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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Great Expectations how do Pip's great expectations as revealed in Chapter 18 create situational irony as the story progresses?

Situational irony occurs in a story when an event has unexpected results. In Chapter 18 when Pip learns about his great expectations, he believes his dreams have come true. Before this Pip dearly wanted to become more uncommon and refined in the eyes of Miss Havisham and Estella but didn't have the means to accomplish this. However, with the offer of his mysterious benefactor, Pip can be educated as a gentleman and gain the approval he desires. As the story progresses though, Pip's great expectations take an unexpected turn. When he becomes a gentleman, Pip does not gain Estella's love but instead realizes that Estella cannot love him, which makes him miserable. Pip's fantasy about Miss Havisham being his benefactress and wanting Estella to marry him comes crashing down on his head when he learns the convict Magwitch is the benefactor.

In Chapter 19 of Great Expectations, how does Pip's snobbishness lead to deception about Miss Havisham?

Pip assumes that the person who has raised his fortune must be Miss Havisham, who comes from the upper class. Because of his newfound snobbery, Pip cannot conceive of another person, such as one from the lower class, being his benefactor. When Pip comes to express his gratitude to Miss Havisham, he treats her as royalty by kneeling before the woman and kissing her hand. Pip states, "She stretched out her hand, and I went down on my knee and put it to my lips. I had not considered how I should take leave of her; it came naturally to me at the moment to do this ... so I left my fairy godmother." Miss Havisham takes full advantage of Pip's assumption and deceives him by implying she is indeed his benefactress.

In Chapter 15 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens use a story within a story to show Pip's guilt about his ambition?

Dickens uses a story within a story through the play about a man named George Barnwell. When Pip listens to Mr. Wopsle recite the play The London Merchant, or, The History of George Barnwell, he realizes that Wopsle and Pumblechook intend the plot points in the play to be a warning for Pip. George Barnwell is an apprentice who goes astray and murders his uncle. As a result Barnwell is hanged for this crime. Pip finds this warning via the play to be annoying. However, listening to the play also makes him feel guilty. When Pip hears about the attack on Mrs. Joe, he suspects that somehow he had something to do with the crime because his head was full of George Barnwell. Therefore, Pip probably feels an underlying guilt about wanting to improve his station in life and not being grateful for what he has.

In Great Expectations how does Dickens use Newgate Prison in Chapter 20 to explore social class?

Dickens depicts Newgate Prison as a dreadful place where prisoners are treated inhumanely. Even if some of these prisoners were from the middle class or upper class, they are now treated like lower-class people with no rights. Many prisoners are publicly whipped. Prisoners also are executed in factory-like manner. Four to eight prisoners line up at eight in the morning and are killed in a row. The proprietor, who leads Pip on the tour of the facility, is dirty and drunk. Pip says he wore "mildewed clothes, which had evidently not belonged to him originally, and which, I took it into my head, he had bought cheap of the executioner." Other people milling about the prison smell of spirits. So in British society during the mid-1800s, lower-class people such as prisoners are treated as if subhuman by stripping away their dignity. In addition the people in charge of these prisoners seem to be barely functional, implying that lower-class people don't deserve anything better.

How does Pip's ambition differ from Herbert Pocket's ambition in Great Expectations?

Herbert Pocket's ambition focuses mainly on getting established as an insurer of ships. Also Herbert has a casual, genial attitude about his ambition: "But the thing is," he tells Pip in Chapter 22, "that you look about you. That's the grand thing. You are in a counting-house, you know, and you look about you." So for Herbert, getting set up in business is fun, something he can casually do while working in a counting-house. In contrast Pip's ambition has nothing to do with business but everything to do with social status. Pip wants to become an upper-class gentleman and, thereby, get Miss Havisham's and Estella's approval. Pip is very intense about this ambition and is plagued by feelings of inferiority because he has not fully achieved it.

In Great Expectations how is Mr. Jaggers's attitude inside the courtroom as shown in Chapter 24 similar to his attitude outside the courtroom?

