Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Ambition and Self-Improvement
The moral theme of Great Expectations is quite simple: affection, loyalty, and conscience are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class. Dickens establishes the theme and shows Pip learning this lesson, largely by exploring ideas of ambition and self-improvement—ideas that quickly become both the thematic center of the novel and the psychological mechanism that encourages much of Pip’s development. At heart, Pip is an idealist; whenever he can conceive of something that is better than what he already has, he immediately desires to obtain the improvement. When he sees Satis House, he longs to be a wealthy gentleman; when he thinks of his moral shortcomings, he longs to be good; when he realizes that he cannot read, he longs to learn how. Pip’s desire for self-improvement is the main source of the novel’s title: because he believes in the possibility of advancement in life, he has “great expectations” about his future.
Ambition and self-improvement take three forms in Great Expectations—moral, social, and educational; these motivate Pip’s best and his worst behavior throughout the novel. First, Pip desires moral self-improvement. He is extremely hard on himself when he acts immorally and feels powerful guilt that spurs him to act better in the future. When he leaves for London, for instance, he torments himself about having behaved so wretchedly toward Joe and Biddy. Second, Pip desires social self-improvement. In love with Estella, he longs to become a member of her social class, and, encouraged by Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook, he entertains fantasies of becoming a gentleman. The working out of this fantasy forms the basic plot of the novel; it provides Dickens the opportunity to gently satirize the class system of his era and to make a point about its capricious nature. Significantly, Pip’s life as a gentleman is no more satisfying—and certainly no more moral—than his previous life as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Third, Pip desires educational improvement. This desire is deeply connected to his social ambition and longing to marry Estella: a full education is a requirement of being a gentleman. As long as he is an ignorant country boy, he has no hope of social advancement. Pip understands this fact as a child, when he learns to read at Mr. Wopsle’s aunt’s school, and as a young man, when he takes lessons from Matthew Pocket. Ultimately, through the examples of Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch, Pip learns that social and educational improvement are irrelevant to one’s real worth and that conscience and affection are to be valued above erudition and social standing.
Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England, ranging from the most wretched criminals (Magwitch) to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham). The theme of social class is central to the novel’s plot and to the ultimate moral theme of the book—Pip’s realization that wealth and class are less important than affection, loyalty, and inner worth. Pip achieves this realization when he is finally able to understand that, despite the esteem in which he holds Estella, one’s social status is in no way connected to one’s real character. Drummle, for instance, is an upper-class lout, while Magwitch, a persecuted convict, has a deep inner worth.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the novel’s treatment of social class is that the class system it portrays is based on the post-Industrial Revolution model of Victorian England. Dickens generally ignores the nobility and the hereditary aristocracy in favor of characters whose fortunes have been earned through commerce. Even Miss Havisham’s family fortune was made through the brewery that is still connected to her manor. In this way, by connecting the theme of social class to the idea of work and self-advancement, Dickens subtly reinforces the novel’s overarching theme of ambition and self-improvement.
Crime, Guilt, and Innocence
The theme of crime, guilt, and innocence is explored throughout the novel largely through the characters of the convicts and the criminal lawyer Jaggers. From the handcuffs Joe mends at the smithy to the gallows at the prison in London, the imagery of crime and criminal justice pervades the book, becoming an important symbol of Pip’s inner struggle to reconcile his own inner moral conscience with the institutional justice system. In general, just as social class becomes a superficial standard of value that Pip must learn to look beyond in finding a better way to live his life, the external trappings of the criminal justice system (police, courts, jails, etc.) become a superficial standard of morality that Pip must learn to look beyond to trust his inner conscience. Magwitch, for instance, frightens Pip at first simply because he is a convict, and Pip feels guilty for helping him because he is afraid of the police. By the end of the book, however, Pip has discovered Magwitch’s inner nobility, and is able to disregard his external status as a criminal. Prompted by his conscience, he helps Magwitch to evade the law and the police. As Pip has learned to trust his conscience and to value Magwitch’s inner character, he has replaced an external standard of value with an internal one.
More main ideas from Great Expectations
Great Expectations Theme EssayGet Your
Starting at Just $13.90 a page
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens tells a story of a young boy named Pip who grew up in a lower class but slowly finds himself transforming into society’s view of a ‘gentleman’ in order to gain the approval of Estella. Throughout the Novel many characters, such as Joe, Estella, and Magwitch provide Pip with a very important lesson; Your true friends will love and care for you no matter what happens or how much wrong you do to them. This life lesson Pip learns is one of the most important themes in Great Expectations. Pip originally started out as a poor young uneducated boy.
