Great Expectations appeared serialised in All the Year Round. The action of the story takes place from Christmas Eve, 1812, when the protagonist is about seven years old, to the winter of 1840.
It is the story of the orphan Pip, writing his life from his early days of childhood until adulthood.
The story – it is divided into three phases of Pip’s life expectations. In the first “expectation” Pip lives a humble existence with his ill-tempered older sister and her strong but gentle husband, Joe Gargery. One day Pip meets an escaped convict and brings him food to keep him alive. This convict is later caught again and sent away. Pip is satisfied with his life and his warm friends until he is hired by an embittered wealthy woman, Miss Havisham, as an occasional companion to her and her beautiful but haughty adopted daughter, Estella. From that time on, Pip aspires to leave behind his simple life and be a gentleman. After years as companion to Miss Havisham and Estella, he spends more years as an apprentice to Joe, so that he may grow up to have a future working as a blacksmith. This life is suddenly turned upside down when he is visited by a London attorney, Mr. Jaggers, who informs Pip that he is to come into the “great expectations” of handsome property and be trained to be a gentleman on the behalf of an anonymous benefactor (who he assumes to be Miss Havisham).
The second stage of Pip’s expectations has Pip in London, learning the details of being a gentleman, having tutors, fine clothing, and joining cultured society. Whereas he always engaged in honest labour when he was younger, he now is supported by a generous allowance, which he frequently lives beyond. He learns to fit in this new milieu, and experiences not only friendship but rivalry as he finds himself in the same circles as Estella, who is also pursued by many other men, especially Bentley Drummle, whom she favours. As he adopts the physical and cultural norms of his new status, he also adopts the class attitudes that go with it, and when Joe comes to visit Pip and his friend and roommate Herbert to deliver an important message, Pip is embarrassed to the point of hostility by Joe’s unlearned ways, despite his protestations of love and friendship for Joe. At the end of this stage, Pip is introduced to his anonymous benefactor, Magwitch, the escaped convict he helped long ago. This again changes his world.
The third and last stage of Pip’s expectations alters Pip’s life from the artificially supported world of his upper class strivings and introduces him to realities that he must deal with, including moral, physical and financial challenges. He learns startling truths that cast into doubt the values that he once embraced so eagerly, and finds that he cannot regain many of the important things that he had cast aside so carelessly. The current ending of the story is different from Dickens’s original intent, in which the ending matched the gloomy reverses to Pip’s fortunes that typify the last expectation. Dickens was prevailed upon to change the ending to one more acceptable to his readers’ tastes in that era, and this “new” ending was the published one and currently accepted as definitive.
Great Expectations was first serialised in All the Year Round (each installment contained two chapters, 1860 – 1861)
PLOT – It is the story of the orphan Pip who writes his life from his early days of childhood until adulthood and is divided into three phases of Pip’s life expectations.
First stage of Pip’s expectation – Pip lives a humble existence with his older sister and her strong but gentle husband, Joe Gargery. One day Pip meets an escaped prisoner and helps him, but he is caught again and sent away. Pip is hired by a cynical rich woman, Miss Havisham, as an occasional companion to her and her beautiful but arrogant adopted daughter, Estella. Then he spends more years as an apprentice to Joe, a blacksmith. This life suddenly changes when a London attorney, Mr. Jaggers, informs Pip that he is to come into the “great expectations” of beautiful property and is going to be trained to be a gentleman thanks to an anonymous benefactor (Pip assumes to be Miss Havisham).
Second stage – Pip is in London, learning to be a gentleman, supported by a generous allowance, but he has to experience love rivalry and feels uneasy with his old friends like Joe. At the end of this stage, Pip is introduced to his anonymous benefactor, Magwitch, the escaped prisoner he helped long ago and this again changes his world.
Third and last stage – Pip’s life changes from the artificial world of the upper class to realities that he must deal with, including moral, physical and financial challenges. at the end Pip meets the son of Joe and Biddy and becomes a sort of guardian to him. Charles Dickens wrote two different endings for Great Expectations. In the original ending, Pip meets Estella on the streets: she is remarried to a doctor and Pip states he is glad to know she was a different person now. As this ending was much criticized because too sad for readers, Dickens wrote a second ending in which Pip and Estella have a spiritual and emotional reconciliation and Pip perceives she will stay with him and this is just the end of the beginning for them.
SOURCES – The story can also be considered semi-autobiographical of Dickens, drawing on his experiences of life and people.
STYLE- The entire story is understood to have been written as a retrospective, rather than as a present tense narrative or a diary or journal. Even if Pip “knows” how all the events, the reader learns of them only when the Pip in the story does. Pip usually comments acidly on various actions and attitudes in his earlier life.
SETTING – The action of the story takes place from Christmas Eve, 1812, when the protagonist is about seven years old, to the winter of 1840. Among the places quoted in the book the prison – especially Newgate – is described in detail.
COMMENTARY – Gratitude, suffering, parenthood and social mobility comprise are the main themes in the novel. Dickens used Pip to focus the attention on the increasing social stratification in Victorian London. besides Dickens insists that one generation’s actions may have on subsequent generations, especially as to bitter feelings, resentment, and revenge and that most adults who took revenge later regret their actions and try to make amends. Another prominent theme is imprisonment. The characters show the social differences, and the manipulating egoism proper of the upper classes who take advantage of their position. On the other hand , the Convict, whom Pip treats kindly, turns out to be his benefactor.