Discuss the title of the novel Great Expectations

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The title of Dickens's classic, Great Expectations, is certainly one that is pregnant with meaning. While it can denote grand hopes and desires, it can also be an exclamation as in the expression "Great Caesar's ghost!"  As it is spoken by the cynical Mr. Jaggers, the latter denotation as of "Good grief!" may have been his intent when he uttered the two words since, unlike Pip, he is aware of the source of Pip's newfound wealth.  Indeed, the double entendre is present in the utterance of these words as an allusion to their source:  There are grand hopes from a convicted convict, hopes that seem rather farfetched and worthy of exclamation, indeed.

For Pip, his aspirations to become a gentleman are many and beyond the reach of the dreams created in his little room after his first visit at Satis House. His grandiose plans to become successful and to marry Estella, for instance fall to chance.  At the end of Chapter IX, Pip reflects upon the role of destiny since, at times, his expectations become what Sir Phillip Sidney in his Astrophil and Stella sonnets refers to as 

. . . that friendly foe,

Great Expectations . . .

It is this friendly foe that causes Pip to write,

Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

Thus, his guilt born in the graveyard on the marshes forms the chains that bind Pip as much to his illusionary hopes--"great expectations" held by himself and by others such as Magwitch and Joe and Pumblechook--as to his rejection and prodigal return to Joe at the narrative's end--"Great Expectations!" What ridiculous happenings!


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