Great Expectations

Charles Dickens
Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

Education

Education functions as a force for social mobility and personal growth in the novel. Joe and Biddy both use their education to pursue new opportunities, showing how education can be a good thing. Pip receives an education that allows him to advance into a new social position, but Pip’s education improves his mind without supporting the growth of his character. Biddy takes advantage to gather as much learning as she can, with Pip observing that she “learns everything I learn,” and eventually becomes a schoolteacher. Biddy also teaches Joe to read and write. Pip’s education does not actually provide him with practical skills or common sense, as revealed when Pip and Herbert completely fail at managing their personal finances. Pip’s emotional transformation once he learns the identity of his benefactor is what ultimately makes him into the man he wants to be, not anything he has learned in a classroom.

Family

Although Pip and Estella both grow up as orphans, family is an important theme in the novel. Pip grows up with love and support from Joe, but fails to see the value of the unconditional love Joes gives him. He eventually reconciles with Joe after understanding his errors. Estella is exposed to damaging values from her adopted mother, Miss Havisham, and gradually learns from experience what it actually means to care about someone. For both characters, learning who to trust and how to have a loving relationship with family members is a major part of the growing-up process. As Estella explains at the end of the novel, “suffering has been stronger than all other teaching.” Both Estella and Pip make mistakes and live with the consequences of their family histories, but their difficult family experiences also helps to give them perspective on what is truly important in life.