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Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title  · Great Expectations

author  · Charles Dickens

type of work  · Novel

genres  · Bildungsroman, social criticism, autobiographical fiction

language  · English

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

narrator  · Pip

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.

protagonist  · Pip

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

tense  · Past

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.