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The Theme of Expectations in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

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The Theme of Expectations in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

In "Great Expectations," the main theme is the theme of expectations. Dickens illustrates this theme through the character of Pip, by exploring the idea of ambition and self-improvement. The idea of expectations is the psychological mechanism that encourages Pip's development, as he is full of ambition and has "Great Expectations" about his future. Pip's expectations in the novel take three forms: social, moral and educational. By Examining the character of Pip and his three forms of expectations, as well as minor characters, Joe, Magwitch and Estella, it can be seen that the theme of expectations is clearly illustrated through the characters in the novel.

Essentially, Pip is an idealist - whenever he perceives something that is better than what he already has, he craves improvement. After visiting Satis House, and falling in love with Estella he aspires to become a wealthy gentleman, and to become a member of Estella's social class. These fantasies, which are entertained by Mrs Joe and Pumblechook, form the basic plot of the novel, giving Dickens the opportunity to satirise the Victorian class system. As Pip believes his wealth has come from Miss Havisham, his expectations include becoming a gentleman, becoming educated, earning money, and ultimately marrying Estella. As a result of these expectations, Pip gradually becomes ashamed of, and grows to loathe his humble upbringing:

"Well then, understand once for all that I never shall or can be comfortable - or anything but miserable - there, Biddy! - unless I can lead a very different sort of life from the life I lead now."

Pip evidently no longer feels ...

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...ickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Edgar Rosenberg. New York: Norton, 1999.

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Moynahan, Julian. "The Hero's Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations." Discussions of Charles Dickens, 82-92. William R. Clark, ed. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co., 1961.

Partlow, Robert B., Jr. "The Moving I: A Study of the Point of View in Great Expectations." Assessing Great Expectations, 194-201. Richard Lettis and William E. Morris, ed. San Fransisco: Chandler Publishing Company, 1960.

Russell, Frazier. " 'When I Was A Child'- An Introduction to Great Expectations." Yahoo Homepage, 1. Penguin Reading Guides, 7 Nov. 2000. <www.penguinputnam.com/academic/classics/rguides/dickens/frame.html>.
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