full title Great Expectations
author Charles Dickens
type of work Novel
genres Bildungsroman, social criticism, autobiographical fiction
time and place written London, 1860-1861
date of first publication Published serially in England from December 1860 to August 1861; published in book form in England and America in 1861
publisher Serialized in All the Year Round; published in England by Chapman & Hall; published in America by Harper & Brothers
climax A sequence of climactic events occurs from Chapter 51 to Chapter 56: Miss Havisham’s burning in the fire, Orlick’s attempt to murder Pip, and Pip’s attempt to help Magwitch escape London.
antagonist Great Expectations does not contain a traditional single antagonist. Various characters serve as figures against whom Pip must struggle at various times: Magwitch, Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Estella, Orlick, Bentley Drummle, and Compeyson. With the exception of the last three, each of the novel’s antagonists is redeemed before the end of the book.
setting (time) Mid-nineteenth century
settings (place) Kent and London, England
point of view First person
falling action The period following Magwitch’s capture in Chapter 54, including Magwitch’s death, Pip’s reconciliation with Joe, and Pip’s reunion with Estella eleven years later
foreshadowing Great Expectations contains a great deal of foreshadowing. The repeated references to the convict (the man with the file in the pub, the attack on Mrs. Joe) foreshadow his return; the second convict on the marsh foreshadows the revelation of Magwitch’s conflict with Compeyson; the man in the pub who gives Pip money foreshadows the revelation that Pip’s fortune comes from Magwitch; Miss Havisham’s wedding dress and her bizarre surroundings foreshadow the revelation of her past and her relationship with Estella; Pip’s feeling that Estella reminds him of someone he knows foreshadows his discovery of the truth of her parentage; the fact that Jaggers is a criminal lawyer foreshadows his involvement in Magwitch’s life; and so on. Moreover, the weather often foreshadows dramatic events: a storm brewing generally means there will be trouble ahead, as on the night of Magwitch’s return.
tone Comic, cheerful, satirical, wry, critical, sentimental, dark, dramatic, foreboding, Gothic, sympathetic
themes Ambition and the desire for self-improvement (social, economic, educational, and moral); guilt, criminality, and innocence; maturation and the growth from childhood to adulthood; the importance of affection, loyalty, and sympathy over social advancement and class superiority; social class; the difficulty of maintaining superficial moral and social categories in a constantly changing world
motifs Crime and criminality; disappointed expectations; the connection between weather or atmosphere and dramatic events; doubles (two convicts, two secret benefactors, two invalids, etc.)
symbols The stopped clocks at Satis House symbolize Miss Havisham’s attempt to stop time; the many objects relating to crime and guilt (gallows, prisons, handcuffs, policemen, lawyers, courts, convicts, chains, files) symbolize the theme of guilt and innocence; Satis House represents the upper-class world to which Pip longs to belong; Bentley Drummle represents the grotesque caprice of the upper class; Joe represents conscience, affection, loyalty, and simple good nature; the marsh mists represent danger and ambiguity.