus for themselves. Such a rise in fortunes would, of course, benefit Mrs. Joe. After all any payment Miss Havisham might give to Pip for coming to play would go into Mrs. Joe's cash box. As a member of the family, Pumblechook could also benefit from a rise in Pip's fortunes. Because of this ambition Pumblechook implies that he has an inside connection with Miss Havisham that brought about Pip's invitation.

In Chapter 8 of Great Expectations, how does the image of a woman hanging by the neck in the brewery relate to the symbol of Satis House?

Pip sees a phantom image of a woman hanging by the neck in Miss Havisham's brewery. The phantom woman is wearing a wedding dress like Miss Havisham. This image conveys a sense of self-inflicted death. Miss Havisham could be seen as a person who has committed a type of spiritual suicide. Also Miss Havisham has inflicted a state of decay or death on Satis House. Because of her influence this house seems not to have changed in any significant way for many years except by decaying or falling into death. All the clocks have stopped, a decaying wedding cake remains on a table, and the furniture has not been dusted. Therefore Satis House becomes a symbol of death.

How does Dickens convey the themes of guilt and redemption in Chapter 9 of Great Expectations?

By expressing his feelings of guilt about telling a fantastic lie, Pip receives forgiveness, good advice, and redemption. The fantastic lie is about Pip's experience at Miss Havisham's house. However, he feels guilty when he realizes that Joe believes the tale. Pip states, "Now, when I saw Joe open his blue eyes and roll them all round the kitchen in helpless amazement, I was overtaken by penitence." As a result Pip confesses to Joe about the lie and also expresses how common he feels in comparison to Miss Havisham and Estella. In response Joe says, "If you can't get to be oncommon through going straight, you'll never get to do it through going crooked."

In Chapter 10 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens use the mysterious stranger in the Three Jolly Bargemen to create foreshadowing?

Pip finds Joe at the Three Jolly Bargemen with a stranger. As Joe and the stranger talk, the stranger shows Pip a file in such a way that only Pip sees it. Pip realizes the file is the same one he stole from Joe's forge. In so doing Dickens not only connects the character back to the convict on the marshes but also suggests that this convict will continue to play a role in the story. Then the stranger gives Pip a shilling wrapped in two one-pound notes, thereby connecting money with the convict on the marshes and foreshadowing the importance of this connection in Pip's life.

In Chapter 11 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens use the symbol of tears differently for Pip and Mrs. Camilla?

Dickens uses the symbol of tears differently for Pip and Mrs. Camilla to emphasize the differences in their characters. Pip is a sincere lad who suffers from a sense of inferiority. So when Estella slaps Pip, he sheds inner tears that represent his sense of inferiority and shame. As a defense he angrily tells Estella that he will never cry for her again, but he knows this claim is false. Pip narrates, "Which was, I suppose, as false a declaration as ever was made; for I was inwardly crying for her then." In contrast Dickens wants to emphasize the phoniness of Mrs. Camilla. Her crying represents false emotion. Camilla is obviously trying to ingratiate herself to Miss Havisham by claiming how much she cares for her reclusive relative. To make her point convincing, Camilla bursts into tears. However, Camilla acts with concern toward Miss Havisham only to persuade the recluse to give her money.

In Chapter 13 of Great Expectations, why might Dickens have used humor as part of Joe's conversation with Miss Havisham?

Dickens introduces humor during Joe's conversation with Miss Havisham to emphasize the themes of uncertainty and social class. This humor shows the ridiculous situation that can result from a class system that stresses the inferiority of the working class in comparison to the upper class. Joe senses this class divide between himself and Miss Havisham to such an extreme that he can't even talk to her directly. As a result Joe responds to her by speaking to Pip. By doing this Joe creates a humorous conversation between Joe and Miss Havisham in which Pip acts as a go-between. Pip describes Joe as "looking so unlike himself or so like some extraordinary bird; standing, as he did, speechless, with his tuft of feathers ruffled, and his mouth open as if he wanted a worm."

In Chapter 16 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens use situational irony to enhance the theme of redemption?

Situational irony happens in a story when an event has unexpected results. Such a situation happens with the attack on Mrs. Joe. The assault leaves Mrs. Joe mentally impaired. However, it also has an unexpected, ironic results. Mrs. Joe becomes a kinder, more patient woman after she is hit on the head. Pip states, "Her temper was greatly improved, and she was patient." Indeed Mrs. Joe changes for the better to such an extent that she treats Orlick kindly. This change is a type of redemption for Mrs. Joe for the years and years of torment she gave to Joe and Pip. Even though Mrs. Joe becomes kinder, this change is too late for Pip, however. The effect of her constant belittling of Pip has caused him to suffer from inferiority. As a result Pip constantly needs to convince Estella that he is worthy enough to love. Mrs. Joe's redemption, therefore, has the unexpected result of having no benefit for Pip.

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