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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What are the themes of expectations in the novel?

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Pip wants to be a gentleman, he wants to know the identity of his benefactor, he expects that man to be a good, rich man (like the gentleman that Pip desires to be), he wants Estella (and because she is a "lady," to get her he knows he must first be a gentleman), and towards the end he wants to help Provis/Magwitch when Compeyson plots to kill him. All of these wants must be understood within the class structure of Victorian England. To the Victorians, the word “expectations” meant legacy as well as anticipations. In that closed society, one of the few means by which a person born of the lower or lower-middle class could rise to wealth and high status was through inheritance. A major theme of the Victorian social novel involved a hero’s passage through the class structure, and a major vehicle of that passage was money bestowed upon him, acquired through marriage, or inherited. Unlike many nineteenth century novels that rely upon the stale plot device of a surprise legacy to enrich the fortunate protagonists, Great Expectations probes deeply into the ethical and psychological dangers of advancing through the class system by means of wealth acquired from the toil of others. In wanting to help his benefactor, a mere criminal, at the end of the novel, we learn that Pip has grown into a more ethical person than he was at the beginning.

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