Literature: Great Expectations
is one of Charles Dickens
' most famous works (along with A Christmas Carol
, Oliver Twist
and A Tale of Two Cities
), as the multitude of high school students assigned
this 450+ page book
will attest. Ironically, it is his most unconventional work; Dickens deconstructed
many of his trademark plots and characters in it, including the Mysterious Benefactor
and Rags to Riches
tale. The main character Pip is also far from the simple-minded innocents of David Copperfield
and Oliver Twist
and arguably has undergone the most Character Development
as a result.
Pip starts the book as a guileless
orphan who lives under the thumb
of his shrewish older sister Mrs. Joe, only marginally mollified by her simple-minded but good-hearted husband Joe. His most eventful incident in his childhood is helping a convict on the marshes escape. But after being invited to play at the home of Miss Havisham, an eccentric spinster who's never recovered from being jilted at the altar long ago, and meeting her beautiful but haughty ward Estella
there, Pip's mindset changes and he begins to resent his simplistic upbringing and the middling blacksmith career and life that seem inevitable for him.
Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Jaggers
shows up at Pip's doorstep and tells his stunned family that he has "great expectations
" bestowed upon him by a mysterious benefactor. Pip will spend the next couple of years training to become a proper gentleman. His benefactor's identity is a secret, but Pip is convinced that it is Miss Havisham. He meets the upper-class members of London society including friendly Herbert and loathsome Drummle, forgets about his old life, and courts Estella with limited success. But it is not until Pip finally discovers who his benefactor is that the plot really begins to thicken and Pip is forced to mature by confronting a variety of surprises, disappointments, and unexpected revelations.Great Expectations
has been subject to many a film adaptation. The two most likely to have been viewed in a high school English class are the 1946 David Lean one (generally regarded as the best) and the 1998 modern-day adaptation. There has also been a Completely Different South Park
parody. A 2012 adaptation features Harry Potter
veterans Helena Bonham-Carter
, Ralph Fiennes
, Jessie Cave
, and Robbie Coltrane, as well as Jeremy Irvine, Jason Flemyng
, Holliday Grainger from The Borgias
, David Walliams from Little Britain
, and Ralph Ineson
from The Office
Tropes in Great Expectations:
- Abusive Parents: Or, rather, abusive elder sister.
- All Love Is Unrequited: This trope pretty much defines Ms. Havisham's existence. Pip is unable to have Estella and Biddy cannot attract Pip. Perhaps the only aversion of this trope is when Biddy and Joe fall in love.
- Alone with the Psycho: Pip discovers his sister's attacker the hard way.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Wemmick's house in London, made out like a medieval castle, may seem like a bit of Dickens' whimsy, but in fact this was a common trend for Victorian businessmen and the only unusual element is that Wemmick has done the work himself.
- Ambition Is Evil: Pip's infatuation with Estella. Because of her, he wants to be richer and have a better social status, causing him to become ashamed of his perfectly respectable origins, become ungrateful to his hard-working older sister who raised him (even if she was a bit of a bitch), patronize his childhood friend Biddy and try to "improve" Joe, the nicest character in the book, so that he can meet Estella's standards.
- Angst: A truckload, mostly by Pip, as a result of Estella's actions.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Pip to Estella. It has no effect on Estella, but does bring on Miss Havisham's one of the most literal and redundant cases ever of What Have I Done ("and again, ten, twenty, fifty times, what had she done?").
- Asshole Victim: Pip's sister.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Biddy spends so much time watching Pip that he pronounces her, "In theory ... as good a blacksmith as I was."
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Magwitch spends years trying to enrich Pip because Pip delivered food to him when he was on the run and starving. Of course, he didn't give the boy much choice in the matter.
- Big Bad: The deceptive and equally cruel Compeyson. He ruins Miss Havisham by pretending to love her, inheriting a lot of money from her (which was his goal the entire time) and then abandoning her before their supposed marriage and running away with the money. He is also a dangerous criminal, but meets his ultimate doom when Magwitch (whose life he also ruined by using him as a scapegoat to avoid being convicted of his crimes) drowns him.
