In Great Expectations, what is the title's significance and how does Pip have “great expectations”?

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jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, lit24 sums it all up quite nicely.

The tension throughout the novel is one that is common to all of our lives; it is the inner struggle of believing that what we have been given in life is not enough, that we should always strive for something better and have great expectations of a more fulfilling future. What Pip eventually learns, after all he had hoped to gain and after all his endeavors for another, more rewarding existence, what he learns is the same lesson Dorothy learns in the Wizard of Oz: after all is said and done and hoped for and wished for, there is no place like home. And home is not so much a place as it is a state of mind, a way of being satisfied (ah, Satis House) with what one has.

In many ways, in the end Pip is back where he started in a simpler and less frought existence. It is certainly not by chance that his name is Pip: small and simple and the same in the end as it is in the beginning, the same read forwards as it is backwards: PiP.

lit24 | Student

1. Pip: In Ch18, Jaggers announces,

`I am instructed to communicate to him,' said Mr Jaggers, throwing his finger at me sideways, `that he will come into a handsome property. Further, that it is the desire of the present possessor of that property, that he be immediately removed from his present sphere of life and from this place, and be brought up as a gentleman -- in a word, as a young fellow of great expectations.'

Pip mistakenly believes that it is Miss Havisham who has decided to transform him into a gentleman so that he will be able to marry Estella (Ch. 38).  This is the source of all of Pip's problems and when he realises who his real benefactor is in Ch.39 he is too stunned to react:

I could not have spoken one word, though it had been to save my life. I stood, with a hand on the chair-back and a hand on my breast, where I seemed to be suffocating -- I stood so, looking wildly at him, until I grasped at the chair, when the room began to surge and turn.

The title of Dickens' novel "Great Expectations" is so obviously ironic. Pip's so called 'expectations' are exposed as being so empty and futile when he realizes that its a convict who has been providing for him so that he could pass off superficially as a 'gentleman' and that he has actually been infatuated all these years with a murderess' [Molly] daughter!

This was Dickens' original purpose in writing the novel. In a letter to his official biographer John Forster in October 1860 Dickens remarks about the "tragi-comic conception" of the novel. We are able to readily sympathize with Pip's 'expectations' not being fulfilled because all of us have high hopes and 'great expectations' which are often never fulfilled.

To underscore this general feeling and theme of 'unfulfillment of great expectations' other characters in the novel also have 'great expectations' which are not fulfilled:

1. Miss Havisham has 'great expectations' of marrying Compeyson which are not fulfilled. In her bitterness in Ch. 11 she tells Pip who visits her on her birthday that she 'expects' to die on her birthday and hopes that by doing so an eternal curse will be laid upon Compeyson:

`When the ruin is complete,' said she, with a ghastly look, `and when they lay me dead, in my bride's dress on the bride's table -- which shall be done, and which will be the finished curse upon him -- so much the better if it is done on this day!'

But these "expectations" of hers are also not fulfilled (Chs. 49, 54).

2. All the relations of Miss Havisham have "great expectations" of receiving a lot of money after her death which as 'expected' are not fulfilled (Ch.57).

3. Similarly in Ch.9 soon after Pip has returned from his first  visit to Miss Havisham's house, his sister and Pumblechook have their own 'expectations,' which are never fulfilled:

while they sat debating what results would come to me from Miss Havisham's acquaintance and favour. They had no doubt that Miss Havisham would `do something' for me; their doubts related to the form that something would take. My sister stood out for `property.' Mr Pumblechook was in favour of a handsome premium for binding me apprentice to some genteel trade -- say, the corn and seed trade, for instance. Joe fell into the deepest disgrace with both, for offering the bright suggestion that I might only be presented with one of the dogs who had fought for the veal-cutlets. `If a fool's head can't express better opinions than that,' said my sister, `and you have got any work to do, you had better go and do it.' So he went.

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Great Expectations

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