Character And Theme Analysis Of Great Expectations
Essay, Research Paper
Great Expectations depicts a young man’s search for identity. It is a story revolving around the life of this one man, Phillip Pirrip, known throughout the story as Pip to the reader. It shows the important events in Pip’s life from the time he was seven years old until his mid-thirties that shaped who he would become. Along the way, he meets a variety of friends and acquaintances who influence him in forming his decisions and goals, making him almost constantly unsure of what he truly wants.
The main theme makes a strong point: it doesn’t matter what happens to a person in their life, he or she cannot change who they truly are, inside the facades and fancy clothing, behind the reputation and wealth. Unfortunately, Pip doesn’t realize this at first: he’s always tried to change himself ever since that first cold meeting with Miss Havisham, and especially Estella, and to fit a mold that he thought was what they wanted. At first, it was as simple as desiring to read and write, become literate, gain an education, but as time passed and his world changed, Pip tugged farther and farther away from where he came from and who he was, trying to leave behind his roots and identity. It is obvious to the reader throughout most of the story that this need and yearning for self-improvement brings him no joy, and in fact, virtually nothing but misery and confusion.
Some secondary themes are clarity, realization, and self-discovery. The point of this story is not that Pip and Estella fall in love and live happily ever after; Dickens never wrote anything more of what was to happen between them in the end other than that they’ve finally resolved some of their confused past. It is assumed that they just remained friends, because of all we know about Estella’s cold heart and inability to give up her love and commit herself to a man. The purpose of this is that the novel speaks of Pip’s quest and yearning for Estella’s love and the great lengths he’s willing to go to gain that affection, not about the actual love itself. It’s all about Pip. Not about the love, and not about Estella. In fact, in most parts of the story, Estella is only present in Pip’s heart and thoughts, while the actual interaction between the two is kept at a minimum. All of us often go through the struggles that Pip faces, showing that finding oneself can be a long and tedious search, until eventually there is a moment of pure consciousness and recognition, and sometimes that can change everything.
Character Analysis ?
Pip is the main character and first-person narrator of Great Expectations. He is a man who spends his entire youth trying to improve himself, attempting to preen his outer appearance and striving to remodel his manner because he is ashamed of himself; his family; his roots. When fortune hits him, Pip becomes even more unwilling to accept where he came from, but he is eventually forced to realize that money cannot guaranty happiness: the thing he wants most, Estella’s love. At the beginning, Pip’s mild simplicity of mind and personality is shown not only in his sentence structure, but his willingness to accept things as they are, since he cannot change them. The opening statement of the novel demonstrates this and shows Pip’s plainness before his expectations became: “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Phillip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.” (Page 3.) This is when he was still a young orphan being raised by his sister and brother-in-law in the marshes of Kent, in the western part of England.
Then his Uncle Pumblechook brings him to the mansion of Miss Havisham, in which life is lived at twenty minutes to nine and daylight does not exist, and where Pip meets her adopted daughter, the beautiful Estella. At this meeting, Pip is introduced to his unattainable dream girl he is to one day fall hopelessly in love with, and the trigger to his transition to snobbery. Estella was raised to break men’s hearts as a revenge for Miss Havisham’s severely broken heart from her youth, and Pip becomes a toy for the two, some one for Estella to practice her charm and cruelty on. On one occasion, Pip says, “…I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer – only it seemed so unlikely – ‘Well, you can break his heart.’” (Page 59) This is an excellent example of Dickens’ tactful foreshadowing, and displays a glimpse of Miss Havisham’s plot to the reader.
The mansion is a hugely significant part of the story, because it is here Pip was looked down on, spoken to as to an inferior, referred to only as “Boy”, and it is the founding location of his “great expectations”.
I feel it is ironic that this estate is where Pip finds out about what he calls polite society, but at Satis House, society is anything but polite. When Estella, through her blatant lack of regard for Pip’s feelings, brings to his attention for the first time his “coarse hands”, “thick boots”, and his existence as “nothing but a common laboring boy”, it not only points out Pip’s own “faults”, but also leads to and heightens his awareness, and eventually shame, of Joe’s.
The turning point away from Pip’s simplicity of mind is in the final official visit to Miss Havisham, which is the first time he was ashamed of Joe. “…With which he took them out, and gave them, not to Miss Havisham, but to me. I am afraid I was ashamed of the dear good fellow – I know I was ashamed of him – when I saw that Estella stood at the back of Miss Havisham’s chair, and that her eyes laughed mischievously. I took the indentures out of his hand and gave them to Miss Havisham…” Again, he mentions Estella as a cause of indignity.
At this point, Pip is no longer an innocent child. He is on his way to becoming the snob of a man consumed by false values and shallow materialism that the reader comes to know as the adult Pip, and it is also a main focus in this story as the spot where the reader loses sympathy and warmth for Pip. (In fact, the adult Pip would be plainly disliked by readers, were it not for how Dickens gives us occasional glimpses of the childhood Pip and proofs that this Pip actually is still in possession of a conscience.)
Later that week, he “…told Joe that I felt very miserable, and that I hadn’t been able to explain myself to Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook who were so rude to me, and that there had been a beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham’s who was dreadfully proud, and that she had said I was common, and that I knew I was common, and that I wished I was not common, and that the lies had come of it somehow, though I didn’t know how.” This single sentence is a direct proof of his change: in the beginning of the book, he was almost incapable of telling a lie and, even when he succeeded, felt awfully guilty for a long time afterwards. But now, after making acquaintance with Miss Havisham and Estella, the lies came to him naturally, just flowing out of his mouth.
Not long after this event, well on his road to being a gentleman, Pip discovers that, wherever he’s gotten himself to now, this is not where his happiness lies.
“It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, I can testify.”
Estella is an enormous factor that ultimately leads Pip to his obnoxious and contemptible behavior later on in the novel; it is for her love that he is willing to wrench himself away from those who actually love him, all for a girl who didn’t even take the time to learn his monosyllabic name. Another major influence on the impressionable young boy is Miss Havisham herself, a severely heartbroken, man-hating old woman surrounded by misery and bitterness, an emotional cripple. Combined, these two women slowly change Pip and wear down his innocence. Every encounter that Pip endures with them contributes to his transformation in character; he is belittled and relentlessly looked down upon, until he eventually grows up to look down on others.
However, the turnaround, where Pip slowly returns to some of his old self begins on the night Magwitch first comes to his house and exclaims, “Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman on you!” (Page 315), revealing that he, not Miss Havisham, is Pip’s benefactor, and Pip’s outlook on his good fortune changes completely, he is no longer in Miss Havisham’s debt and views his fortune, and indirectly his status as a gentleman, as something not rightfully his, not fit for him.
In conclusion from analyzing his actions reasoning, Pip is a romantic: passionate but somewhat unrealistic, and what he usually expects of himself and those around him can be beyond reasonability. He also possesses a powerful conscience, along with the need to constantly improve himself, mostly socially.