Great Expectations was set in early Victorian times in England when great social changes were sweeping the nation. The Industrial Revolution had transformed the social landscape, enabling people to capitalize quickly and largely. Although social status was no longer entirely dependent on heredity, the gap between classes was wide as ever. London had become quite different from the nation’s rural areas.
Throughout England, the etiquette of the upper class was very strict and conservative while gentlemen and ladies were expected to have good classical educations and to behave correctly in every social situation. These conditions were prevalent in Dickenss time and therefore were expressed in the writing of his novels. Pip’s sudden rise from laborer to gentleman in Great Expectations forces him to move from one social extreme to another while dealing with the strict rules and expectations that governed Victorian England. This was an uncommon occurrence in this time and proved almost impossible for Pip to handle.
The novel begins in the marsh country of Kent, in the western part of England. Phillip Pirrip, a young orphan boy who named himself Pip, was being raised by his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. Joe Gargery. One evening when Pip was visiting his Mother and Fathers grave at the cemetery he was confronted by an escaped convict dressed in rags and with his legs chained. The convict grabbed Pip and ordered him to bring food and a file to release him from his leg irons.
Terrified by what the convict might do if he were to disobey him, Pip went home and the next day he brought the dark, scary man what he had requested. When Pip returned with the food and file the convict thanked him but soon scared him off into the fog. A few days later the convict that he helped was caught and when he was being taken away he falsely confessed to Mr. Gargery that he had stolen the brandy and pork pie from the kitchen to guard Pip from getting blamed for the deed. From that point on Pip had gained an unusual liking for his tormentor.
One day Pip is taken by his arrogant uncle Uncle Pumblechook to play at Satis House, the home of the wealthy Miss Havisham. During this visit here meets a beautiful young girl named Estella, who unfortunately treats him quite coldly. For a good time Pip travels back and fourth to the Satis house to visit Miss Havisham and he becomes closely acquainted with her. However, more significantly, he grows very fond of Estella despite her crud treatment of him. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her and dreams of someday becoming a wealthy gentleman so that he might be worthy of her love and devotion.
At age 16 Pip is apprenticed to his brother-in-law Joe Gargery, the village blacksmith. The apprenticeship didnt last very long however because one day a lawyer named Jaggars appears with the strange news that a secret benefactor has given Pip a large fortune, and he must come to London immediately to begin his education as a gentleman. Pip quickly assumes that Miss Havisham is the secret benefactor but Mr. Jaggars refuses to tell him who it is as that was the agreement.
Pip soon leaves for London and there he becomes friends with and lives with a gentleman named Herbert Pocket, a boy whom he had played with in Miss Havishams garden. In London, Pip befriends a young gentleman named Herbert Pocket. He also becomes friendly with Mr. Jaggers’ law clerk, Mr. Wemmick. As Pip progresses in climbing the social ladder he beings to treat his former loved ones coldly, especially Joe who had been his only friend at his home in Kent.
The one thing that never changes is his constant thought of Estella who he had not seen in several years. Several years go by in this way, until one night a familiar person shows up in Pip’s room. It was Abel Magwitch, the convict who pip had stolen the file and food for many years ago. Contrary to his belief, Magwitch explains that he is Pips secret benefactor not Miss Havisham. He tells Pip that he was so moved by his boyhood kindness that he dedicated his life to making Pip a gentleman, and made a fortune in Australia for that very purpose.
Pip is appalled, but he agrees to help Magwitch escape from both the police and Compeyson, his former partner in crime. Everything falls into place however when Pip discovers that Compeyson was the man who had abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar, and that Estella is Magwitch’s daughter; Miss Havisham had raised Estella to break men’s hearts, as revenge for the pain her own broken heart caused her.
As the weeks pass, Pip sees good in Magwitch and begins to care for him as if he were is own father. When the escape is attempted, Magwitch and Pip are discovered by the police, who have received a tip from Compeyson. Magwitch is sentenced to death and Pip loses his fortune. However he is then forced to go home and reconciles with Joe and other loved ones whom he so crudely regarded when he was in grasp of his fortune.
For several years Pip works with Herbert and lives a saddened life after he has lost Estella. But returning to Kent years later, he meets Estella in the ruined garden at Satis House. He find that Miss Havisham had died after an incident which had caught her gown on fire and had left everything to Estella. He also finds that Estellas husband whom had died had treated her badly. Pip realizes that Estella’s coldness and cruelty have been replaced by a sad kindness, and the two leave the garden together, never to part again.
Pip, the main character of the story starts off living in a poor part of England and rises in his social status throughout the novel. There were two important factors in Pips life that were bound to affect him throughout the whole story: when he met and furnished the convicts request, and when he was sent to Miss Havishams where he met the beautiful Estella. Pip is very passionate in the story and his strong perseverance creates a positive outcome for him in the end.
Miss Havisham’s beautiful young ward, Estella is Pip’s unattainable dream in the novel. He loves her greatly, and though she is usually cold, cruel, and seems disinterested in him she really cares for him. As they grow up together, she repeatedly warns him that she has no heart. Though she does not know it herself and though Pip does not learn it until almost the end of the novel, Estella is the daughter of Magwitch, the convict whom Pip aids as a child. In the end it is shown that Estella does have a heart as She and Pip end the novel hand in hand, together.
Abel Magwitch, the most influential character in the story, is a fearsome criminal, who escapes from prison at the beginning of Great Expectations. He terrorizes Pip into doing what he wanted. Pips kindness makes a deep impression on him in the end, and he therefore devotes himself to making a fortune and elevating Pip into a higher social class. Behind the scenes, he becomes Pip’s secret benefactor, funding his education and lavish lifestyle in London through his lawyer Mr. Jaggars.
The main theme of this story was the separation of social classes. It was shown throughout the novel as Pip rose from the lower laboring class to the higher upper class. As he rose in rank he regarded his past family and friends with little respect. He gained an Im better than you attitude with them; and attitude similar to the attitude which his uncle Mr. Pumblechook had displayed earlier in the book. This theme was prevalent through the whole story and was mirrored in Dickenss early childhood years as he was forced to work when his father was sent to prison. When his father returned home after his sentence, Dickens returned to school and eventually became a law clerk, then a court reporter and then a novelist.
His first book was a big success and from that point on he was a literary celebrity in England. Dickens wrote this book almost at if it was an autobiography. It made the elements more valid. This book, as his others, served as an expression of Dickenss feelings of the time that he lived in and for that reason this book can be looked at not only as a novel but also as a source of history. Subsequently, Great Expectations has and will continue to go down as a classic novel written by a classic Author, Charles Dickens.