- Big Damn Heroes: Herbert, Startop, and even Trabb's boy come to Pip's rescue in the last act.
- Big Fancy House: Subverted. Satis House used to be one of these.
- Book Dumb: Joe Gargery.
- Boomerang Bigot: Pip becomes this after meeting Estella
- Break the Cutie: Compeyson did this to Miss Havisham, who does the same with Estella.
- Break the Haughty: Both Pip and Estella.
- Broken Bird: Estella, either when she lashes out at Miss Havisham or by the ending, when she's had to live with an abusive husband.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Wemmick is the no-nonsense assistant of Jaggers who spends time with his father ("The Aged Parent") at a whimsical, out-of-the-way cottage in his spare time.
- Captain Obvious: Estella introducing Pip. "Whom have we here?" "A boy". Knowing her, she does it on purpose.
- Changeling Fantasy: Subverted — Pip gains a mysterious, wealthy benefactor and believes that it is Miss Havisham's plan to pair him up with Estella, the young woman he loves, but it turns out that his actual benefactor is the escaped convict he helped at the beginning of the story — Miss Havisham had nothing to do with it.
- Character Development: The book is one of the best examples of this trope, and spends a lot of time exploring and deconstructing it.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The escaped convict.
- Contrived Coincidence: Dickens is famous for having a disproportionate number of characters find out that they're related to each other or met previously, and Great Expectations is no exception: Pip meets the convict more than once, Jaggers serves as the lawyer of at least three key characters, both of the escaped convicts turn out to be entwined in the other characters' stories, and Estella's parents are both sprinkled throughout the cast.
- Deadpan Snarker: Estella.
Pip: Enough House. That's a curious name, miss.
Estella: It meant, when it was given, that whoever had this house, could want nothing else. They must have been easily satisfied in those days, I should think.
- Defeat Means Friendship: When Pip and Herbert first met they get into a fistfight from which Pip emerges victorious.
- Deleted Scene: Modern printings of the novel usually include the original ending as an appendix.
- Disney Villain Death: Subverted with Compeyson, who meets his end when he falls into a river and drowns after Magwitch attacks him.
- Does Not Like Men: An understatement regarding Miss Havisham.
- Dogged Nice Guy: The Ur Example with Pip towards Estella.
- Emotionless Girl: Estella states at more than one point that she has no heart and has never been taught how to love.
- Extremely Dusty Home
- Face Death with Dignity: Magwitch.
- Fast Forward To Reunion: The ending, where Pip and Estella meet again. The circumstances of their reunion depends on which version of the ending you read: there's one where Estella is happily married, and one where she isn't, implying that she and Pip may have a future together. (The former seems to be a rough draft that peters out without a definite conclusion, suggesting Dickens never even finished it.)
- Femme Fatale: Estella was bred to become this by Miss Havisham.
- Foil: Pip and Orlick, Biddy and Estella.
- Foreshadowing: Pip has brief visions of Miss Havisham's death.
- Gone Horribly Right: Miss Havisham's attempt to make Estella devoid of all natural feeling. She succeeds, to the point where Estella has no feeling for Miss Havisham herself.
- The Heckler: After Mr. Wopsle moves to London to pursue his dream of professional acting, Pip and Herbert go to see him as the title character in a terrible production of Hamlet. The rest of the audience — particularly "a sulky man" in the front row of the gallery — heckles the players mercilessly, to Pip's embarrassment.
On his taking the recorders, — very like a little black flute that had just been played in the orchestra and handed out at the door, — he was called upon unanimously for Rule Britannia. When he recommended the player not to saw the air thus, the sulky man said, "And don't you do it, neither; you're a deal worse than him!"
