Great Expectations Essay
Topic: Why is Great Expectations called Great Expectations?
There is an old cliché that cautions readers not to “judge a book by its cover”, but rather,
by its contents. While this piece of advice may indeed be true, one could ask if the same is true of
judging a book by its title. The title of a book is in many ways indicative, not only of its contents,
but perhaps more important, of its author’s message. A title serves to inspire the reader’s interest,
while at the same time, to convey its central theme. Charles Dickens’ decision to entitle, what has
become his most famous and celebrated work, Great Expectations, was a wise one, for it
continues to communicate the book’s powerful and relevant theme, over a century after it was
first published. The book’s title, Great Expectations, expresses the central theme of the novel,
which is that of its characters’ grand and often misguided expectations of what will deliver the
“happy life”. Through the book’s main characters, Dickens’ explores and portrays the struggle of
the individual to compose his own life, amidst powerful external social expectations. The novel
contrasts Pip’s expectations against the expectations of others, and demonstrates how happiness
will escape those who allow the expectations of others to control the course of their life.
Convinced that the wealth and aristocratic lifestyle of Miss Havisham is the only respectable way
to live, Pip sets out on a path to attain the unattainable and on a path that in essence, leads him
away from himself. It is only when he recognizes the mistake of his ways, when he returns home
after eleven years, to his humble beginnings, that he returns to himself and therefore is now able to
acquire the happiness that he had been misguidedly chasing after.
The story begins, with orphaned Pip living happily with his sister and her blacksmith
husband Joe. Pip looks up to Joe, who is a simple, honest, hard-working, and content man.
Destiny is about to change Pip, when he unknowingly helps a convict, Abel Magwitch. Magwitch
becomes the unnamed benefactor, who sends Pip away to be a gentleman. Suddenly, Pip’s
expectations change and he begins yearning for material things and Estella’s love. Estella is a
woman from the aristocracy, who Pip never would have aspired for when living with his sister ...
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“‘But you said to me,’ returned Estella, very earnestly, ‘God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if
you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now - now, when suffering
has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used
to be. 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.” (Page 484)
In conclusion, the title Great Expectations has different meanings for the different
characters in this novel. Joe and Biddy’s expectations lead them to lives of happiness and
contentment. However, Estella and Miss Havisham’s expectations lead them to grand and
misguided expectations, which result in lives of misery and disappointment. The protagonist in
this novel, Pip, begins this novel with appropriate and realistic expectations. One then sees his
transition into desiring grand and misguided expectations and the resulting frustration and
disappointment. Fortunately, Pip returns to his roots both physically and spiritually. He is
fortunate in realizing what the true “great expectations” in his life should be.