Discuss the fairy tale mode of Great Expectations.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If this is a fairy tale, then it is one of the most bizarre and grotesque fairy tale I have ever read! No, seriously, you are right to identify that in this novel, as in other Victorian classics such as Jane Eyre, the influence of fairy tales is incredibly important. Let us consider what fairy tale elements we can identify in it and move from there to ruminate over the way in which Dickens subverts and manipulates the form for his own ends.

The phrase "Dickensian orphan" is a common one, but seems to present a rather stock character in his work and in fairy tales. This novel presents us with two apparently parentless figures in the form of Estella and Pip. Pip in particular is used and abused who is famously raised "by hand" thanks to his sister. Then, all of a sudden a fairy godmother comes along in the form of Miss Havisham, a figure who is a travesty of any fairy godmother I have ever read about. She has already adopted Estella, plucking her out of obscurity and transforming her, with a wave of her magic wand, into a beautiful, cultured and heartless young lady. Both we and Pip believe that she does the same for him, being the source of his great expectations. However, it appears that there is no fairy tale happily-ever-after ending for them both. This has not been a "good" transformation. Estella has been transformed, yes, but this rags-to-riches story has also divorced her from her own feelings. Pip, too, finds that this much anticipated transformation brings only sadness and pain, especially in the way that it distances him from his roots and those that love him. A sudden revelation shows us and Pip that his "fairy godmother" is actually a criminal that haunts Pip throughout the narrative, and his wealth is based on the money of a convict. Although there is the possibility of a happy ending in the offing at the end of the novel, this is never confirmed, and we get the impression that if Pip and Estella do get their happily-ever-after, it is only through much suffering and pain, and another transformation that moves them out of the naive world of fairy tales to a more sober and mature view of the world in its reality.

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