- Heel Realization: When Miss Havisham finally tells Pip that he will not be allowed to marry Estella, and sees the pain in him that she had been waiting for, she is ultimately not satisfied at all and is only left feeling that she did the exact same thing to him that her fiancÚ did to her (as well as ruining Estella's chances at a normal life in the name of petty revenge-by-proxy). By the time Pip next meets her, she's gone from sadistic old woman to a suicidal wreck willing to part with vast amounts of her fortune to try to make it up to him.
- Henpecked Husband: Joe. He's quite content with life, though, and never lets his wife's temper get to him. Joe's traumatic childhood meant he and his mother were frequently abused and when he grew up, because of that, he would never raise his hand to a woman.
- Hikikomori: Miss Havisham reacts to being jilted on her supposed wedding day by locking herself away in one room of her house for thirty years.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The scenes detailing Pip's childhood (being "brought up by hand" by his volatile sister) are treated comically in his narration, probably because he's laughing at it all in retrospect.
- I Coulda Been a Contender: Subverted—Pip learns to resign himself to being, at best, a mildly successful businessman.
- I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Even after he learns he was never meant for Estella, Pip still begs her to reject the abusive Drummle and marry someone who actually loves her.
- Irony: Joe's mother was abused when he was younger and because of that he fears he will put his own wife (Pip's sister) through the same thing. So, he is rather passive towards her, with the irony being that he is now the abused one and puts up with his wife's abuse of himself and Pip. He does his best to protect him in his own way, though.
- I Would Say If I Could Say: Jaggers is fond of this. Wemmick at one point too.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Pip and Joe, his older sister's husband.
- Jerk Ass: Estella, Drummle, Miss Havisham, Pip's sister, Pumblechook, sometimes Jaggers, and, once he becomes a gentleman, Pip himself.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jaggers is unpleasant to be around and is certainly a grey-morality type of guy, but reveals Hidden Depths by the end.
- Wemmick, who is a hard-edged clerk at the office and dotes on his Aged Parent at home.
- Just Between You and Me: Orlick confesses to attacking Mrs. Joe and spying on Pip.
- Karmic Death: Drummle, after abusing Estella for their entire marriage, is killed by a horse he'd mistreated.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: The Pockets have been producing children at a rate that far outstrips Mr. Pocket's desire for them (or, for that matter, Mrs. Pocket's interest in them).
- Large Ham: Mr. Wopsle, the young Shakespeare enthusiast and later actor.
- Let Them Die Happy: While he knows she's unlikely happy with Drummle, Pip tells Magwitch that his daughter lived and has become a beautiful young lady so the man can die happy.
- London Town: About two-thirds of the novel is set here. It's portrayed in a realistic "streets paved with excrement and gold" style.
- Lonely at the Top: Pip becomes a wealthy gentleman, abandoning his poor but decent friends back home and becoming as shallow as the Rich Bitches he's surrounded with to do so. And he doesn't even get the girl. (He only gets her in the revised ending, depending which one.)
- Love Makes You Evil: Not so with anyone but Miss Havisham, so maybe it's more of a Freudian Excuse for her madness and obsessiveness.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Magwitch, a convict on the run, is revealed to be not just Estella's father, but also Pip's mysterious benefactor.
- Manipulative Bastard: Miss Havisham counts, but the Big Bad Compeyson is a better example.
- Man on Fire: Miss Havisham's death.
- May-December Romance: Joe and Biddy marry, long after the death of Mrs. Joe.
- Maybe Ever After: In the revised ending, not the original.
- Meaningful Name: Satis (Enough) House.
- Estella is as beautiful, remote and lonely as her name suggests.
- Miss Havisham's (Have is sham) name foreshadows the deceptive nature of material wealth.
- Given that the book is all about his Character Development, growing from a child into a mature adult, Pip's name is very appropriate.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Miss Havisham's lament when she realizes how she's warped Estella's ability to feel.
