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Great Expectations - Why Is It so Enjoyable?

By MichaelJohnson Jan 17, 2011 1298 Words
Why do readers find Great Expectations so enjoyable?

Michael Johnson

Dickens uses pathetic fallacy to illustrate the predicament that faces the characters in the novel. It also depicts the emotions the characters feel and indicates how the scene is going to change. For example, the dramatic weather change, conveyed in the line, “The evening mist was rising now,” during the second ending when Estella and Pip meet, mirrors the realisation of Pip and Estella’s true feelings for each other.

The novel was presented in a serialised format in which two chapters would be published regularly in ‘All the year round’, a magazine of the time. Because of this feature Dickens was able to listen to the criticisms and comments of his readers and adjust his next instalment to meet their tastes. This flexible and revolutionary attribute that Dickens had for his penultimate novel turned it into the perfect novel for his avid readers.

One of the many contributing factors, to readers finding this novel enjoyable is that, like a TV series, Great Expectations was presented in a serialised format in which Dickens had to introduce cliff-hangers to keep his readers gripped and keen to read his next part. An example of this comes at the end of chapter two, when Dickens leaves Pip running home to complete the feat Magwitch or ‘the Convict’ set him. “But, now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.” This is a perfect example of one of the numerous cliff-hangers, that hooks the reader. Constant moments of suspense and exiting plot turns, makes readers find Great Expectations gripping and thrilling.

Dickens original ending had Pip and Estella going their separate ways and Pip finally being freed of his obsession with Estella. However, this ending was not satisfactory to his readers for they had recognised many fairytale elements throughout his novel and naturally expected the ending to fit this style. Dickens was then persuaded by his friend to alter the ending to a more fitting finale. The revised ending showed Pip and Estella in the last scene realising their love for each other. However, this obscured the moral message Dickens attempted to portray; that Pip had risen above his lust for Estella, saw true love betwixt Joe and Biddy and finally recognise true friendship in the form of his loyal companion Herbert.

Dickens is renowned for creating characters which became renowned household names and appear to have a life independent of the books which created them. In Great Expectations Miss Haversham is an embittered, sour woman, withdrawn from life whereas Mr Pumblechook, is a loud, avaricious, arrogant man. The reason for these unusual blunt characters, as opposed to the subtle, quiet characters of other writers is due to, like most things in the novel, the fact that it began life as a serialisation. The characters had to be instantly recognisable and memorable to readers when they would start the next chapter couplet.

Dickens may not have realised but he was a visionary. Intentionally, he created characters with what we would now call ‘catch-phrases’ anticipating modern day television. Good examples include, Mr Joe’s, “What larks” and “ever the best of friends”, and Jagger’s cold and sinister “Now’s” and “Very well’s.” Dickens gained inspiration for these verbal ticks by watching live theatre. And these sayings help us gain a feeling for the past, and for the private lives of the characters and so deepens our understanding of them.

The settings in which significant scenes take place illustrates Dickens ability to conjure up wild yet believable situations. Examples include the Graveyard, the Village and Satis House. Satis house is the home of Miss Haversham and her companion Estella. It is a fairy tale world where time has no residence, yet is abundant with mould and decaying food from an untimely incident involving Miss Haversham and her fiancé in which Miss Haversham acts out her deep psychological trauma. The overgrown garden, the disused brewery, and rotting barrels all play an intricate part in Pips fascination with and utter bewilderment at Miss Haversham, Estella and everything that was, is and could be Satis House.

Dickens describes Pip’s entry into Satis House; “We went across the courtyard. It was paved and clean, but grass was growing in every crevice. The brewery building had a little lane of communication with it; and the wooden gates of that lane stood open, and all the brewery beyond, stood open, away to the high enclosing wall; and all was empty and disused.” Dickens cleverly uses personification when he says the Brewery Building had ‘a little lane of communication.’ He chooses not to use the plainer expression ‘entry’ so that he can create an illusion of a monster engulfing Pip, which in the head of a young boy seems likely. The word ‘open’ is said often which creates the impression that Satis House is uninhabited, vacant and yet ironically that there are secrets laying in every crevice.

Pip’s home in the marshes, aesthetically, appears to be everything that Satis House is not. However, ironically, there are many subtle similarities between them. The dirt and decay of Miss Haversham’s chamber mirrors the mud of the marshes and graveyard. When Pip first encounters Miss Haversham he recollects when he was taken to see “...a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault.” Pips journey to meet ‘the Convict’ in Chapter 3 where he wades through the mist upon the marshes and cobwebs on hedges are recalled when he sees the smoke leaking from the fire and the cobwebs on the cake on the cake in Chapter 11.

During the Victorian period people, including Dickens a confessed philanthropist , began to suggest that criminals were not just people who were wicked or evil but people forced into criminality due to unfortunate circumstance. These moral issues, perhaps inspired by Dickens’ own troublesome childhood, found their way into his writing. For instance, when Pip is meeting the convict with the stolen file and food he imagines cattle are talking to him “A boy with Somebody-else’s pork pie! Stop him!” This shows that Dickens obviously thought it was morally wrong to steal yet there can be circumstances where it is understandable that theft may have to be committed.

Dickens own opinion further influenced the novel with his views upon the treatment of women in the Victorian period. Feminists would not see Pip’s version of events as neutral or unbiased but a product of a male point of view. Dickens created similar personalities for his leading three ladies, Estella, Mrs Joe and Mrs Haversham. The story may have been seen as evidence of his own troubled relationships with women and repressed hostility towards them.

The popularity of Dickens book was possibly due to the serialised format which imposed the need for strong characters that were instantly recognisable, and cliff-hangers each fortnight. But Dickens skill in meeting that need made his book a masterpiece.

His own past and traits heavily swayed the novel. The issues and characters he chose were potentially decided by his views and prejudices, which he expressed through both character and plot. However, this is probably true for many, if not all authors. We should not think of him as sour, or writing a book so it could be a platform in which he could rant and rave. We should think of him as the supplier of Pip, the lovable child. Mrs Joe, the narrow-minded ranter. Mr Joe, the cheerful simpleton, Estella, the object of desire and Mrs Haversham the quite wonderfully weird one! It is also an unforgettable story of a man learning the hard way the difference between money and true value.

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