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The Bildungsroman and Pip's Great Expectations Essay

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   On the surface, Great Expectations appears to be simply the story of Pip from his early childhood to his early adulthood, and a recollection of the events and people that Pip encounters throughout his life. In other words, it is a well written story of a young man's life growing up in England in the early nineteenth century. At first glance, it may appear this way, an interesting narrative of youth, love, success and failure, all of which are the makings of an entertaining novel. However, Great Expectations is much more. Pip's story is not simply a recollection of the events of his past. The recollection of his past is important in that it is essential in his development throughout the novel, until the very end. The experiences that Pip has as a young boy are important in his maturation into young adulthood.

These elements are crucial to the structure and development of Great Expectations: Pip's maturation and development from child to man are important characteristics of the genre to which Great Expectations belongs. In structure, Pip's story, Great Expectations, is a Bildungsroman, a novel of development. The Bildungsroman traces the development of a protagonist from his early beginnings--from his education to his first venture into the big city--following his experiences there, and his ultimate self-knowledge and maturation. Upon the further examination of the characteristics of the Bildungsroman as presented here it is clear that Great Expectations, in part, conforms to the general characteristics of the English Bildungsroman. However, there are aspects of this genre from which Dickens departs in Great Expectations. It is these departures that speak to what is most important in Pip's development, what ultimately ma...


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...ates Dickens rejection of the middle class values of marriage and "success," the values celebrated and elevated by the traditional, middle class genre of the Bildungsroman. Dickens believed that basic moral values such as generosity and kindness were to be elevated; that the material world was irrelevant to a man's worth. Dickens still creates a novel of development - a Bildungsroman - but the fact that Pip's development is complete only in Dickens' rebuff of many of the traditional traits of the Bildungsroman shows what Dickens believed truly made a gentleman: goodness.

 

Works Cited

Buckley, Jerome Hamilton. Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1974.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Janice Carlisle. Boston: Bedford, 1996.

Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: Morrow, 1988.

 


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