Great Expectations

Great Expectations


Charles Dickens

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Themes and Colors
Social Class Theme Icon
Ambition and Self-Improvement Theme Icon
Integrity and Reputation Theme Icon
Parents Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Generosity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Great Expectations, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Social Class

Great Expectations is set near the end of Industrial Revolution, a period of dramatic technological improvement in manufacturing and commerce that, among other things, created new opportunities for people who were born into "lower" or poorer classes to gain wealth and move into a "higher" and wealthier class. This new social mobility marked a distinct break from the hereditary aristocracy of the past, which enforced class consistency based solely on family lines. Great Expectations is…

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Ambition and Self-Improvement

A "pip" is a small seed, something that starts off tiny and then grows and develops into something new. Pip's name, then, is no accident, as Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, a story of the growth and development of its main character. Dickens presents the ambition to improve oneself that drives Pip along with many of the novel's secondary characters as a force capable of generating both positive and negative results. Pip's early…

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Integrity and Reputation

In Great Expectations, Dickens explores pride as both a positive and a negative trait by presenting various types of pride ranging from Estella and Bentley Drummle's snobbery to Joe and Biddy's moral uprightness. The crucial distinction between these different varieties of pride is whether they rely on other people's opinions or whether they spring from a character's internal conscience and personal sense of accomplishment. Characters who espouse the former variety are concerned…

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As the novel distrusts British culture's traditional blind faith in family lines, it also looks skeptically at the traditional family unit. Great Expectations includes very few models of healthy parent-child relations. Many of the novel's characters—including Pip, Provis, and Biddy—are orphans, and those that aren't orphans come from broken or dysfunctional families like Herbert's, Miss Havisham's, Estella's, Clara's, and Joe's. Though Wemmick's relationship with the Aged

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From Pip's encounters with escaped convicts at the beginning of Great Expectations, to the grotesque courts and prisons in parts II and III, the novel casts the British legal system in a dubious light. Though Mr. Jaggers functions as an upstanding force in Pip's life by checking Pip's extravagance, it is questionable whether his law practice truly serves the law. After all, Mr. Jaggers built his reputation on successfully acquitting a murderer. Likewise…

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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…

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