Term Paper: Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

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[. . .] Yet, he is also a purposeful creation of the author, purposefully included and written so as to elicit our sympathy. From each partial-parent, Magwitch the felon, Mrs. Havershim the delusional old woman, Matthew and Herbert Pocket, and others, we are able to see that Pip is only doing the best that he can with a very limited palette. However flawed these people may be to us, the readers, to Pip, they are the models of his future behavior. It is from these people that pip generates his self-concept and that of his looming future, it is from them that he develops his sense of entitlement. At this point in his life, Pip is at his most excusably ignorant. Dickens could not have achieved anywhere near the same sympathetic character had we entered Pip's life as an adult were he to behave and believe with the same childishness. Instead, what we have is a built in hope for the future that only is possible with a child. We can understand the importance of his dreams, we can forgive him his ignorance, and we can give him every hope we have that his life will be a success. This hope is, of course, derived from our own sense of a lost childhood and innocence. It was then, for all of us, that we had the best shot at becoming anything other than what we are now. For some of us, including Dickens, that is a powerful moment of realization.

Of primary and central importance is the realization that childhood has a direct and lasting effect upon the entire timeline of life, which is why the book ends so ambiguously - Great Expectations is not only about childhood's dismantling, but of the completely open future once childhood has been left behind. From the dreams and great expectations of childhood, come the actions of adolescence. Pip's transformation into that second stage of development is marked by the active steps he takes towards realizing those dreams. In each of these steps, Pip behaves in the manner that the child in him perceives a great gentleman would act. Unfortunately, the play acting is horribly flawed. He cannot fully become what he wants to be, because he has no adequate teacher, nor the proper perspective. Pip could never achieve an aristocratic life when all he truly understands is the life of the peasant, the con man, the man-hating woman, and the delusional.

In a particularly important self-realization, as a man, Pip looks back on this adolescent snobbery and ponders "how miserable I was, but hardly knew why, or how long I had been so" (Dickens, 314). Like nearly all of us who develop and grow through our period of narcissistic adolescence, Pip too comes to realize that greatness comes not from having great expectations, but from having learned that some of what we dream wish for in childhood can never come to be, and that other things we want, we can achieve. Pip's dream to become a great and important man were turned into the reality of a good, honest, hardworking man. In his adulthood, Pip comes to see that childhood is, indeed, the time in which dreams were meant to be created and lived, and that the only way through them is to be disappointed by some, or many, of them. The true satisfaction, then, of surviving this process of childhood development, according to Dickens, is to realize that the dreams of a child are not shameful, arrogant, or inappropriate. But to carry them too far into adulthood, to attempt to bring them to life, often results in great disappointment in those great expectations.

Dickens' life is clearly painted in the pages of this book. However, it is not just Charles Dickens reflected in the life of Pip, but of all of us. Dickens used the theme of childhood to explode childhood's reality to such a magnification that we can truly see ourselves in Pip. All of us dreamed of being wonderful things and of having the most glorious of lives. Those dreams are what fueled us, sustained us throughout. Without those dreams, our games, pursuits, and enjoyments as children would have been meaningless and empty. We needed dreams because they are the staff of life to a child. But, as with our toys, we all discover that some dreams are impossible, some inappropriate, and some are downright destructive. Pip learns all of these lessons and learns, finally, to accept who he is and to embrace who we was, not to be ashamed. Pip follows the natural course along a river of "what could be." Charles Dickens used this child to tell us that childhood dreams that are worth keeping, are only worth the effort made to achieve them. Nothing just falls in your lap. Upon this realization, Pip discovers that childhood expectations can be realized, but only through the work it takes to earn them and own them. In the end, Pip looks back on his life has having emerged from "the forge" where his future was wrought. He is able to see that without the stupidity, the arrogance, and the impossibility of his adolescence, which were the direct result of his childhood, he could never have become the self-reliant man he is now.

In the last chapter, we see, clearly, that Pip has left his childhood behind, "...I have forgotten nothing in my life that ever had a foremost place there, and little that ever had any place there. But that poor dream, as I once used to call it, has all gone by, Biddy, all gone by!" (428). When Pip returns from the forge, his story is figuratively over - the forge representing the moulding process of creating an adult out of a child in a standardized stamp. In the final chapters, Pip realizes his failure to see through the veil of greed. The last sentence, in the adjusted ending, indicates that Pip and Estella will be forever linked, "I saw the shadow of no parting from her" (439). Estella, who may go her own way entirely from Pip, will never be out of his life for she was his first love - and first loves are the ones that have the strongest impact, regardless of how foolish or inappropriate they are. Dickens deliberately left the future for these two characters in the air because the book is, ultimately, about life, and life is never certain.

Works Referenced

Allingham, Phillip. "An Introduction to Charles Dickens's Great Expectations: December, 1860-August, 1861, in Dickens's Weekly Journal All the Year Round. http://www.thecore.nus.edu.sg/landow/victorian/dickens/ge/pva12.html.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1994.

Great Expectations: Pip's Childhood at the Forge. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dickens/ge/novel/ab2.htm. Online. 24 Mar. 2001.

Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952.

Russell, Frazier. "When I was A Child. http://www.penguinclassics.com/UK/resources/readers_guides/r_dickens_greatex.html. Online. 24 Mar. 2001. [END OF PREVIEW]

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