26 Jun 2009

Sample Essay: Great Expectations By Charles Dickens

“We need never be ashamed of our tears”.

Charles Dickens

The 1861 novel of the English writer Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations”, is one of the greatest English novels in the last three centuries. What made this novel one of the greatest is its sheer realism, realism that most probably had occurred in Victorian-age England. The realism that was abundant in the novel dealt with love, betrayal, the deceiving power of money, etiquette, pride, prejudice, devotion and gratitude. The story primarily revolved around the protagonist Philip ‘Pip’ Pirrip whose life had the most uncanny of events, coincidences and significant twists, his rise to the life of being a London gentleman, a companion to the rich old spinster Miss Havisham and her beautiful but snob adopted daughter, Estella. The novel has three parts, the First, Second and Third Stage of Pip’s Expectations. Each stage of Pip’s Expectations are the respective chapters of his life, his life as a child, his life as a paid companion to the Havishams and his subsequent life feigning his class and being ashamed of his humble origins with his sister and her husband, who was Pip’s first father figure, since he was an orphan. His eventual status of being a London gentleman and his affairs with the people of the elite and high society.

One of the most interesting aspects of this Dickensian novel is the plot on love, and though the novel has two distinct and contrasting endings. Pip matured as a paid companion to Miss Havisham and her daughter, admiring her as who she was, even if the fact that she is a rich snob makes him lonely, and it made him afraid to show or confide to anyone his humble beginnings and signs that he lacked etiquette and gentleman virtues. His love for Estella never waned, in spite of the warnings his friend and the Havishams’ relative Herbert that Estella was being brought up to exact revenge on the male population to avenge Miss Havisham’s agonizing pain when she was abandoned by an erstwhile lover.

Ironic as it may have seemed, but Miss Havisham never loved Estella for real. She gave her all she had, provided her more than enough and yet the young Estella had always longed for love. The companionship that Pip gave was paid, and the two protagonists seemed to have shared a phony love, though in the more pleasant ending of Dickens, they ended up being together and vowed never to part was again. Going back to Estella, Miss Havisham raised her in a way that she had to be loved by everybody. In one scene in the novel, when Pip was asked by Miss Havisham if he admired Estella, she blurted out incessantly, “Love her, love her, love her, love her, love her, love her! If she favors you, just love her, if she wounds you, love her, if she tears your heart to pieces, love her, and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper, love her, love her, love her, love her!”  This relentless yelling of Miss Havisham at Pip only insinuated that she had treated Estella with utmost care, and she only expected the best treatment reciprocated. Pip almost thought that Miss Havisham was mad, for in his mind, had the word “love” was replaced by “hate” her yelling would have certainly sounded more like a horrifying curse.

In the more latter part of the story wherein Pip is on the verge of being eaten by jealousy because of the many men entertained by Estella, the words uttered by her seemed to at least comfort him in the most subtle way. “Do you want me then to deceive and entrap you?..” those words of Estella subtly reminded Pip that he is the only person whom she trusts completely. Their phony love for each other seemed to have reached a new level, a level where it had shed off its coating of pretension and welcomed the dawn of a new chapter in Pip’s life, his pursuit of Estella’s love.

The plot of the blossoming love between Pip and Estella was not the primary object of the novel. It had only pictured that though often embedded in the most unpleasant of elements and unlikely circumstances, love could still thrive, if the two sides who are in love can hurdle the trials that life has thrown at them. The trials and challenges that came their way were in no way easy to accept, Estella raised in such a way that she could never be the woman she wanted to be, and Pip having to accept his role in society as somewhat of a pretender, having had to hide his roots just to conform with the hypocrisy of high society. This could not have taken place without his mysterious benefactor, who gave him a generous allowance up until the time that he reveals himself to Pip. Pip, on the other hand, was somewhat blinded by the elegance and prestige of the upper class life, kept hastening efforts to hide his true identity, roots and humble life.

