Great Expectations

Great Expectations

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Generosity Theme Analysis

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Ambition and Self-Improvement Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Great Expectations, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Generosity Theme Icon

Dickens explores many different understandings of generosity in Great Expectations. Though Pip's initial generosity towards Provis is mostly motivated by fear, Provis understands it as true generosity and responds by selflessly devoting his life's savings towards Pip's future. Meanwhile, Mrs. Joe and Uncle Pumblechook understand generosity as a status marker and are much more interested in being considered generous than in actually acting generously. They thus constantly take credit for Joe's generosity to better their own reputations in town.

Later, Pip believes that the best kind of generosity is anonymous and claims that his life's only good deed was his secret donation to Herbert's career. Indeed, many of the novel's most generous acts—including Provis', Joe's, and Pip's—are not recognized for a long time, implying that the truly generous give without expecting immediate recognition. Yet, despite the delay, every gift's giver is eventually discovered and thanked, which suggests that true generosity is always rewarded in the end. Pip's ability to recognize generosity shifts over the course of the novel and his early ingratitude towards Joe and Provis evolves into deep appreciation. These men also inspire magnanimousness in Pip himself, who selflessly devotes himself to Provis in part III.

Generosity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Generosity appears in each chapter of Great Expectations. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Generosity Quotes in Great Expectations

Below you will find the important quotes in Great Expectations related to the theme of Generosity.
Book 1, Chapter 19 Quotes

As I passed the church, I felt…a sublime compassion for the poor creatures who were destined to go there, Sunday after Sunday, all their lives through, and to lie obscurely at last among the low green mounds. I promised myself that I would do something for them one of these days, and formed a plan in outline for bestowing a dinner of roast beef and plum pudding, a pint of ale, and a gallon of condescension upon everybody in the village.

Related Characters: Pip Pirrip (speaker)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Pip walks through the marshes and thinks proudly of his new place above the other inhabitants of his town. He declares that he will return and give them a large feast.

This passage shows just how radically Pip’s image of himself has been warped by his new possession of money. He casts those he grew up with to be “poor creatures” and suddenly considers himself to be their future benefactor—even though he has only just received money himself. Though Pip’s action might seem generous when he describes “bestowing a dinner,” the detail of “a gallon of condescension” explicitly marks his viewpoint to be rude and judgmental. That phrase is, presumably, crafted by the retrospective Pip narrator judging his own youthful fantasies, but in any case it serves to show just how pompous Pip has become.

Dickens renders these thoughts particularly odious by placing them in the moment when Pip “passed the church.” He juxtaposes Pip’s pride with the values of spiritual modesty that he should presumably be taking from a religious upbringing. Furthermore, Pip’s pity at the idea that they “lie obscurely at last among the low green mounds” implies that Pip believes that members of the upper class somehow escape the fate of dying and being forgotten. He believes, at this point, that being famous and living an extravagant life in London will allow him to escape the monotony of merely attending Church until one’s death. These actions and life cycles, however, are universal—and Pip’s assumption he can escape the mortality at the core of humanity points to just how extensively he has idealized the benefits of wealth.

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Book 2, Chapter 27 Quotes

"Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's a whitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith. Divisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there's been any fault at all to-day, it's mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, an understood among friends. It ain't that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I'm wrong in these clothes. I'm wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th'meshes. You won't find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe."

Related Characters: Joe Gargery (speaker), Pip Pirrip
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

During Joe's visit Pip is deeply embarrassed about the differences between their social classes. Yet when Joe, while departing, gives this moving speech, he shows himself to be aware of Pip’s fears—and to have accepted their separate positions.

Joe’s speech is marked, first and foremost, by a sense of submission: his worldview places people in specific roles—from blacksmith to coppersmith—that define them and that will inevitably lead to “divisions.” Yet whereas Pip would see these divisions as negative, and himself seeks to escape his personal history, Joe accepts them as his destiny. In particular, he rejects the social symbols—the garments of “these clothes” and the physical location “out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’meshes”—that do not correctly conform to his self-assigned social position. The passage recalls Biddy’s earlier description of Joe’s pride as a pride that knows its location in the world and embraces it full-heartedly—as well as Mr. Pocket’s attitude that the flaws in wood should not be covered up with varnish.

Joe seems to have rather rapidly come to a similar conclusion—though he couches it in less ornate language—when he says that his normal appearance would cause Pip to not “find half so much fault.” Dickens thus further positions Joe as the wise, moral center of the tale: he is neither impressed nor corrupted by coming into contact with the wealth of London, but rather notices how it is artificial and does not match his natural identity.

Book 3, Chapter 44 Quotes

"Miss Havisham gives you to him as the greatest slight and injury that could be done to the many far better men who admire you, and to the few who truly love you. Among those few, there may be one who loves you even as dearly, though he has not loved you as long as I. Take him, and I can bear it better for your sake."

Related Characters: Pip Pirrip (speaker), Estella Havisham, Miss Havisham, Bentley Drummle
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

When Pip finally confronts Miss Havisham and Estella at Satis House, he expresses his deep love for Estella. He begs her not to marry Drummle, but rather to select someone who truly cares for her.

This passage characterizes Pip’s increasingly selfless behavior. He does not phrase his criticism of Drummel in terms of personal motivation, but rather is perturbed by how it is “the greatest slight and jury” to a variety of “far better men.” That is to say, Pip is more concerned with the theoretical ethics of Miss Havisham’s cruel act than with his own desires to be with Estella. Though he reiterates his love, he actually points out that “there may be one who loves you even as dearly”—thus accepting both that he will not marry Estella and that someone else may have sentiments that equal his own. Pleading that she “take him” thus reflects an entirely earnest wish that Estella be happy in her marriage, whether or not it's to Pip.

Pip’s moving speech is thus an affront to Miss Havisham in two ways: first, because it directly criticizes her actions for how cruel they are to Estella and other men, and second because it expresses an entirely honest, selfless, and non-manipulative sentiment. Miss Havisham has taught Estella to be cruel partly out of a world-view that love is empty and disingenuous, but Pip’s wish that Estella be happy above all expresses a true and total love—providing the counterexample to Miss Havisham’s beliefs. Though his love for Estella has previously driven Pip to deceptive and crooked actions, here it causes him to act fully nobly—a critical indicator of his personal development.

Book 3, Chapter 55 Quotes

For now my repugnance to [Provis] had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.

Related Characters: Pip Pirrip (speaker), Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict), Joe Gargery
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

After Provis is imprisoned, Pip’s attitude toward his benefactor continues to become more favorable. He sees him, at last, in a positive, grateful light and without the critical lens of class consciousness that has previously clouded this view.

Whereas before, Provis’s lowly status had been a constant source of anxiety for Pip, here his weakness actually becomes a source of endearment. Though Pip describes his as a “hunted wounded shackled creature”—highlighting the qualities of subservience and weakness—these are no longer character criticisms. That Pip can still identify these qualities without holding a disposition of “repugnance” demonstrates how they are not inherently deplorable features, but rather become so only under an ungrateful eye. Pip transitions into the more grateful perspective, causing him to see that Provis has acted “affectionately, gratefully, and generously.”

Even more importantly, Pip is able to transfer this realization to his readings of other characters. His reference to Joe implies that this new view of Provis applies to people from his home and expresses a belief that he should not have treated Joe with such condescension. Dickens thus portrays a complete transformation in the way Pip thinks about his relationships: from valuing only class distinctions to finding fulfillment in genuineness and care.