In Great Expectations, are the lessons that Pip learns necessary for him to arrive at the wisdom he shows as the middle-aged narrator of this tale?Charles Dickens's Great Expectations

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The great director Elia Kazan said, "You have to remind people of their own struggles; it's a responsibility."  Pip's story in Great Expectations reminds many readers of their own struggles, and from this reminder they share in the human experience and learn.  If Pip does not endure struggle, he cannot grow.  Those who experience nothing live only what Henry David Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation."  However, the dynamic character of literature, who is a model of real people, must definitely endure conflict and effect change. 

When Pip makes note of his "memorable day," he understands that he is going down a new road in his life.  But, he fails to realize the importance and value of Joe's love until he experiences the friendship of Wemmick and witnesses the clerk's love for his aged father.  After this experience, Pip chides himself:

All other swindlers upon earth are nothing to the self-swindlers, and with such pretenses did I cheat myself.

Resolving to be a better person, Pip helps his friend Herbert by procuring a position for him in Clarriker's House.  He notes,

I did really cry in good earnest when I went to bed, to think that my expectations had done some good to somebody.

His solicitiousness toward Miss Havisham does, also, redeem Pip.  His own disappointments and heartbreak he perceives in the desolate Miss Havisham who begs him to write, "I forgive her." Returning his love to Joe at last, Pip, too, begs forgiveness; the loving Joe makes light of this apology, " and me was ever friends."

As Elia Kazan also said, "No one ever becomes anything worthwhile without having struggled."  After all, one's happiness is in direct proportion to one's experience of sorrow. Having encountered conflict and disappointment in love and life, it is a wiser Pip, with a greater capacity for happiness, who enters the last chapter of Dickens's bildungsroman.

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

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A theme that is central to this text as a whole and that you need to understand to answer this question is class consciousness, or how Pip becomes aware and dissatisfied with his humble origins. We can see that this comes through his first meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella, and how he becomes ashamed of his humble roots. The end of Chapter 9 clearly marks this event as a fundamental point of change in his life.

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. 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.

This passage is key because it introduced the notion of being "bound" - something that is developed in Ch. 13 when Pip is "bound" into his apprenticeship. This indicates how Pip sees his lowly position. It is important to note that this awareness or realisation comes before Pip receives his "Great Expectations", and so it is likely that if Pip had not received his Great Expectations he would have lived a frustrating and sad life, consciously aware of the limitations of his position in society and unable to do anything about it. With his visit to Estella, gone is the ability to accept his fate.

This seems to tap into a big issue with the book - is it better to remain ignorant and happy or wise but have to suffer? Certainly the wisdom that the narrator demonstrates has only come through the sufferings and trials that the younger Pip experiences - there is a definite sense that this is a novel of maturing, of change and growth in character. The incident where Pip saves Miss Havisham from being burnt and also burns himself in the process, and his loss of his "expectations" and the fever that cripples him have a sense of purgatorial repayment for the wrongs that Pip has committed - he learns just how much of a snob he has been, and how he has hurt others through his actions, and begins to right his wrongs. Thus we see at the end of the novel a sadder, but much wiser Pip, who has definitely learnt a lot through his experiences and regrets his past mistakes and errors.


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