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Do you think the title of Dickens' Great Expectations is appropriate?

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riya1989 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:12 PM via web

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Do you think the title of Dickens' Great Expectations is appropriate?

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

Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:24 PM (Answer #2)

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You might want to relate the choice of title to some of the key themes of this excellent novel, in particular that of class consciousness and transformation. One of the crucial stages of the novel is when Pip goes to Satis House for the first time and experiences the rather uncomfortable epiphany that he is nothing but a "common labouring boy" who "calls the Knaves Jacks." He comes back home with the ambition of becoming a gentleman and winning Estella. Thus his great expectations come as something of a dream come true.

However, the transformation that these great expectations bring is critically presented by Dickens from the very first. The new clothes that Pip wears, for example, change the way that characters such as Pumblechook and Trabb treat him, but those that love him are not so impressed. Although Pip in London learns the mannerisms and habits of being a gentleman, in his character he is shown to act in a very un-gentlemanlike fashion when Joe comes to visit him in London, for example. In addition, his great expectations seem to be based around a life of idleness, corruption, moral vice and dissolution as he lives off the wealth of a convict. Dickens seems to use the phrase "great expectations" to ironically comment upon the way in which a sudden injection of wealth and status does not automatically equate with "great expectations" and, in fact, we might argue that Pip would have been better off and happier had he stayed in the marshes. Throughout the novel, then, Dickens uses the phrase to comment upon class and the impact of money by showing the way in which it is moral character and maturity that gives one truly great expectations.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 2, 2011 at 3:06 AM (Answer #3)

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It seems a well-chosen title to me. The rise and fall of Pip revolves around his great expectations from the largess (he thinks) of Miss Havisham relating to money, social life, and the love of his life, Estella. The contrapuntal beat of the novel is that the one who provides for Pip's great expectations is so wholly different from what Pip expected. The decrescendoing note in the story is that the power Estella expects to enjoy from her training turns out to not meet expectations. Rising from her pianissimo, she is led to a great reunion she had not expected. I think the title is an apt thematic representation for the novel that covers all the threads and makes Dickens' great thematic point in two words, add a third word, and it is more explicitly clear: "Ahhh ... Great Expectations."

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 2, 2011 at 3:20 AM (Answer #4)

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Absolutely!  Pip had great expectations of a good education, good marriage (his hopes lay with Estella), and a good life due to his secret benefactor.

Miss Havisham had great expectations--for her marriage which sadly ended at the alter--and also for her adopted daughter, Estella.  Of course, she did not realize at the time that her actions sabotaged those hopes for Estella.

Joe had great expectations for Pip--his only true friend, and then again for himself and Biddy after Mrs. Joe passes away.

So many characters in the book had expectatons for their lives, their marriages, their families, their futures.  Not all of those expectations were realized, but they were expectations, nonetheless. 

The title is appropriate.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 2, 2011 at 5:00 AM (Answer #5)

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I don't think it makes a lot of sense for people like us to second guess Dickens.  He was one of the great literary talents of the world and we are not (so far as I know).  However, for the sake of argument, do you suppose you might want to think about calling the novel "Dashed Expectations?"  After all, the book is centered around the idea that no one ever really got what they expected.  So maybe the title should be about that.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted September 2, 2011 at 11:17 AM (Answer #6)

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As the above posts mention -- the book is all about expectations, so the title is appropriate.  I would add that if one thinks about most "great expectations" we realize that more often than not, the reality does not, and cannot, possibly live up the grand mental/emotional build-up that comes before. What follows then is the inevitable let down -- and it is a let down even in the face of it not being a disaster! I can dream about a great beach vacation for months, but in reality, the airport is a hassle and the weather could be less than ideal. Even if most of my vacation is a delight,  I have great expectations which, of course, cannot possibly live up to the fantasy.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 2, 2011 at 10:54 PM (Answer #7)

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I agree with #5. One of the classes I hated the most in school was the critical analysis class when pursuing my English degree. I always had, and still have, a problem looking at a text from different perspectives. For me, the only perspective which matters is my own when deeming a text great or not. I place a lot of faith in author intent mixed with personal interpretation.

In regards to a title, when an author names his work, it is similar to naming a child. The author has slaved over the 'raising' of the text- they have felt anger, happiness, worry, perhaps every emotion one can experience in their lives. So, (not that I am refusing the critical analysis of your question) who are "we" to question the naming of Dickens' "child"?

Just a thought!!!

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 3, 2011 at 1:22 AM (Answer #8)

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I love how the title is suggestive to the reader from the beginning. It certainly fits as the above posts suggest. My students place great wonder in the word expectations because they see it as something placed on a person by an authority. For example, I have the expectations that when I assign an essay, students will turn it in. What they find so intriguing about the book is that these are the expectations of the characters. Then, the connection to real life becomes so much more relevant. Students realize that as children, they expected they would play NFL football or become president. Now, their realities as high schoolers are starting to set in. They didn't even make the football team, or they never got a grade higher than a C and doors begin to close. This book's title suggest much about what occurs in the text, but even more, it demonstrates an overwhelming truth about life that is important for readers to grasp.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 3, 2011 at 6:52 AM (Answer #9)

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The title is also appropriate because the major character of the novel is Philip Pirrip (nicknamed "Pip"), and Dickens is thus alluding both to Sir Philip Sidney and also to a phrase in one of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella sonnets (21), in which Astrophil's friend refers to

. . . that friendly foe,

Great Expectations . . .

In Sidney's poem' great expectations are a "friendly foe" because they challenge us to do our best, to achieve our full potential even if doing so requires hard work and effort.  Pip, in Dickens' novel, has great expectations of himself but is also the object of others' great expectations.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 3, 2011 at 1:46 PM (Answer #10)

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More than anything, the title Great Expectations connotes anticipations that are well beyond one's ken.  It is, indeed, an appropriate title as the various characters have grand hopes: Pumblechook aspires to the frivolous aristocracy that he admires, Mrs. Pocket reads books of titles in her desire to attain one herself, Orlick hopes to possess Biddy and be the better journeyman for Joe, Miss Havisham has unrealistic expectations for Estella, Magwitch, too, is unrealistic in his hopes for Pip and himself, and Pip has the most grandiose plans of all as he expects to marry Estella, become a gentleman of wealth and position, and live happily for the rest of his life. 

While Mr. Jaggers announces "great expectations" to Pip, he is only one among many who have expectations.  And, as a criticism of an England that had a corrupt justice and social system, Dickens's novel has an apt title, indeed.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 4, 2011 at 5:00 AM (Answer #11)

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The title is also appropriate because the major character of the novel is Philip Pirrip (nicknamed "Pip"), and Dickens is thus alluding both to Sir Philip Sidney and also to a phrase in one of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella sonnets (21), in which Astrophil's friend refers to

. . . that friendly foe,

Great Expectations . . .

In Sidney's poem' great expectations are a "friendly foe" because they challenge us to do our best, to achieve our full potential even if doing so requires hard work and effort.  Pip, in Dickens' novel, has great expectations of himself but is also the object of others' great expectations.

Well ther ya go. I never knew that Dickens was alluding to one of Sidney's sonnets. This is enlightening information that adds to the depth of my appreciation of Dickens, whom I already appreciate greatly. Thanks for the insight. Great to have you with us on eNotes, by the way!

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