Great Expectations is among the last novels written by Charles Dickens, the most famous and widely read English author of the Victorian era (1837–1901). Dickens released the novel as a series of weekly segments of two chapters each, and he considered the work to be among his best. At the time of Great Expectations’ serial publication in 1860–1861, Dickens’s writing already drew a large popular following. Readers eagerly awaited the story’s suspenseful installments published in the author’s own literary magazine, All the Year Round, and in Harper’s Weekly, an American magazine.
The novel is narrated by the character Pip and tells the story of his coming of age. A young orphan, Pip seeks to become a gentleman to win the heart of the beautiful but cold-hearted Estella. With the help of a surprise fortune bestowed by a mysterious benefactor, Pip travels from his country home to London, distancing himself from the coarse upbringing of which Estella has made him ashamed.
The original ending of Great Expectations gives Pip and Estella a subdued final meeting that leaves no possibility of future romance between them. After the novel’s initial serial publication, Dickens revised the ending on the advice of his friend, novelist Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who felt it would be a disappointment for readers. The second ending, which appears in modern editions of the novel, is ambiguously hopeful about a romantic future for a humbled Pip and a softened Estella. Some scholars argue that the original conclusion remains truer to the novel’s theme of hopes raised and then disappointed; critics who like the revised ending find it more powerfully written. Dickens preferred his revision, stating in a letter, “I have put in as pretty a little piece of writing as I could, and I have no doubt that the story will be more acceptable through the alteration.”
The vivid characters of Great Expectations have helped it endure as one of the most popular novels of a still-beloved author. Dickens deftly conveys Pip’s guilt and yearning, Joe’s jolly fidelity, Estella’s brittle contempt, Mr. Jaggers’s oppressive air of incrimination, and Wemmick’s two faces. Perhaps the most memorable character in the novel is the reclusive Miss Havisham, who invites working-class Pip to her grand but decaying home for her idle entertainment. Spite has desecrated Miss Havisham’s soul, and her rotting surroundings echo her internal ruin. A living ghost in a yellowing wedding dress, Miss Havisham represents a lasting literary portrait of the perils of bitterness.
In addition to striking characters and a page-turning narrative, Dickens uses Pip’s story to explore themes that were important to him throughout his life. As a child, Dickens worked in a factory and lived on his own for a brief period while his father was confined in a debtors’ prison. In his adulthood as a successful writer, he claimed to still suffer nightmares of childhood hunger and loneliness. Memories of these struggles informed his social activism and writing on the issues of his time. Among the author’s favorite causes was reforming prisons and schools; he conveys the need for both in Pip’s story. These themes and the others of Great Expectations—wealth and social mobility, crime and punishment, loyalty, love, forgiveness, and the fears and dreams of childhood—are universal to human society. Great Expectations achieves its status as an enduring classic thanks to Dickens’s ability to embed these deeply felt social concerns into a story that is at turns moving, comic, and riveting in its gloomy suspense.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Describe Pip’s friendships with Joe, Herbert, Wemmick, and Magwitch.
2. Identify the ways conscience and shame influence Pip’s decisions.
3. Explain the significance of crime and punishment in Pip’s narrative.
4. Describe Miss Havisham and her house.
5. Identify Miss Havisham’s influence on Estella.
6. Compare the influence of unrequited love on the lives of Pip and Miss Havisham.
7. Explain how Miss Havisham, Magwitch, and Pip are morally redeemed.
8. Describe the novel’s settings and their significance in Pip’s moral journey.
9. Describe the novel’s elements of suspense, and explain how they are resolved.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
• The Lesson Guide is organized for study of the book in sections as indicated by chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section of the book and to acquaint them generally with its content.
• Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading...
(The entire section is 508 words.)
1. When Estella comes to London and Pip drops her at Richmond, he reflects, “And still I stood looking at the house, thinking how happy I should be if I lived there with her, and knowing that I never was happy with her, but always miserable.” How can Pip both imagine that Estella will make him happy and know that she will not?