- Averted in another instance; upon discovering how warped Estella has become, Mr. Jaggers acknowledges that it is very unfortunate that she ended up that way, but (quite rightly) doesn't feel responsible for it, since he deliberately went out of his way to do the right thing based on the information he had at the time and had no way of knowing how it would turn out.
- Mysterious Benefactor: One of the most well known cases in literature.
- Never My Fault: Orlick, who, as Pip points out, is responsible for his own misfortune and reputation due to his bad attitude, but still blames Pip for all of it. This is leads to him crippling Pip's sister and trying to kill Pip himself later on.
- Oblivious to Love: Right at the start, though he realizes it later. For goodness' sake, Pip, she's right there!
- One Degree of Separation: Not only is Magwitch Estella's father, but Compeyson, who was on the run with Magwitch, was Miss Havisham's former lover.
- Pet the Dog: Despite cultivating the image of an Amoral Attorney, Jaggers' revelation of how he deliberately prevented the infant Estella from growing up among the "spawn" that he sees go to the gallows on a daily basis shows that he does have a heart.
- Purple Prose: Pip describes how beautiful Estella is pretty much every time she appears, which goes dangerously into Purple Prose territory. Justified in that Pip was a child who had fallen in love, and since the story is told from his perspective it makes sense that he would think like this. It's also quite possible that Dickens intended the descriptions to be somewhat silly, considering how much emphasis the book places on Pip outgrowing his childishness.
- Put on a Bus: After Pip is apprenticed to Joe, Estella goes off to study abroad.
- Rags to Riches
- Runaway Groom: Her fiance dumped Miss Havisham at the altar, as she was dressing for the ceremony.
- Revised Ending: To avoid the book having a Bittersweet / Downer Ending. Dickens' friend and colleague Edward Bulwer-Lytton, after getting a sneak preview of the original ending, suggested an ending that wasn't so downbeat. Dickens then wrote a more upbeat ending which was published. Dickens himself seemed content with the result. Modern printings of the novel commonly include the original, more downbeat ending as an appendix (see Deleted Scene above).
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Magwitch's illegal return from Australia, which prompts Pip to have a Screw the Money, I Have Rules! epiphany.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Compeyson is terrified that Magwitch will kill him. His very actions to dispose of Magwitch by getting him arrested not only alert Magwitch to his presence (as Magwitch didn't even know he was still alive), but gives him the opening to actually kill Compeyson.
- Sentenced to Down Under: Happens to Magwitch.
- Setting Update: The 1998 movie.
- Speech Impediment: The little Jewish boy who accosts Jaggers has a prominent lisp, and adds Hs in front of vowels at the beginnings of words. One of the Pockets' children is too young to enunciate properly, despite being mature enough to make sure her idiot mother doesn't negligently let the baby hurt itself, and keep doing so even after she's been rebuked for her impertinence.
- Stopped Clock: Miss Havisham has all the clocks in her house stopped at twenty minutes to nine — the moment she learned she had been jilted on her wedding day.
- Taking You with Me: Magwitch is captured, meaning he'll be executed for returning to England, but realizes Compeyson is within arm's reach. Even though he knows it'll ruin any chances of him not getting the death sentence, he grabs Compeyson and pulls him into the water where he drowns him. He also ultimately dies due to the injuries he sustained in the process.
- Teen Drama: One of the first examples.
- Title Drop: When Jaggers informs Pip of his Mysterious Benefactor.
Jaggers: The communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Pip, due to his exposure to Miss Havisham and Estella.
- Twice Told Tale: Peter Carey's Jack Maggs and Ronald Frame's Havisham (both of which also qualify as a Start of Darkness).
- Unexpected Inheritance
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Biddy
- Victorian Britain: Averted, surprisingly. Early on, it's established that the novel is set in the reign of George III (and possibly George IV, later on), likely during the early nineteenth century. The first quarter or so of the novel could even be set in the late eighteenth century, though it's unclear.