What can we learn from Pip's experiences?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is clearly a bildungsroman, just as Pip learns from his experiences, there is much for the reader to learn, as well.  One lesson is that people should always appreciate what they have and not envy others; another very valuable lesson is that people should not desire status and material possessions over what is of real value. And, a third valuable lesson is that appearances can often be deceiving. Dickens develops these themes through the character development of Pip:

After Pip's visit to Satis House to play with Estella, his perception of his life at the forge becomes distorted by the influence of his sister's and Uncle Pumblechook's idea that wealth makes a person better.  When Estella, the "proud young lady" calls him "a common laboring boy" who has "coarse boots," Pip feels ashamed of himself as well as of Joe.  Having become infatuated with Estella, he wishes that he were a gentleman so that Estella would approve of him. 

Then, when Mr. Jaggers appears at the forge one night and informs Pip that he has "great expectations," Pip feels that he has somehow become superior to the illiterate Joe and Mrs. Joe, and he asks them not to see him off when he departs for London.  In London, he makes friends with the "pale young gentleman" who once accosted him; they spend money that they do not have and enjoy themselves.  Pip continues to vie for the attentions of Estella believing that she will love him because he has become a gentleman, and he is yet ashamed of Joe, so he does not return to the forge to visit. When he does visit, Pip is arrogant with Biddy, displaying his new snobbishness.

As he remains in London, Pip becomes disillusioned in his false expectations.  Mr. Matthew Pocket who has the appearance of a good teacher is ineffective and Pip is unprepared for any profession.  Miss Havisham, whom Pip believed his benefactor is not; instead, the old convict Abel Magwitch has sent money for Pip's opportunity to become a gentleman. Estella is cold and cruel, not the sweet young lady he has desired.  In fact, the only constant in Pip's life has been Joe, whom Pip has rejected.

Having learned the deceptions of appearances, Pip redeems himself by caring for Abel Magwitch, who has returned to London just to see his boy. After Magwitch's failed attempt to escape, Pip tends the injured, dying man and gives him his love.  Later, Pip rescues Miss Havisham from a fire and is burned.  After his true friend, Joe, comes to nurse him, Pip realizes how foolish he has been not to have appreciated Joe's real friendship and love.  Humbled, he returns to the forge and delights in Joe's and Biddy's new joy as husband and wife.  Pip repays Herbert Pocket's kindness by procuring him a position with a bank.  At last, Pip learns that the "greatest things in life are not things," and in so doing, he teaches the learner his lessons, also.

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