Great Expectations Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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How does Great Expectations highlight sociological problems in relation to an individual ambitions?

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What an interesting question! Thinking about it, the best way to tackle this question would be to consider how Pip is changed by his "great expectations," and in particular, how his relations with Joe are changed for the worst. A great chapter to analyse closely with regard to this would be Chapter 27, when Joe comes to visit Pip in London. This visit is full of humorous events, which at the same time are deeply tragic. Now that Pip has started living as a "gentleman," it is clear that the social distance between himself and Joe has increased exponentially. Even before Joe arrives, Pip reflects that if he could have kept Joe away by paying him, he would have.

Joe is clearly overwhelmed by the opulence in Pip's living conditions. As the meeting goes from worse to worse, the elder Pip, reflecting on his youthful follies, says:

I had neither the good sense nor the good feeling to know that this was all  my fault, and that if I had been easier with Joe, Joe would have been easier with me. I felt impatient of him and out of temper with him; in which condition he heaped coals of fire upon my head.

However, the message is completely clear. The wealth that has been responsible for allowing Pip to rise socially has separated him from those that love him best and his home. Joe's words in parting, which bestow upon him particular dignity and nobility, make the sociological implications of one man's rise to power clear:

"Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's a whitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come."

Unfortunately, it seems, to rise socially creates divisions that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to surmount. Social class, which is so closely intertwined with the possession of wealth, is shown to create different groups of individuals that have little, if anything to do with each other. This was, and is today, a profound sociological problem. However, it is great testament to Pip's maturity that he is able to bridge the gap between himself and Joe and Biddy by the end of the novel. However, interestingly, this is only achieved after the loss of his "great expectations." Money is not all it is promised to be.

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