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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Great Expectations how does Pip's redemptive act toward Herbert Pocket in Chapter 58 offer Pip an opportunity to mature?

By anonymously helping Herbert become a partner in a shipping firm, Pip receives a job opportunity. Herbert offers the job of clerk to Pip at the shipping firm. Pip accepts the job and works steadily for the firm for 11 years. During this time Pip says he "lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe." So Pip gains maturity, learning how to responsibly handle his money and show value for his friends. Pip's view of Herbert also changes. He now sees Herbert's business acumen, whereas Pip previously thought Herbert to be inept at business.

In Great Expectations how does Dickens use a framing device to show how Pip and Estella's relationship has changed over the course of the novel?

A framing device is a literary technique that uses the same element(s), such as an event or setting, at the beginning and end of a story or a part of a story. For Pip and Estella's relationship, Dickens uses both the setting of Satis House and a conversation between Pip and Estella at both the beginning and conclusion of their story. Pip first meets Estella at Satis House, which is a large, imposing symbol of decay and death. During their conversation Estella is snobbish and very insulting toward Pip. Pip becomes infatuated with Estella. At the end of the novel, Pip and Estella meet at the remains of Satis House and have another conversation, thereby forming a framing device. However, Estella's attitude toward Pip has changed completely. She is now humble and considerate. Estella says, "I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends." Pip still loves Estella, but in a more mature way, viewing her as a friend. Nothing is left of Satis House, except the ruins of the garden. So this former symbol of death has been demolished.

How are the two endings for Great Expectations similar and different?

In both endings Estella matures, becoming a kinder and more compassionate person. In the revised ending, Estella states, "when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be." In the original ending, Pip says about Estella, "Suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be." However, in the revised ending, Dickens indicates that Pip and Estella will stay together. In this way the revised ending has the typical romantic resolution, tempered by the suffering each character has endured. In the original ending, Pip and Estella do not get together. Because of this the revised ending has a sadder tone.

In Great Expectations how does Estella's character develop?

Estella starts out being a snobbish, mean-spirited girl who seems to take pleasure in insulting Pip. However, when Estella becomes a woman she no longer wants to hurt Pip. Because of this she warns Pip that "I have no heart." Estella hopes Pip will stop loving her to protect himself. Later Estella shows a passive-aggressiveness toward Miss Havisham by acting coldly toward the recluse. Estella thus must harbor some resentment toward Miss Havisham for the way she has been trained. Later Estella gets her revenge on Miss Havisham by marrying Bentley Drummle. Miss Havisham knows Drummle will mistreat Estella, which will give her pain. Also through this marriage Estella is punishing herself for being cold-hearted and inflicting so much pain on men. Finally, over the years Estella has learned to be kind and compassionate and to value friendship.

How is Joe a foil to Pip in Great Expectations?

A foil is a character with traits that contrast with the traits of another character. As a result the foil emphasizes the qualities of the other character. Joe remains constant throughout the novel. He is a common worker who values friendship, loyalty, kindness, and integrity. In contrast Pip's character fluctuates. At first Pip has a close bond with Joe and views the blacksmith with affection. However, when Pip visits Satis House for the first time, his views about Joe start to change. Later when Pip receives his great expectations, his attitude completely changes. He becomes a snob who thinks he is superior to the people of his village, including Joe. Pip no longer seeks Joe's companionship but instead seeks to avoid him. At the end of the novel when Joe nurses Pip, Joe's character remains the same. Pip's character, though, changes again. Racked by guilt about his treatment of Joe, Pip seeks to redeem himself and reestablish his friendship with the blacksmith. Pip succeeds in doing this. However, instead of having an innocent adoration of Joe, Pip now has a mature appreciation of his old friend.

In Great Expectations how does Dickens criticize the Victorian Age?

