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What is the main theme of Great Expectations and the novel's significance?

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nicorobin | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 30, 2009 at 9:52 PM via web

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What is the main theme of Great Expectations and the novel's significance?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 31, 2009 at 1:18 AM (Answer #1)

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In "Great Expectations" the moral truth expressed is that love, loyalty, and integrity are the most important values in life.  An innocent and idealistic Pip strays from these when he sees Satis House, ironically named "Satisfied House."  Seeking self-improvement, he aspires to become educated, be a gentleman, and rise in social position.  But, because he is so idealistic, Pip loses his grounding focus on the real values represented by Joe and Biddy.  When he leaves them and goes to London, he encounters unconscionable lawyers, brutal men such as Drummlle, and the temptations of money.

After squandering his allowance and wasting his love on the cold-hearted Estella to the avoidance of visiting Joe, Pip experiences the realization that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham, that being a gentleman is not worthwhile if one must "cheat himself" in the process. He also learns from Magwitch that criminals can be more honest and forthright than gentlemen.  After he is burned, Pip is cared for by Joe, who has maintained his loving devotion to the boy of his home. Sensing his disloyalty to Joe, Pip reflects,

I had never been struck at so keenly for my thanklessness to Joe, as through the razen impostor Pumblechook.  The falser he, the truer Joe: the meaner he, the nobler Joe. My heart was deeply and most deservedly humbled as I mused over the fire for an hour or more.

Pip, then, realizes Mr. Jaggers warning, "Take nothing on appearance, Pip"; he acknowledges the value and "trueness" of love, loyalty, and character.  Indeed, "Great Expectations" is a bildungroman, or novel of maturation.

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brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:07 AM (Answer #2)

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