In Charles Dickens's classic, Great Expectations, the character named Mr. Jaggers tells Pip, "Take nothing on appearances." And, this is a lesson that Pip learns, and one that Dickens wanted his readers to grasp, as well. For, Dickens was very much an advocate of the lower classes of London, feeling that they were dealt injustices because of their "appearances": their poverty and their lack of education.
This theme of appearances vs. reality is developed throughout the novel. As a child, Pip becomes ashamed of being "common" because the young lady, Estella, has ridiculed him. The reality is that Estella is more common than Pip since she is the child of two convicts. Pip yearns to become a gentleman, for he believes that by doing so he will be a superior person and Estella will, then, love him; however, the reality is that Pip has become counterfeit and the man that he is ashamed of when he comes to visit Pip in London, Joe, is a far better person. Believing the upperclass Miss Havisham is superior to him because she is wealthy is also a deception. That she is his benefactor is another since it is Magwitch who is really his benefactor. Judging Magwitch by his appearances, Pip is repulsed to think that a man of the lowest class is his benefactor, despite Magwitch's great love for him.
However, when Magwitch/Provis lies dying, Pip's kind nature that he demonstrated as a child re-emerges and he cares for the old man. When Miss Havisham's decaying dress catches on fire and Pip saves her, burning his hands, and Joe nurses him back to health, Pip realizes the value of real love and friendship. At last, he has learned to take nothing on appearances, and to look for what is genuine, instead.
Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, and there are many lessons that younger readers can learn; one of these lessons is to not judge things or people by how they appear to be. In Chapter LVIII as Pip describes his life with Herbert and his wife, he narrates,
We owed so much to Herbert's ever cheerful industry and readiness that I often wondered how I had conceived that old idea of his inaptitude, until I was one day enlightened by the reflection, that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me.
One conclusion I draw as a result of reading Great Expectations is that ambition may not always get you the result you want, thus the title... GREAT meaning big EXPECTATIONS meaning plans, hopes, dreams.
Look at Miss Havisham, she wanted to enjoy a marriage once upon a time, but because she was left at the altar, this expectation of hers was never fulfilled. Her bride room serves as a constant reminder of emptiness as a result of her that hollow life, she causes havoc in Estella's life and ruins her.
Look at Pip, he wanted to have Estella and success. He thought both were destined to be his. As neither presented themselves as viable options for him, aspects of him begin to erode, he becomes rude to his family and self-serving.
Magwitch too had high hopes. He felt slighted by the man with whom he partnered. Compeyson received a lighter sentence and as a result Magwitch grew ambition to help someone someday be the gentleman he wanted to be.
I think that Dickens' main message that he was trying to send through this book is that it was (or is) extremely important to be ambitious and to want to improve yourself. A person must, he is saying, be like Pip and try to improve him or herself morally, socially and in terms of education.
Pip struggles to improve himself in all of these ways. He tries to rise socially, to become a gentleman. Part of that process is the attempt to become more educted. Finally, Pip constantly struggles with himself to be a better person. He often scolds himself for acting poorly towards various of the other characters.