Book Talk

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens


‘Great Expectations’ is one of Charles Dickens’s most famous works. It was published (as a novel in three volumes) in 1861. Pip is a young orphan boy who lives with his elder sister and her husband. He knows that he will be a blacksmith like his brother-in-law when he grows up. But an anonymous benefactor settles a lavish allowance on him. Pip goes to London and starts life in a society that is completely alien to him. His new-found prosperity and his undying love for his childhood friend Estella change him in many ways. He becomes more and more ashamed of his humble origins. But many disasters and challenges await him. The novel chronicles Pip’s experiences from childhood to adulthood. Great Expectations is generally termed a bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a German word used for novels that portray the psychological development of the central character. But Great Expectations, like most of Charles Dickens’s novels, does not conform to any one genre. It is a tale of love and passion; a mystery story with several twists; a narrative that functions as a serious social commentary.

One of the most important themes of the novel is Pip’s uneasiness about social class. He is a rich and ambitious young man, in spite of his so-called low birth. He interacts mainly with people from the high and the middle classes. This gives Dickens the opportunity to comment on the socio-economic issues of Georgian and Victorian England, and how the different classes were affected by the same. The novel is rooted in the social realities of Dickens’s times. But the universal appeal of the questions it raises has helped it to withstand the test of time.

Dickens’s language might seem archaic to the modern reader. Nevertheless, it is remarkably easy. The pace of the novel is quite good, and several chapters are extremely gripping. The novel is written in the first person- Pip recounts his tale to the readers.

I must confess that I started to read this book with a little bit of reluctance. The problem with an old book is that we usually have a general idea about it even if we haven’t read it. But instead of the boredom I expected, the experience turned out to be both memorable and enriching. Great Expectations is one of the most complex and moving love stories I have ever read. The relationship between Pip and Estella comes alive from the very beginning. There are also mysteries to be solved- the urge to find out what happens next. The irresponsible and immature Pip is one of Dickens’s most endearing characters. His friends, John Wemmick and Miss Skiffins, are unforgettable. The numerous comic moments stand out, as do the moments of suspense, passion or realization. I have read this book more than once, and every read has been an entirely new experience.