Ingratitude, as well as gratitude, was also a major plot in Charles Dickens’ novel. This was evidenced by the part in which Joe Gargery, Pip’s brother-in-law whom he looked up to as a father, visited him in his posh London inn. The lowly but dignified  blacksmith Joe, who was amazed and stunned at the lifestyle Pip was having, several times addressed Pip as “Sir” and not the usual “Pip”. This somewhat flattered Pip but made him feel uncomfortable, this is ironic again, because Joe too was not too comfortable addressing Pip in that manner because he had treated him like is own son all his life prior to Pip’s arrival in London. Pip could not hide the disappointment he has towards Joe because of the latter’s evident complete lack of manners and etiquette. Joe was not to blame for this. He was never accustomed to living with class and being in the company of gentlemen. But the way Pip showed his disappointment was sheer ingratitude to the man who cared for him when he was young and treated him as if he was his own son, when in fact, Pip was Joe’s brother-in-law. And his ferocious ambition to be a member of the elite society was exposed when he was informed of Joe’s visit. He not reacted with pleasure or excitement, but instead with fear and dread that someone might see him in the company of a poor, lowly blacksmith, he feared the degradation of his image. That was one of the biggest character flaws that Pip possessed.

Another show of his ungratefulness was when he learned of the identity of his benefactor. Pip, instead of being grateful to the man who molded him into a fine young gentleman who possesses manners, was overwhelmed with disgust when he learned that Magwitch (his benefactor) was a criminal who have had brushes with the law and was still a fugitive hiding from authorities. And instead of being at least grateful to what he has amassed and what has been given to him unconditionally, he planned on returning all of his received belongings to Magwitch, whom he regarded as a hardened criminal who had gotten his wealth from wrongdoings. Until the very end of the novel, Pip never performed an act of gratitude towards the criminal who made him who he is and saved him from the life of mediocrity which he truly deserved, for Pip’s morals regarding his origin and ambitious adventures have made life a living pretension for him, except for the fact that he was loving and adoring Estella with all that he is.

But on a lighter note, in spite of his very ambitious ways, Pip was still a human capable of loving, understanding and concern. He had treated Herbert as a true friend, for it was he who taught Pip the ways of the rich and the ins and outs of the upper class society. Herbert was one of Miss Havisham’s heirs, so he need not acquaint himself with the lifestyles of the rich, for e himself belonged to the upper class society. Herbert, without reluctance, had accepted Pip the way he was and the way he had evolved. Through the toughest times facing Pip, he was there by his side. Pip on the other hand, had also seen the good inside Herbert and so he defends him against the accusations of Herbert’s aunt, Miss Havisham, that Herbert was only after the fortunes that he was going to inherit when she dies.

Contributing to the earlier part of the novel, and most in part to the end of it, is regret. Though there was nothing wrong with the way Pip fell in love with Estella, there was some kind of a flaw while he was on the course of pursuing her. His childhood friend Biddy was obviously in love with him and he did not even dare try to show his little appreciation. All throughout his life, Biddy has cared for him, even becoming his teacher in the evening school, all of Biddy’s efforts were futile, for she did not possess the quality that Pip wanted in a woman, which was class and elite upbringing. As many times aforementioned, the overpowering factor that influenced Pip in all of his decisions was ambition; Biddy was very kind and intelligent, caring and loving, and would have been a perfect wife for him, but instead, he chose to pursue the classy Estella, who put him in the most unusual emotional situations he had encountered his whole life, and made him traverse long and arduous roads. Pip’s regret was evident when, after being estranged from Estella, he returns home to propose to Biddy, only to know that she had already married Joe Gargery, the man whom he looked up to as a father. His regret has come to a halt when Dickens wrote the ending upon the request of readers. He had met the widowed Estella and vowed to her that they are never to be separated again.


Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. London: Dover Publications, 2001.

“Great Expectations.” 2006. The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. 27 Apr. 2007


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