Dickens’ Great Expectations' themes explores many of universal and fundamental ideas, inquisitive to the majority of us. Dickens has used Pip's story to show us many of these:
- We Are Who We Are
- Social Standings
- Growing Pains
- Motivation to Better Oneself
We Are Who We Are
Great Expectations has one fundamental point stating that no matter what, a person cannot change who they are. The character of Pip demonstrates this theme throughout the events of his life. Pip is a very ambitious young man who tries to better himself at every opportunity he has both for himself but mainly to be worthy of his beloved Estella. He discards his job as a blacksmith to receive his fortune in London where he pursues an education and a job. Further on, he distances himself from all those who he once loved to become a wealthy gentleman. He pulls farther apart from where he came from and also who he once was. Through the life of Pip, Dickens demonstrates that one can find no happiness in changing who they are, and perhaps even the opposite.
Throughout the life of Pip, he is constantly exposed to characters that vary greatly in both characters and social class. Magwitch, Joe and Bitty are the low end while Miss Havisham, Compeyson and Drummle represent the high class. In the end, however, Pip realizes that one’s social standing has no correlation to their true characters. The lower class seems to be depicted as worse off, despite their honest and loyal qualities. Dickens’ portrays most of the characters with one without the other, showing a vivid contrast between the two and demonstrating which one of these two qualities are truly the most important.
Great Expectations takes us through the life of Pip as a young child of seven years old to a man in his mid-thirties. This is a story that everyone can relate to because everyone has gone through the struggles of growing up and finding one’s self. Growing up is a universal experience where one crosses between childhood and adulthood and Dickens shows this by demonstrating the battles Pip fight to find his own values and morals. For Pip, he faced many difficulties in realizing who he was and one of the main ones was to part from those he loved and to achieve the goals he once thought were important. The novel ends with Pip perhaps not accomplishing his initial objectives but instead learning something much more valuable.
Many of the characters in Great Expectation all face suffering in their lives at some point or another, making it an exceptionally important theme. It is depicted mainly by Pip as he tries to win over Estella’s love but finds it impossible, as she is “heartless”. Pip also causes both himself and Joe to suffer when he leaves Joe to pursue materialistic things that he once thought was more important. In this period of time, Joe never complains even though it is clear to him that Pip is ashamed and embarrassed of Joe, showing a silent but deadly sad type of suffering. Miss Havisham also suffers but mainly as a result of herself when she tries to take revenge on all men for Compeyson left her on their wedding day. Miss Havisham trains Estella to be her beautiful ward to “break men’s hearts” and practices this on poor Pip. Estella also suffers in a way, not because she cannot have what she wants but because she has been brought up in such a way that almost diminishes her as a human being. Lastly, Orlick suffers internally because of his secret jealousy of Pip and this also causes Mrs. Joe to suffer because he takes this out on her.
Dickens demonstrates very few positive parental figures in his novel, perhaps trying to demonstrate that parenting is a very important theme otherwise resulting in dysfuncional relationships later on in life. The best example of this is from the character of Estella where Miss Havisham has raised her in the most evil way possible, taking away her ability to feel and love. Pip’s parents are also lacking from the story although Joe seems to be a good father figure while Mrs. Joe does not seem very motherly. However, there does seem to be some good parenting as Matthew Pocket is depicted as both a good tutor and father to his son Herbert. In addition, we cannot forget about the loving way that Wemmick takes care of his father, the Aged Parent, as it shows how he might have been treated in previous years.
Revenge is one of the major themes. Without it, the character of Estella would not have been created, making the entire plot of the novel completely different or even non-existent. Miss Havisham raises Estella the way she does because she tries to take revenge on all men for being stood up. Compeyson and Magwitch have this never-ending need for revenge until one of them finally dies. Dickens’ demonstrates that revenge only continues to harm oneself and others and does not seem to be able to bring any real happiness.
Motivation To Better Oneself
This underlying theme is the reason behind this novel’s title of Great Expectations. It is Pip’s ambition’s for self-improvement that encourages most of the events in Pip’s life. Pip is very motivated and whenever he discovers something better than what he already has, he desires to obtain it and believes in his possibilty for advancement. The will to believe in great expectations for oneself is extremely important, believing in ourselves and allowing ourselves to constantly improve for the better.