How is Great Expectations a coming-of-age novel?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A coming of age story is a story that focuses on how a particular child character matures and the life experiences that make him or her an adult.  Great Expectations is the story of a young boy, Pip, who grows up due to tumultuous experiences he has from a very young age.

Pip’s first experience is in the cemetery.  Magwitch finds him there looking at his family’s headstones.  He tells Pip to bring him food and a file to remove his shackles.  Pip does so, and demonstrates that he feels sorry for Magwitch.  More than just bringing him everything because he is scared, Pip shows empathy.  This is something Magwitch remembers, and is the reason why he sends Pip his money.

Miss Havisham’s house is another coming of age experience for Pip.  He meets Estella there, and falls in love with her from a young age.  Miss Havisham encourages this.  She wanted Estella to practice on Pip.  Miss Havisham is a very bizarre old woman who never leaves her house and has never changed out of her wedding dress because she was jilted on her wedding day.

Miss Havisham’s emotional abuse of Pip focuses on developing his infatuation with Estella.

"Love her, love her, love her! If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces,—and as it gets older and stronger it will tear deeper,—love her, love her, love her!" (Ch. 29)   

This is the reason why when Pip is given his “great expectations” he assumes that Miss Havisham is behind them.  He believes that she is making him into a gentleman so he will be fit to marry Estella.  Once in London, Pip grows up quite a lot.  Herbert and Matthew Pocket teach Pip how to behave in respectable society, and Matthew Pocket educates him.

Pip was already starting to get ashamed of his home and his uncle before he went to London.  Estella made fun of him for being coarse and common.  He did not want to become a blacksmith, even after Miss Havisham apprenticed him to Joe.  When in London, he had as little contact with Joe as possible and did not even stay with him when he visited.  He was ashamed of Joe’s common ways.

Pip grows more sure of himself.  He still pines for Estella, but Estella assures him that she cannot return his affections.  This is very hard for him to take.  When Pip learns that Magwitch and not Miss Havisham is responsible for his money, he is heartbroken.  He does learn to care for Magwitch.  He tries to get him out of the country.  Unfortunately, Magwitch dies as a result of his injuries while trying to get away.

Pip confronts Miss Havisham, who asks him to forgive her.  He gets ill after being injured trying to save Miss Havisham in a fire.  Then, since Magwitch’s money is gone, Pip is arrested and sent to debtor’s prison.  Joe bails him out.  After these experiences, Pip becomes more humble and realizes that he should focus his efforts on caring about the people who are in his life, such as Joe, Biddy, and Herbert Pocket.

Read the study guide:
Great Expectations

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