Great Expectations Themes

Great Expectations Themes and Analysis

The main themes of the novel include gratitude, suffering, and social mobility. Pip appreciates the gentle Joe Gargery but treats him with indifference after leaving for London. The failure of Pip to keep in contact with Joe never causes Joe to complain. Joe's selfless nature is frequently contrasted with Mr. Pumblechook's constant criticism of Pip's ingratitude. Suffering is depicted by many characters, including Miss Havisham and Pip, who suffer equally. Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and tricked out of part of her money, while Pip suffers by never gaining Estella's love.

Dickens uses Pip to bring attention to the increasing social stratification in Victorian London. Estella criticizes Pip for his working class background, and Pip in turn develops a contempt for his own family's lack of wealth. Pip constantly attempts to impress Estella by moving up the social ladder, though many of the benefits of this climb are dubious. The wealthy class is represented by the cruel Compeyson and Mr. Jaggers and the wasteful and indolent Miss Havisham. The working class is depicted in a constant state of oppression, despite the intelligence and honesty of many poor characters.

Other main issues in the text include parenthood (there are very few positive maternal figures in the story) and the influence that one generation's actions may have on subsequent generations. Dysfunctional family relationships in the novel result in resentment, particularly in the case of Estella's relationship with her cold-hearted guardian Miss Havisham. Revenge is another key theme. Late in the novel, the major adult characters who tried to seek revenge through others or have had serious problems in their youth regret their actions and try to make amends, suggesting that the events in a person's life may be consuming to the point of destruction, and that one's actions are irreversible and irrevocable.

Another prominent theme is imprisonment, a familiar theme in Dickens' later novels (and in particular, in Little Dorrit), focusing on the sections which take place in the Hulks and Newgate Prison. Guilt is also a theme that is touched upon. Pip feels guilty about a number of things, for instance the attack on Mrs. Joe, which he associates with the help he gave to the convict

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