Yet even with Pip being such he had people that loved him through it all. Joe even tells Pip that “You and me is always friends, and I’d be the last to tell upon you, anytime. ”( Dickens, 12). Though Joe himself is also very uneducated, it is clear him and Pip have a strong relationship. They have each others back through the think and the thin. As Joe himself even stated “he would be the last to tell upon” (Dickens, 12) him. Several times throughout the novel it is shown that Pip and Joe have each others back. One example is the fact that the two helped each other out anytime Mrs.
Joe was in a bad mood. When Joe walks into the kitchen “Mrs. Joe darted a look at him, and when her eyes were withdrawn, secretly crossed two forefingers and exhibited them to me, as to our token that Mrs. Joe was in a cross temper. ”(Dickens, 22) By crossing his two fore fingers and warning Pip, Joe is looking out for him. He warns Pip Mrs. Joe is not in the best mood and to be careful so he does not get beat. Joe is a really good example of what a true friend should be in the fact that he looks out from Pip from the very beginning.
Even at the novels end, after Pip turning his back on Joe, Joe still shows his kindness and love for Pip by Nursing him back to health, paying his debts, and apologizing for not being able to stop Pips sister from beating him. He even tells Pip “Which dear old Pip, old chap… you and me was ever friends. And when you’re well enough to go out for a ride – what larks! ” (Dickens, 446) whenever Pip pleads Joe to be angry at him. He could not believe that Joe would still show him such kindness after he abandoned Joe and treated him Poorly just because Joe was not educated or in the upper class.
How Joe treats Pip shows unconditional love and friendship and is a perfect example of how a true friend should act. When Pip first meets Estella he is automatically infatuated. He wanted to be with her but she refuses to even consider him because when she first meets him he is no one important, just a common class boy. Estella tells Pip she could never love him because she is not capable of love. Though she does care for Pip in some way since she warns him that she is not capable of falling in love but he can not help but be head over heels for her.
Pip even feels like he has to change himself to suit Estella and if he became a gentleman then maybe Estella would love him back. That, however, is not the case. Pip winds up changing himself and his life to suit Estella, but even then she still tells him “i have no softness there,no-sympathy-sentiment-nonsense”… “i have not bestowed my tenderness anywhere. I never had any such thing” (Dickens, 229) Estella knows she is not capable of love and in order to not hurt Pip she warns him to stop going after her. Pip never looses hope though and is still there for Estella even if it is just as a friend.
Pip has unconditional love for Estella even though she treats him still as though he is a little boy. Miss Havisham even tells Pip “Love her, Love her, Love her! If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces, love her! ”(Dickens, 230) and that is exactly what Pip does. He loves her though everything. Even though Estella is cold hearted and not capable of love he still is there for her and cares for her. Though Estella is not always the best friend to Pip, and seldom is even a good friend, he still cares for her and does not want to see her hurt.
When Estella tells Pip she is to be married to Drummel by her own act, he angrily states “Your own act,Estella, to fling yourself away upon a brute”.. “such a mean brute, such a stupid brute” (Dickens, 351). Pip worries about Estella and he knows that Bentley Drummel does not have the best reputation and is a unpleasant, short-tempered young man. Pip is a true friend to Estella in the manner that he showed unconditional love for her no matter what she did. When we are first introduced to Magwitch, we know him as Pips convict. At the very beginning of the novel Pip shows kindness to his convict and did whatever he could to help him.
Pip even stole food from Joe and Mrs. Joe to help feed the convict and save him from starving. That one little thing action he took in helping the convict changes Pips entire life in the fact that the convict, better known as Magwitch later on in the novel, is Pips secret benefactor. Magwitch is so thankful to Pip for showing him kindness when he most needed it that he gives Pip his fortune. As Magwitch is on his death bed he tells Pip “Thank’ee, dear boy, thank’ee. God bless you! You’ve never deserted me, dear boy” (Dickens, 442).
Magwitch was just so thankful to Pip for always being there since he “was under a dark cloud, than when the sun shone. ” (Dickens, 442) Pip and Magwitch are a perfect example of unconditional love and friendship. Magwitch had never experienced as much kindness as Pip had shown him was so impressed that he unexpectedly and secretly gave Pip his fortune. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens has many good themes and lessons in it, one of which tells of people showing unconditional love and friendship towards each other. Even when the circumstances are not the best, a true friend will always be by your side and care for you.
Do you like
this material?Get help to write a similar one
Pips relationships with Joe, Estella, and Magwitch are perfect examples of the theme that your true friends will love and care for you no matter what happens or how much wrong you do to them. Even though all these relationships had flaws in the novel, the characters still end the novel being friends, caring and looking out for one another. It took Pip a while to fully comprehend who was his true friend and to whom he was not being a true friend to. Its not always who has the best reputation or money that should make you want to be someones friend but who will have your back till the end no matter what the conditions.
Author: Royce Ballin
Great Expectations Theme Essay
We have so large base of authors that we can prepare a unique summary of any book. Don't believe? Check it!
How fast would you like to get it?