Great Expectations Essay

?Great Expectations Essay
Topic: Why is Great Expectations called Great Expectations?
Jennifer Shupak
There is an old cliche that cautions readers not to “judge a book by its cover”, but rather,
by its contents. While this piece of advice may indeed be true, one could ask if the same is true of
judging a book by its title. The title of a book is in many ways indicative, not only of its contents,
but perhaps more important, of its author’s message. A title serves to inspire the reader’s interest,
while at the same time, to convey its central theme. Charles Dickens’ decision to entitle, what has
become his most famous and celebrated work, Great Expectations, was a wise one, for it
continues to communicate the book’s powerful and relevant theme, over a century after it was
first published. The book’s title, Great Expectations, expresses the central theme of the novel,
which is that of its characters’ grand and often misguided expectations of what will deliver the
“happy life”. Through the book’s main characters, Dickens’ explores and portrays the struggle of
the individual to compose his own life, amidst powerful external social expectations. The novel
contrasts Pip’s expectations against the expectations of others, and demonstrates how happiness
will escape those who allow the expectations of others to control the course of their life.
Convinced that the wealth and aristocratic lifestyle of Miss Havisham is the only respectable way
to live, Pip sets out on a path to attain the unattainable and on a path that in essence, leads him
away from himself. It is only when he recognizes the mistake of his ways, when he returns home
after eleven years, to his humble beginnings, that he returns to himself and therefore is now able to
acquire the happiness that he had been misguidedly chasing after.
The story begins, with orphaned Pip living happily with his sister and her blacksmith
husband Joe. Pip looks up to Joe, who is a simple, honest, hard-working, and content man.
Destiny is about to change Pip, when he unknowingly helps a convict, Abel Magwitch. Magwitch
becomes the unnamed benefactor, who sends Pip away to be a gentleman. Suddenly, Pip’s
expectations change and he begins yearning for material things and Estella’s love. Estella is a
woman from the aristocracy, who Pip never would have aspired for when living with his sister and
Joe. As Biddy wisely tried to tell Pip, “I should think – but you know best that might be better and
more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should
think – but you know best – she was not worth gaining over. Exactly what I myself have thought,
many times. Exactly what was perfectly manifest to me at the moment. But how could I, a poor
dazed village lad avoid that wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest of men fall
every day?” (Page 129) Ironically, despite Pip’s new found material wealth, he is unhappy. It is
only when Estella insults him that he becomes self-conscious and rejects whom he has become. He
finally realizes that wealth cannot bring happiness. Sadly, Pip’s greatest expectations could have
been fulfilled living as a “poor lad” with Joe and his sister, the journey to attain wealth was filled
with disappointment.
Conversely, Joe and Biddy are simple, honest people who comfortably accept their place is
society. They are humble, happy and care for their fellow human beings. Joe tolerates Pip’s sister
because his morals would not allow him to mistreat his wife. Likewise, Biddy is a loving, wise,
girl who gives Pip astute advice. These characters’ expectations are realistic and reasonable. As a
result, they fulfill their expectations with peace and contentment. When Pip finally comes home,
after eleven years, he is able to return to his former self. His expectations have finally found their
proper course. The last chapter begins with Pip reflecting, “For eleven years, I had not seen Joe
nor Biddy with my bodily eyes – thought they had both been often before my fancy in the East . . .
There smoking his pipe in the old place by the kitchen firelight . . . sat Joe: and there, fenced into
the corner with Joe’s leg and sitting on my own little stool looking at the fire, was – I again!”
(Page 481) Thus Pip returns home both physically and emotionally by the end of the novel. His
expectations have taken him to London, where he experiences vast disappointment and finally,
these expectations bring contentment when he returns home.
On the other hand, Estella and Miss Havisham are wealthy, cold, unhappy characters.
Estella is the adopted daughter of Miss Havisham, who is brought up without love. Miss
Havisham has the misguided expectation of using Estella to bring revenge on all men she comes in
contact with. Tragically, Estella marries a cruel, brutal husband, ignoring Pip’s love for her. Miss
Havisham’s misguided expectations lead to her madness. Finally, after her death, her cruel
expectations for Estella finally die. Miss Havisham and Estella are not what they appear to be.
Their misguided expectations have made them cold, cruel characters filled with a false sense of
pride which leads to profound disappointment in their lives. Finally, at the conclusion of the novel,
Estella admits to Pip that she has led her life foolishly and asks for his forgiveness by saying:
“But you said to me,’ returned Estella, very earnestly, God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if
you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now – now, when suffering
has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used
to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape. Be as considerate and good
to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.” (Page 484)
In conclusion, the title Great Expectations has different meanings for the different
characters in this novel. Joe and Biddy’s expectations lead them to lives of happiness and
contentment. However, Estella and Miss Havisham’s expectations lead them to grand and
misguided expectations, which result in lives of misery and disappointment. The protagonist in
this novel, Pip, begins this novel with appropriate and realistic expectations. One then sees his
transition into desiring grand and misguided expectations and the resulting frustration and
disappointment. Fortunately, Pip returns to his roots both physically and spiritually. He is
fortunate in realizing what the true “great expectations” in his life should be.


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