Dickens criticizes the Victorian Age by exploring social class. The author shows that many members of the lower class and middle class, including Pip, Pumblechook, and Magwitch, want to achieve a sense of superiority. Pip feels he must reach this superior state to achieve worth as a human being. Magwitch attempts to gain this superiority via Pip. Magwitch tells Pip he has made a gentleman of him and says, "I tell it, fur you to know as that there hunted dunghill dog wot you kep life in, got his head so high that he could make a gentleman—and, Pip, you're him!" Members of the upper class want to maintain their superior position and use their power to control other people, often with disastrous results. Miss Havisham uses her influence to control Estella and through her, Pip. As a result both Estella and Pip are miserable. Also Dickens shows how the Victorian Age could pigeonhole a lower-class child from birth, thereby grooming the child for criminality. Such is the case with Magwitch. Indeed Magwitch needs to get out of Victorian England to break free of his criminal past. Finally, Dickens exposes the sham of social class. The difference between working-class people, middle-class people, and upper-class people is their way of acting and dressing, which does not mean that upper-class people have more integrity than middle-class or working-class people. In fact, when Pip becomes a gentleman, he treats his friend Joe rudely and accrues large debts.

How is Pip in Great Expectations similar to and different from the title character of David Copperfield?

The stories about Pip and David Copperfield both start in childhood and continue to young manhood. During these stories both Pip and David learn about life through hardships. However, David is more of an innocent, noble character who has high ideals. In contrast Pip's character tends to be fickle concerning his old friends. Also his ideals prove to be a sham at some point. Pip wants to attain the superiority of the upper class and eventually learns that this goal is shallow. David, though, has strong ideals throughout his story. These ideals mature but are not replaced. For example, David values a strong marriage, but his first choice of a partner shows immaturity. Later David uses the wisdom he has gained in life to choose a better mate. Pip is plagued by guilt over his callous actions toward people, but David is not.

How is Mrs. Joe similar to and different from Miss Havisham in Great Expectations?

Both Mrs. Joe and Miss Havisham are consumed by anger. However, Mrs. Joe shows her anger by scolding and beating Pip. In contrast Miss Havisham contains her anger within herself, feeds on it, and then uses it to seek vengeance. Mrs. Joe controls people through force. Miss Havisham controls people by using money and deceit. Mrs. Joe is the wife of a working-class man. Miss Havisham is from the upper class and has never married. Both Mrs. Joe and Miss Havisham seek redemption by asking for forgiveness. Mrs. Joe asks Joe for forgiveness for the way she treated Pip. Miss Havisham asks Pip for forgiveness for the way she treated Estella and him.

In Great Expectations how does Dickens use the British colonies in relation to the characters?

Dickens uses the British colonies as a way for characters to have a new start in life. When Magwitch is sent to Australia, he becomes a great success, earning his freedom from being a convict. Magwitch says, "I've done wonderful well. There's others went out alonger me as has done well too, but no man has done nigh as well as me. I'm famous for it." Also at the end of the novel, Pip goes to Cairo in the British colony of Egypt. There he gets a new lease on life by working hard in a shipping firm. Pip states, "Within a month, I had quitted England, and within two months I was clerk to Clarriker and Co., and within four months I assumed my first undivided responsibility." Indeed, Dickens might be making a satirical comment about the confining Victorian society of England through the way Pip's and Magwitch's fortunes change dramatically for the better in foreign lands.

In Great Expectations how are Pip's great expectations dependent on luck, and what is the result?

Pip was fortunate to meet and help a convict who ended up getting rich in Australia and using this money to help Pip. In this way his great expectations are dependent on luck. As a result of the incident, Pip doesn't have to work anymore but instead becomes a member of the upper class. However, Pip's great expectations do not provide him with fulfillment. He loses his connection to Joe, who loves him without reservation, and leads an empty, purposeless life. After he finds out that his great expectations are a sham, based on a mere chance encounter with someone he considers beneath him, he begins to realize what he has sacrificed to become a gentleman.

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