2. Miss Havisham tells Pip that real love is “blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter.” Does her definition of love apply to Pip’s devotion to Estella? Why or why not?
3. Consider the character of...
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ague: a malarial fever marked by chills, fever, and sweating that recur at regular intervals
battery: a strategic grouping of military weaponry
blithe: happy, lighthearted
bolting: eating quickly or without chewing
confounded: confused, perplexed
connubial: relating to marriage
Crusaders: participants in any of the military expeditions undertaken by Christian powers in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries to win the Holy Land from Muslims
gibbet: an upright post with a projecting arm for hanging the bodies of executed criminals as a warning
(The entire section is 1204 words.)
ablutions: bathing rituals
aversion: a feeling of strong dislike for something and a desire to avoid it
capricious: impulsive; unpredictable
dregs: last remaining parts
epistle: a letter
exonerated: cleared from accusation or blame
genteel: relating to the gentry or upper class; refined, free from vulgarity
insolently: insultingly contemptuous in speech or conduct
metaphysics: a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being
ophthalmic: relating to the eye
penitence: regret for sins or faults
pilfering: stealing a small...
(The entire section is 1157 words.)
augur: to predict from signs or omens
benefactor: one that gives a benefit, usually money or a gift
construe: to interpret in a specified way
countenance: face; facial expression
denuded: stripped of covering or surface layers
depreciatory: tending to lower in esteem
dexterous: skillful with the hands
epitaph: an inscription on or at a tomb or a grave in memory of the one buried there
ghastly: horrible to the senses; frightening
humbug: a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person
indentures: a contract binding one person to work for another for a given period of time
inefficacy: lack of power to produce a desired...
(The entire section is 1139 words.)
audacious: recklessly bold
clemency: mercy; leniency in moderating the severity of punishment
collation: a light meal
conciliate: to gain goodwill by acts that encourage good feeling
corroborated: supported with evidence or authority; made more certain
divest: to remove from someone a position, a right, or a possession; to strip something of a particular quality
encumber: to burden; to hinder
exultant: filled with or expressing great joy or triumph
gallows: a frame from which criminals are hanged
latent: present and capable of emerging or developing but not now visible, obvious, or active
pervading: spreading or diffusing...
(The entire section is 1156 words.)
asseverates: affirms or declares positively or earnestly
avaricious: greedy for wealth
baronetcy: the rank of a baronet
bereavements: losses, especially of loved ones
billeted: assigned lodging (usually used for soldiers)
cupidity: desire for wealth; greed
egress: a place or means of going out; an exit
frowsy: musty; stale
guillotine: a machine for beheading by means of a heavy blade that slides down in vertical guides
inveterate: habitual; long established and unlikely to change
languor: weakness or weariness of body or mind
magnanimous: generous in feeling or conduct
mitre: a hat worn by...
(The entire section is 1126 words.)
bludgeon: a short stick that usually has one thick or loaded end and is used as a weapon
capacious: able to hold much
chaff: grain husks separated from the grain
choleric: excessively angry; irate
dispositions: natural tendencies; temperaments
gaoler: British jailer
gird: to prepare for action
goaded: urged or stimulated by some mental pain or annoyance
miscreant: one who behaves criminally or viciously
obtuseness: lacking sharpness or quickness of sensibility or intellect
pretences (pretenses): claims made or implied, especially ones not supported by fact
(The entire section is 1114 words.)
chary: hesitant; cautious
conflagration: blazing fire
droll: having a humorous, whimsical, or odd quality
ecclesiastical: of or relating to a church
edifying: providing moral instruction or improvement
fetters: chains or shackles for the feet
infallible: incapable of error
interment: burying a body in the earth or in a tomb
jocose: joking; playful
languidly: weakly; sluggishly
magnates: persons of rank, power, influence, or distinction
malignity: ill will; viciousness
meritorious: deserving of honor or esteem
obsequious: showing a fawning attentiveness...
