How is the theme of ambition explored in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?
Ambition is a very important theme in Great Expectations and provides the chief motivation behind many of the characters' actions. Pip is a good example of this. He doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in a humble blacksmith's cottage. Although he loves Joe Gargery—the same can't really be said of Pip's domestic tyrant of a sister—Pip yearns to live the life of a gentleman. Thanks to the generosity of Abel Magwitch, that's precisely the kind of life he's able to lead, albeit for a relatively short period of time.
Magwitch himself is also ambitious. He puts his criminal past behind him to become a wealthy and successful businessman in Australia. It is because of Magwitch's remarkable success Down Under that he's able to help the young lad who rendered him assistance when he was a half-starved, freezing cold convict out there on the bleak Romney Marshes.
Yet both men's ambitions are ultimately thwarted. Magwitch ends his days in a prison hospital after the dastardly Compeyson betrays him to the authorities. And Pip loses his fortune after Magwitch is convicted, ending his tantalizingly brief stint as a wealthy young man about town.
In their respective fates, Dickens presents ambition as the only way that those from humble backgrounds such as himself can ever hope to get anywhere in such a rigidly class-conscious society. Yet at the same time, he's unsparing in his description of just how hard it is for the likes of Pip and Abel Magwitch to remain in a better position in life even when they've finally made it.
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