Inside the courtroom Mr. Jaggers takes control of the proceedings. He intimidates every person in the courtroom, including the magistrates. Pip observes, "The magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finger. Thieves and thief-takers hung in dread rapture on his words." Jaggers mercilessly cross-examines witnesses, and if one of them makes an admission he says, "Now I have got you!" Outside the courtroom Mr. Jaggers has a similar approach. He tends to cross-examine people he meets. For example, in Chapter 18 Mr. Wopsle gives a dramatic reading of a news article concerning a trial. Mr. Jaggers listens and then cross-examines Wopsle to such a degree that he intimidates him. As Pip watches this interchange, he becomes convinced Wopsle has done a horrible act with his reading by slanting it against the accused. Pip says, "We all began to suspect that Mr. Wopsle was not the man we had thought him, and that he was beginning to be found out."

In Great Expectations how is Bentley Drummle similar to and different from Dolge Orlick?

Both Orlick and Drummle are unsociable, sulky types of people. Pip says of Orlick, "He always slouched, locomotively, with his eyes on the ground." Pip describes Drummle as "heavy in figure, movement, and comprehension—in the sluggish complexion of his face, and in the large awkward tongue that seemed to loll about in his mouth as he himself lolled about in a room." Also both Orlick and Drummle serve as antagonists of Pip. Orlick tries to kill Pip, thereby preventing him from helping Magwitch escape. Drummle marries Estella, thereby dashing Pip's hopes of marrying her. However, Orlick is a working-class man who becomes a lower-class criminal. Drummle starts out being a middle-class gentleman who, when he comes into his inheritance, becomes a member of the upper class. Orlick tends to be envious of people, especially Pip. Drummle, though, feels superior to most people.

In Chapter 27 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens use a hat as a prop to convey the theme of social class?

In Chapter 27 Joe visits Pip at the young man's residence in London. By this time Pip has adopted the manners and tastes of an upper-class gentleman. As a result Joe, who has the crude manners of a working-class man, feels awkward. Dickens uses a hat as a prop to show Joe's awkwardness and Pip's impatience with Joe. Joe becomes so intent on trying to behave in a proper way that he focuses on carefully placing his hat on a corner of the chimney piece. For some reason Joe could not find another proper place to put his hat. Pip says, "Joe ... looked all round the room for a suitable spot on which to deposit his hat—as if it were only on some few very rare substances in nature that it could find a resting-place." However, the hat keeps falling off, causing Joe to lunge at it, catch it, and place it back on the chimney piece. Eventually Joe juggles the hat and it falls into the slop basin. Because of this Pip becomes impatient with Joe. Therefore through these antics with the hat, Dickens shows a clash of social classes and the awkward and ridiculous behavior that results. Joe and Pip feel they each have to play the charade of the upper class instead of ignoring social class manners and allowing their natural friendship to be expressed.

In Chapter 28 of Great Expectations, how does Dickens explore the ideas of uncertainty and deceit?

When Pip overhears the convict who gave him the two one-pound notes years before, the young man feels an ambiguous fear. He is uncertain about what causes this fear. Pip says, "I could not have said what I was afraid of, for my fear was altogether undefined and vague, but there was great fear upon me." The fear's strength suggests that it comes from more than Pip's recognizing the convict. Pip tries to convince himself this fear comes only from remembering his terror as a boy as he dealt with the convict on the marshes. Also Pip's encounter with the convicts in the coach involves a type of deceit. The convict who showed Pip the file was on a secret errand for a prison mate. The convict himself seems perplexed about the purpose of showing the file to Pip and giving him money.

What causes Pip's infatuation with Estella as described in the second paragraph of Chapter 29 of Great Expectations?

Pip's infatuation with Estella seems to be caused by his desire to have her against all odds. Because of this Pip often fantasizes about rescuing Estella, like a knight rescuing a princess in a castle. In such tales the knight has to fight against various forces to attain his goal. This idea is reinforced later in the paragraph when Pip states that he loves Estella "against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be." For Pip all of these elements are obstacles that he has to fight against to win Estella. Indeed it is the struggle that makes the enticement of Estella so strong. If Estella easily agreed to marry Pip and treated him kindly, he would not be infatuated with her.

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