(The entire section is 1168 words.)
auspicious: suggesting future success or fortune
blight: something that impairs or destroys
cestus: a woman’s belt
enthralling: fascinating, spellbinding
expatriated: banished from one’s country
frivolity: the state or quality of being unserious
impudence: marked by contemptuous boldness and disrespect
ingenuity: skill at inventing; cleverness
jorum: a large drinking vessel
pannikins: British small pans or cups
physiognomy: facial features, especially those which are said to reveal inner qualities
placid: serene; calm
powder-mill: a mill for making gunpowder
prolix: marked by or...
(The entire section is 1206 words.)
abyss: an immeasurably deep gulf or great space
conjectures: conclusions drawn from appearances or indications
despotic: tyrannical; in the manner of a ruler exercising absolute power
doleful: causing grief
fealty: loyalty, especially to a king or lord
feign: to pretend
haggard: having a worn or emaciated appearance
hob: a level place at the back or side of a fireplace on which pots and pans may be kept warm
incredulous: skeptical; disbelieving
incursion: a sudden entrance or invasion
staving: keeping something away; repelling
stocks: a device for publicly punishing offenders consisting of a wooden frame with holes in which...
(The entire section is 921 words.)
antipodes: the place on the earth directly opposite to one’s own place
barbed: furnished with a point, such as on an arrow or a fishhook, with a sharp projection extending backward to prevent easy removal
bay window: a window that projects out from the wall in which it is set in a rectangular or polygonal form
boatswain: a naval warrant officer in charge of the hull of a ship
bow window: a window that curves out from the wall in which it is set
chandler: a retail dealer in provisions, supplies, or groceries
confute: to overwhelm in argument
consigned: given over to another’s care
depose: to testify to under...
(The entire section is 849 words.)
abeyance: temporary inactivity
ascertain: to make certain, exact, or precise
complied: conformed; obeyed
exordium: a beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition
gunwale: the upper edge of a boat’s sides
irresolute: undecided, uncertain, vacillating
magisterially: authoritatively; domineeringly
obdurate: hardened in feelings
opportune: occurring at an appropriate time
pollards: trees pruned to promote growth on top
portentous: overstated, pompous
proffered: presented for acceptance; offered
querulous: expressing complaint
recompense: compensation; payback
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allotted: assigned as a portion
bilious: marked by or suffering from liver dysfunction and especially excessive secretion of bile
contrite: feeling or showing remorse for a sin or shortcoming
indelible: that cannot be removed, washed away, or erased
indite: to compose; to write
interminable: having or seeming to have no end
nosegays: small, fragrant bouquets of flowers
orthographical: relating to the usage of letters and spelling
propensities: intense natural tendencies
proscribed: condemned, prohibited
sauntered: walked in a slow, relaxed...
(The entire section is 931 words.)
1. Whom does young Pip meet in the churchyard?
A. a convict
B. a vicar
D. a group of soldiers
E. Trabb’s boy
2. Joe Gargery embodies the traits of
A. intellect and learning.
B. bitterness and regret.
C. wealth and fortune.
D. coldness and contempt.
E. humility and friendliness.
3. Pip feels his sister’s treatment of him is
A. generous and...
(The entire section is 821 words.)
1. Discuss Pip’s friendships with Joe, Herbert, and Magwitch. What is the nature of each relationship, and how does it influence Pip? Support your discussion with examples from the novel.
Dickens portrays several ideas of friendship in Pip’s coming-of-age tale. Joe’s early example of loyalty and humility forms Pip’s moral conscience. Pip and Herbert are true peers, supporting each other through trials and mistakes in London. Magwitch’s initially unwelcome love gives Pip an opportunity to grow into an adult with empathy, as he moves from repulsion to genuine care for his unlikely benefactor.
Joe is part father and part friend to Pip; he bestows on young Pip a simple, unconditional love. Joe...
(The entire section is 4051 words.)